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Quinta do Noval Vintage 2003 port
In a nutshell: An unusual vintage port from one of the greatest names in the region that is ready to drink much younger than you would expect.
Normally with vintage port you’d expect to wait at least 20 years before opening a bottle, but not this 2003 from Quinta do Noval. It was a famously hot year and the wines are maturing quickly. This is great news for impatient port lovers like me. In contrast, the 2000 from this estate is nowhere near ready to drink.
Quinta do Noval is one of the most famous names in port, mainly because of its super rare and expensive Nacional. This is made from a tiny patch of vineyard where phylloxera (the vine eating louse) can't survive, so the vines are on European rather than American rootstocks.
These vines produce tiny quantities of intensely flavoured berries and the resulting port matures even slower than normal vintage Noval. The 1931 is famously still going strong.
Whereas most port firms are named after a person like Fonseca or Croft, Noval is unusual in being named after an estate, 145 hectares in the Pinhão valley.
For many years it was in the hands of the van Zeller family and sadly quality declined in the 1970s. In 1993, it was bought by AXA, the French insurance company which also own Pichon Longueville Baron in Bordeaux.
The firm has invested heavily in returning the estate to greatness with an Englishman, Christian Seely, in charge. Despite all the investment, Noval is very traditional. The top wines are still made by foot treading in stone lagares, which gives lots of fruit and colour but without any harsh flavours.
As well as vintage port, the firm is famous for its Colheitas (tawnies from a single year) and the firm has stocks dating back to the 1930s which they will let you try if you ask them very nicely.
But back to the 2003 vintage: it will need decanting and then the nose reveals wild herbs of the Douro Valley. The wine is very open without the unyielding concentration you'd expect in such a young wine. Already the tannins have softened to reveal layers and layers of ripe raspberry fruit. Long and complex, this is absolutely stunning now.
This would be lovely with a caramelised fruit tart as well as a good, salty mature cheddar or shropshire blue.
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