One of the oldest port houses, Quinta do Noval is also arguably the greatest. It is unique among top port houses in that most of the ports are made from estate-grown fruit and, notably, all of the vintage Noval wines are from the single Quinta do Noval vineyard. In addition, it is difficult to elaborate on Quinta do Noval without mentioning Nacional, the legendary port made from a 6 acre parcel of ungrafted vines. When declared, only 200-300 cases of Nacional will be made, and instantly become the most sought after port in the world. Many vintages of Nacional are considered as the finest ports, and some of the finest wines, ever made.
Noval is mentioned in land registries going back to 1715, and has been sold just twice in that time, once in the late 19th century, and to its present owners in 1993. Noval has, however, a reputation for being an innovative, independent producer. Noval’s focus on its vineyard and estate ports distinguishes it, but there are numerous other areas in which it has been a pioneer:
o Quinta do Noval was the first to introduce blended tawnies with an indication of average age.
o Noval introduced the first late-bottled vintage port, in 1958.
o In response to a change in shipping laws in 1986, Noval became the first major port house to age, blend and store all its wines at its Quinta, in the Douro.
In 1994 Noval once again made a bold statement, by beginning a massive program of improvements, while re-committing to the traditional, and best, methods of port production. Namely:
o 60% of the estate’s vineyards were taken out, and the terraces were rebuilt and replanted with the best quality grape varieties.
o A new winery, warehouse and bottling facility were built, and the lodge (warehouse) at the Quinta was greatly improved.
o All grapes harvested at the estate are crushed by foot, in lagares that have been made smaller and modified to better control individual lots.
The astonishing terraced vineyards of Noval, perched above the Douro and Pinhao rivers, are an infertile schist, and not soil as much as sheer rock. The elevation of the vineyards goes from just above river level to 1,200 feet, with density at about 2,000 vines per acre, and vines producing on average 30-35 hectoliters per hectare. The tremendous rewards of the work done at the estate over the last fifteen years are visible across the range of Noval ports, and have placed Noval a step ahead of everyone in the Douro.
Lastly, some of the praise for Noval: The Wine Spectator, in its 1999 choice of 12 wines of the century included Quinta do Noval Nacional 1931, the only non-table wine selected. And in his 2005 book, The World’s Greatest Wine Estates, Robert Parker states that there are many top port houses, but only three can be considered the greatest; Quinta do Noval is not only one of the three selected, but Parker has the following words in his review:
“Quinta do Noval is unusual among the great traditional Port houses in that it emphasizes the importance of the vineyard. It is significant that the company is named after its vineyard, that it is entirely based on the Douro Valley, and that its principal Vintage Ports, Quinta do Noval Nacional and Quinta do Noval, are both single-vineyard wines. The aim is to produce classic Vintage Ports that are harmonious and elegant expressions of Quinta do Noval’s terroir. Strict selection in the vineyard, low yields, and strict selection again in the tasting room result in a small production.” Robert Parker, Wine Advocate