Quinta do Noval Labrador Syrah 2013
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:
- Noval was the first to introduce stencilled bottles in the 1920s.
- Noval pioneered the concept of Old Tawnies with an indication of age.
- In 1958, Noval was the first to introduce a late-bottled vintage (LBV).
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.
The home of Port—perhaps the most internationally acclaimed beverage—the Douro region of Portugal is one of the world’s oldest delimited wine regions, established in 1756. The vineyards of the Douro, set on the slopes surrounding the Douro River (known as the Duero in Spain), are incredibly steep, necessitating the use of terracing and thus, manual vineyard management as well as harvesting. The Douro's best sites, rare outcroppings of Cambrian schist, are reserved for vineyards that yield high quality Port.
While more than 100 indigenous varieties are approved for wine production in the Douro, there are five primary grapes that make up most Port and the region's excellent, though less known, red table wines. Touriga Nacional is the finest of these, prized for its deep color, tannins and floral aromatics. Tinta Roriz (Spain's Tempranillo) adds bright acidity and red fruit flavors. Touriga Franca shows great persistence of fruit and Tinta Barroca helps round out the blend with its supple texture. Tinta Cão, a fine but low-yielding variety, is now rarely planted but still highly valued for its ability to produce excellent, complex wines.
White wines, generally crisp, mineral-driven blends of Arinto, Viosinho, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina and an assortment of other rare but local varieties, are produced in small quantities but worth noting.
With hot summers and cool, wet winters, the Duoro has a maritime climate.
Marked by an unmistakable deep purple hue and savory aromatics, Syrah accounts for a good deal of some of the most intense, powerful and age-worthy reds in the world. Native to the Northern Rhône, Syrah still achieves some of its maximum potential here, especially from Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie.
Syrah also plays an important component in the canonical Southern Rhône blends based on Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, adding color, depth, complexity and structure to the mix. Today these blends have become well-appreciated from key appellations of the New World, namely Australia, California and increasingly, with praise, from Washington.
In the Glass
Syrah typically shows aromas and flavors of purple fruits, fragrant violets, baking spice, white pepper and even bacon, smoke or black olive. In Australia, where it goes under the name Shiraz, it produces deep, dark, intense and often, jammy reds. While Northern Rhône examples are typically less fruity and more earthy, California appears increasingly capable of either style.
Flavorful Moroccan-spiced lamb, grilled meats, spareribs and hard, aged cheeses are perfect with Syrah. Blue cheeses are perfect with a dense and fruit-driven Australian Shiraz.
Due to the success of Australian “Shiraz,” winemakers throughout the world have adopted this synonym for Syrah when they have produced a plush and fruit forward wine made in the Australian style. As an aside, Australians are also fond of tempering their fruit-forward Shiraz by blending with Cabernet Sauvignon, which adds depth and structure.