On arrival I was handed a glass of Coates and Seely Brut NV, which is an English sparkler from a vineyard in Hampshire. Apparently the blend of grapes is the usual trio - chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier - but they also make a rose and a blanc de blancs. This one retails at £27.50 and I was impressed with it - it had a richness and complexity that reminded me of vintage champagne. The connection with Quinta do Noval is Christian Seely, who is the managing director (see Jancis article here).
I was also introduced to Corinne Michot, who was presenting the ports that evening. She had lots of great stories and was very entertaining to listen to. I'm not sure I should necessarily repeat everything she said!
Corinne started with an explanation of how port is made and told us that five grape varieties go into it. I lost track after touriga nacional, which was unfortunate as she told us we wouldn't get any cheese if we couldn't remember them all later! We also heard that the grapes for the vintage port are trampled by foot and that after three hours of this your legs are stained purple for the next two months. Where do I sign up?
The first port we tasted was the Noval Black, on the far left of the picture above. This is an entry-level port, with an easy-drinking style, and doesn't need decanting. It was perfectly nice and did the job it was designed to do.
Next up was this 2008 unfiltered Late Bottled Vintage port. This only costs slightly more than the Black (£19.50 compared to £17.50). It was described as being like a baby vintage port. I found it significantly more spirity on the nose.
Then it was on to this 2005 Silval vintage port. Corinne told us that Silval is a single vineyard on the estate. Here the alcohol was starting to mellow. Others thought it was quite light for vintage port, but 2005 wasn't a great vintage. It was interesting to try it.
Then we were on to the real deal, the 2012 vintage. Obviously this is very young but it's surprisingly approachable even now. Most port houses declared in 2011 rather than 2012, but Quinta do Noval declared in both. Apparently declaring in a different year from the competition is something they do quite often.
I enjoyed this very much and have already snapped some up for my cellar, although I'll have to be patient. ACC said it had a beginning and an end but was lacking in the middle at the moment - that would come with time. It was certainly far more nuanced than the previous ports, and you could taste wood, herbs and spices. Something to look forward to in my old age! Incidentally, Corinne told us that she's often asked when you should drink your vintage port, and "the answer depends on who I'm talking to". She advises opening a bottle a year to see how it's coming on. If only I had sufficient stocks to make that possible!
|Come to mummy...|
Finally, we tasted the jewel in the crown, the Nacional. We heard stories of restaurants where the sommeliers didn't understand the difference between this and the normal Quinta do Noval vintage port, and wished names would be named so that we could pay them a visit.
Corinne told us that Nacional is a small part of the vineyard where the vines are ungrafted, Most vines planted in Europe are grafted on to a phylloxera-resistant rootstock, but these aren't. Quite what that means in practice I'm not sure, except the proof is in the tasting. Admittedly I haven't drunk as much vintage port as some present who shall remain nameless, but this was undoubtedly the best port I've ever tasted.
It had a dark and intense nose with hints of liquorice, then on the palate it had an amazing silky texture and again great intensity. The finish went on for minutes. It was like port squared. The connoisseur next to me said that the fruit was closed and needed to relax, which I suppose it will with time. Certainly, when he said that, I immediately started tasting tight little currants. It had black fruits - blackcurrants and black cherries, and earthy flavours, and it also had a herbaceous quality - some said lavender and rosemary, whereas I detected mint which reminded me of my beloved Latour. Corinne said it's a baby and we all need to come back in 30 years. Power, complexity and elegance were all present in spades. I very much hope I get to try it again some day.
|Sadly all the Nacional was gone by this stage of the evening|
With the cheese, we had two tawny ports - a 20 year old tawny and a 2000 colheita which had spent 14 years in barrel. I found the 20 year old delicious with its dried fruits, almonds, orange peel and toffee. The vintage colheita was also great but possibly hampered by not being quite as ready to drink yet. The next day, G (who wasn't at the tasting) and I had a debate about whether the 20 year old tawny was the same as the William Pickering sold by AN Other merchant, but ACC confirmed that it's not the same blend. I'd love to try them side by side...
Towards the end of the evening, we had a surprise guest. This Rhodesian Ridgeback belonged to one of the owners of the Perseverance, and was quite magnificent.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable and educational evening, great to meet Corinne and her colleague Sam, and try these wonderful ports. The Nacional was an experience I won't be forgetting in a hurry. Thanks to ACC for encouraging me to attend!