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News Special: Noval declares '04 vintage

Published:  23 July, 2008

By Stuart Peskett - Resplendent in his trademark bow tie, Christian Seely, MD of Axa Millsimes, was in a good mood when he announced that Quinta do Noval would be releasing a 2004 vintage Port.

The other project occupying Seely's time is the launch of four new table wines from the Douro. The project began in the early 1990s, when two-thirds of the 66 hectares (ha) were replanted, and Seely said he was always convinced of the region's ability to produce world-class table wines: 'We've always believed that it was one of the greatest vineyard terroirs in the world, and it's a place that's found its expression in vintage Ports and tawny Ports up to now, but I've always thought that it could do that for unfortified wines as well. With the 2004 vintage, we had something I was happy to release under the Quinta do Noval name as a red wine.'

Two of the new wines are from Noval. The first, simply bearing the name of the estate, will retail for 27, while the second wine, Cedro do Noval, will be priced at 8. Cedro is named after the cedar tree on the terrace of the property.

In both wines, the bulk of the blend will be Touriga Nacional ('the noblest of the Douro grape varieties', according to Seely), with a little Tinto Co and Touriga Francesa added to the top wine, and Tinta Roriz and Touriga Francesa making up the Cedro blend. Around 1,000 cases of the eponymous wine will be produced, and 1,400 cases of Cedro do Noval.

The remaining two wines are from Seely's neighbouring property, Quinta da Romaneira, which he acquired in 2004. This estate is nothing to do with Noval or Axa Millsimes (the French insurance giant that owns Noval, as well as a number of top French chteaux, including Pichon Longueville in Bordeaux, and Suduiraut in Sauternes). When Seely got his hands on Romaneira, more than half the 76ha needed replanting immediately, so at present, only 36ha of vineyard are being used.

The first of the two wines, Quinta da Romaneira, is a blend of 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinto Co, and will retail for around 20. The second wine, 'R', is 100% Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) and will sell for 5. A total of 500 cases of each wine will be produced.

Seely is adamant that he is not 'giving up the day job', and that Port production will always the priority at Noval, but he admits that he was 'obsessed' with making a Douro table wine. All the new table wines will be distributed by Paragon Vintners.

Regarding the 2006 vintage, Noval was one of the producers that suffered vineyard damage after a hailstorm earlier in the year. Seely lost 25% of his crop, but said that fortunately, the very dry weather that followed eliminated any possibility of rot.

'It's looking extremely good,' Seely said of the current vintage. 'It's been very hot, but the grapes are not looking dry or shrivelled up.'

More generally, Seely is pleased that the Douro region is getting more known for its table wines: 'It's an incredibly exciting and creative time. Everyone is experimenting on working with Douro wine, and that will lead to a diversity of styles in the beginning. I think it's very important to allow this diversity, because it will lead to the creation of some very high-quality wines.'

Sadly for Seely, when he became MD of Axa it meant saying goodbye to his beloved Douro and hello to Bordeaux. And while he admits that he cried when he had to leave, his grief was countered in one way: 'They don't have oysters in Portugal, and they only have one type of cheese.'

Not surprisingly, Seely was delighted with the 'extraordinary' 2005 en primeur campaign: 'We could have gone higher than we did in 2005. I think the vintage is definitely better than 1982, because of the way people work today. We have lower yields, we're stricter with the selection, ruthlessly eliminating grapes that are not perfect. I really think that the hype was justified.'