Quinta do Noval Still Wines – Christian Seely on the Latest Vintage Releases

Quinta do Noval in Portugal's Douro Valley

© photo provided

Quinta do Noval in Portugal's Douro Valley

Quinta do Noval in Portugal's Douro Valley

© photo provided

It is a local proverb that there are “three months of winter and nine months of hell” in the Douro; so relentless is the heat of the beating sun in the summer months. This Portuguese inland region, with ancient, terraced schist vineyards along the Douro river, is home to Port, the fortified wine that has been made there for centuries. Today, however, the Douro also shines with still, unfortified table wines made from indigenous varieties, in both red and white. 

One of the Douro’s foremost properties, Quinta do Noval, famous for its Nacional vineyard and the Vintage Ports made there, has been making still, unfortified wines since the early 2000s. They now represent 40% of the annual production. Managing director Christian Seely spoke to Falstaff to present his latest releases. 

Still White Wines of the Douro 

“White wine from the Douro is something I take extremely seriously, “ Seely says. “I think the potential is enormous. The focus has been on red wines, but the quality potential of these whites is limitless, actually.” He notes that until the emergence of unfortified wines in the early 2000s in the region, “the white grapes were essentially for making white Port.” This meant that they were never taken as seriously as the red grapes. Often, they would be planted in field blends. “it is hard to find them planted individually. If you want to make some serious white wines you basically have to plant a vineyard,” Seely says and that is just what they did at Quinta do Noval: they planted 2.6 hectares of Viosinho and Gouveio in 2007 – and have since planted 1.3 ha more. “The thrill of these white varieties from the Douro is their personality. They have much character and individuality, which is always welcome, and they also have a natural freshness. Despite the hot, dry conditions we have. I have never had to acidify in the Douro.” 

His white Cedro do Noval, a blend of 65% Viosinho and 35% Gouveio was fermented in oak barrels with acacia headboards – favouring texture rather than obvious wood flavours. According to Seely, these two indigenous varieties complement each other: “Sometimes we make Gouveio on its own, but I think you get a little bit more body and florality from the Viosinho.” So convinced of the quality is Seely, that he can imagine making a Douro DOC Reserva from these whites when the vines are older. Currently they are bottled under the entry-level label Cedro do Noval.  

Seely then moves on to the three red wines from the 2018 vintage: 2018 was an “extremely hot year,” Seely notes, but “with sufficient water reserves in the soil, fewer heat spikes and, from time to time, some useful days of rain in the summer.” 

Syrah and “paradoxical” Touriga Nacional 

“We planted Syrah in 2000. It seems to be at home here and really fits in. It blends also extremely well with the locals varieties. It has a chameleon-like quality and adapts. By now, we really think of it as a Douro variety,” Seely says about the presence of Syrah in the Cedro do Noval blend. This French variety from the Rhône Valley makes up a quarter of the wine, amidst the local varieties Touriga Nacional (50%), Touriga Francesa (20%) and Tinto Cao (5%). But Seely reserves most praise for Touriga Nacional, which is the backbone of all three red wines: “Touriga Nacional is one of the great noble varieties of the Douro. It has naturally extremely low yields – it rarely exceeds 25 hl/ha.” He says that it is difficult at flowering, that it is hard to establish young vines but “once they have a good root structure, they can stand drought and heat. It produces some of the very finest wines in the Douro, both for Port and still wines.” 

Seely loves Touriga Nacional so much that he makes a separate bottling of the variety, made in an unusual fashion that brings out what to him is the real nature of this fragrant grape variety: “I think of Touriga Nacional as being very delicate, floral, aromatic, elegant variety – and if you want it to be like that, you have to vinify it accordingly.” The pure Touriga Nacional wine is thus fermented entirely in stainless steel and matured in oak of which only a small portion is new. “The other thing about Touriga Nacional is that it seems to respond extremely well to heat – you can make rather thrilling Touriga Nacional in a very hot year – there are lots of paradoxical things about it.” 

A New Lease of Life 

It is the Reserva wine that Seely sees as the central expression of Douro still red wine. The 2018 vintage is made from 60% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Francesa and 15% of an old, field blend planted on the Quinta. “The Tourigas used in this reserve are slightly more structured anyway. Touriga Francesa is very interesting in a blend, because typically it does not go to such high potential alcohol, it has a freshness that can be useful, it and also has a different tannic structure. I think It gives you something that is more profound.” 

Naturally, the Douro will always be linked to Port, one of the world’s most classic and enduring styles – which nonetheless has struggled with modern sensibilities being a fortified, sweet wine. The still wines thus are still a departure of sorts. They are original because they are made from indigenous varieties. Seely says: “I believe that these wines can give a new lease of life to the Douro, but also deliver to wine drinkers around the world some wines that are really different.”  

Cedro do Noval White 2020 13.5%

see the tasting notes

Cedro do Noval Red 2018 14%

see the tasting notes

Touriga Nacional Douro DOC 2018 14%

see the tasting notes