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Port Stars

Vintage Port's Highest-Rated Wines Come From Fonseca, Graham, Quinta do Noval and Taylor Fladgate & Yeatman Vinnos SA
Posted: December 1, 1994

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However, this hasn't stopped a few bottles from surfacing in the marketplace. Nacional holds all price records for vintage Port: in 1988, a bottle of the 1931 Nacional sold for $5,900 to a pair of diners at the Graycliff Restaurant in the Bahamas. In 1991, another bottle of the same wine sold at a Wine Spectator charity auction in New York for $3,800.

What makes Nacional so special is that it is produced from ungrafted vines. When the root louse phylloxera destroyed most of the European vineyards during the past century, growers were forced to plant American root, onto which they grafted their traditional varieties. The American vines proved resistant to the pest. For some unknown reason, the owner of Quinta do Noval at the time decided to leave a small section of his vineyard ungrafted. This tradition has continued at Noval ever since, and the 6,000 Nacional estate vines at the estate (an additional 1,000 should come into production by 1997) have produced some of the region's most gloriously concentrated vintage Ports.

Quinta do Noval is one of the finest wine estates in the Douro region. Located in the Pinaho Valley in the Cima Corgo, Noval's whitewashed terraced vineyards dominate one hillside of the valley. All of Noval's vintage Ports are produced from its vineyards at the estate, although its other Ports are blends of wines from other properties. The French insurance group, AXA, bought the brand and estate in 1993. AXA is well known in the wine world, mostly due to its vast holdings in Bordeaux, including Château-Pichon-Longueville-Lalande and Château Cantenac-Brown.

Although it is made in the same time-honored manner--hand- picked and foot-crushed--Nacional has very little to do with Quinta do Noval's other vintage Ports. Nacional vintage Ports have more color, aroma, flavor and structure than a standard vintage from Noval. Production is also tiny in comparison: between 8,000 and 12,000 cases of Noval's normal vintage Port may be produced in a given year. The most recent vintages of Nacional include 1991, 1989, 1987, 1985, 1982 and 1980.

But be warned: recent vintages of Nacional--and Noval's normal vintage Port--have not hit the mark. With the exception of the 1987, a great vintage of Nacional has not been produced since 1970. Recent vintages are still highly collectible due to Nacional's rarity, but the quality does not justify the premium prices.

This said, however, older vintages are worth every penny. Nacionals such as the 1970, 1967 and 1966 are wonderfully concentrated and show a kaleidoscope of aromas and flavors. They will continue to improve with cellaring for decades to come. The 1963 is a benchmark for vintage Port and still tastes like a five- or six-year-old Port today. It's a perfect wine.

At a recent tasting of Nacional vintage Ports in London, Christian Seely, the managing director of Noval, sat speechless minutes after tasting the '63. "It's still hard to believe that this wine is over 30 years old," he said. "It is an amazing wine." He also said that the company may begin releasing a few vintages of Nacional in the market, mostly through wine auctions in London. More people may soon have the opportunity to experience the pleasures of this fine vintage Port.


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