Head of Port house Quinta do Noval, Christian Seely, came to London last year to highlight how the producer does things differently, while ensuring stylistic continuity.
Considering developments at the Port producer when addressing wine writers during a tasting at The Connaught Hotel, Seely stressed that Noval has seen the smooth completion of a succession plan as former technical director António Agrellos has, since the end of 2017, handed over complete control to his nephew, Carlos Agrellos.
Such a move has ensured a continuity of knowledge and style, with Carlos working alongside his uncle at the quinta for two years before taking sole charge of the property.
Nevertheless, António remains in the background as “consultant winemaker” – recognition of his significant and valuable expertise, having worked at Noval with Seely since 1994, when parent company AXA Millésimes bought the estate.
Indeed, António Agrellos is credited for the revival in the quality of the wines from Quinta do Noval, something achieved with the backing of AXA, as significant investment was required to bring the property back to its past glory, with, for example, 100 hectares of the estate (which totals 143ha today) replanted from 1994 to ’99.
António was then instrumental in the creation of a cultural shift towards high-quality winemaking at Noval through strict selection in the vineyard and cellar, as well as greatly increased levels of hygiene.
But what makes Noval singular? This stems, explained Seely, both from its site specifics, notably the tiny 1.6ha parcel at the heart of the property called Nacional, as well as the producer’s approach to classic vintage declarations.
Unlike most Port houses, which make a vintage declaration on average three times a decade, Noval tends to release a vintage Port from every harvest.
Explaining the approach, Seely said, “We have declared a vintage every year since 2011, which is a record for anyone, and this is because I believe that if you have wines of sufficient quality, event if they are in a tiny quantity, then you ought to do it.”
However, he added that the quantities of vintage Port are lower in “eccentric vintages”, noting that the harvests in 2012, ’13, and ’14 produced only around 1,000 cases each.
Speaking about more recent vintages, he described 2015 and ’16 as “serious stuff”, with the latter “a great year for Quinta do Noval and outstanding for Nacional” – producing 6,000 cases of the Noval vintage and 200 of the Nacional expression.
Looking ahead to 2017, one can assume that Noval will launch another vintage expression, although Seely intimated that he wouldn’t unveil a Nacional at the same time, but hold back the wine for a special release at a later date.
It is worth noting that the producer has not yet launched a 2015 Nacional expression either, although Seely said that it was possible that the producer may use the wine for something significant in the future.
Seely made the comments in November during a dinner at London’s Connaught Hotel, which has assembled the largest list of Quinta do Noval ports in the UK with vintages going back to 1927.
In all, there are twenty-six Ports in the Quinta do Noval Collection at The Connaught for hotel guests as well as diners at the two-Michelin starred ‘Hélène Darroze at the Connaught’ restaurant.