Noval to launch ‘secret’ Nacional ‘0416th September, 2013 by Gabriel Savage
Quinta do Noval has given the first ever public tasting of its “secret” Nacional 2004 as the Douro estate confirmed a plan to release this rare vintage Port next year.
Just 190 cases were produced in 2004 from the 2-hectare Nacional site, which was originally planted in 1925 and is famous for retaining its ungrafted Portuguese vines despite the widespread presence of phylloxera in the Douro.
While the property also declared Quinta do Noval in this year, the growing season’s changeable and extreme weather meant that 2004 was not a general declaration in the Douro – especially since it came in the aftermath of the widely declared 2003 vintage.
“Nacional is always different, but it is not always better,” explained Christian Seely, managing director of AXA Millésimes, which bought Quinta do Noval in 1993.
In other examples of this vineyard’s unpredictable personality, Seely decided not to follow other houses in declaring a 2007, but did declare a Nacional 1996, despite summing it up as “a decent LBV year but not thrilling” in most other parts of the Douro.
Explaining the decision to wait a decade before the release of the 2004 Nacional, Seely emphasised his original commitment upon taking over the estate 20 years ago. “I resolved to declare only if I was certain it was outstanding,” he said.
This quality focus represented a distinct break from the property’s output prior to AXA’s acquisition. Describing its vintage Ports from the 1980s as “particularly disappointing,” Seely remarked: “there were Nacionals made at that time which did not really deserve to be called Nacional. We wanted to send out a clear message that those days were over.”
Much of the work to improve Quinta do Noval was carried out in the vineyard, with AXA replanting around 100ha of the 145ha estate, although within the Nacional block, the changes were less dramatic. Seely recalled: “there were a few white grape varieties that we removed and a few surprising ones like [red variety] Mourisco, which doesn’t give much fruit or quality.”
With the Nacional vines having an average age of around 40 years old, Seely confirmed that any replanting is done using cuttings from other plants in the vineyard.
The block is also the only part of Quinta do Noval to be worked organically and by horse, despite the challenge posed by its layout across three terraces in the notoriously steep Douro landscape.
For all the attention lavished on this historic vineyard block, Seely warned that Nacional is not invincible against the insect whose devastating effect has meant that the majority of European vines are now grafted onto US rootstock. “We are totally unprotected; phylloxera could arrive any day,” he remarked.
In addition to the quality benefits of this vineyard focus, Seely stressed the value of important modernisation work to Noval’s winery, in particular work to tackle “some significant hygiene issues in the Noval lagares.”
Despite the small quantities of Nacional produced, he noted that around half its production is kept back for Noval’s library stocks. “It’s for the history of Noval,” maintained Seely. “It has at least a 70 to 100 year lifespan so whoever is running Noval then should be able to have a few bottles of these vintages to serve.”