Understanding Port – Vintage vs Late Bottled Vintage Port.
On the face of it, two bottles of Port from the same maker, from the same year and with both labels including the word ‘vintage’ don’t sound too different. Until you check the price. One, the vintage, is six to eight times the price of the LBV. In fact, expensive enough for me to justify a cheese-fest from Neals Yard cheeses for our dinner – just to make sure we had the best possible experience without actually being in the Douro Valley (if you do fancy visiting, we can recommend some great wine hotels in the Duoro where you can stay!)
Both bottles from Quinta do Noval, I felt, needed to be decanted. Now, when I was growing up the job of decanting port was my dad’s. I never learnt how to – and although I have a stunning decanter set (with glasses from somewhere else as the originals were broken before I even took ownership of it), it’s something I’ve never done. Google is a wonderful thing though. Given the price of one of these bottles, I sat watching several videos. Decanting port really isn’t hard. There are a few things you need to do if you want the perfect pour, but other than having a reasonably steady hand and the ability to take a cork cleanly from a bottle, there’s not much skill involved.
- First, make sure your port is standing upright on the worktop where you will be decanting it for at least half an hour.
- The perfect time to decant your port depends on the age of it. Younger Ports (under 40 years old) can be decanted 2-3 hours before you plan on drinking. Older ports should really be decanted just half an hour to an hour before serving as they are perfect after 30 minutes to an hour.
- Carefully take the cork out of the bottle, trying not to disturb the sediment or to pierce through the cork with the corkscrew. The corks can become quite crumbly as Port ages, so this is an art in itself in my experience. You may need to let the bottle settle again once you’ve removed the cork. Just make a cup of tea and relax for ten minutes.
- Wipe the lip of the bottle with a clean cloth.
- Take the decanter in one hand and the bottle in your other hand and tilt both gently towards each other, then pour from the bottle into the decanter. Ideally, this should be done somewhere with a good light so that you can see where the sediment is. In my case, the decanters I have only take 500ml of liquid, so I don’t have to worry too much for the first serving.
- A lot of people suggest ‘rinsing’ the decanter with a little cheaper port or red wine before decanting, just to make sure there’s no taint. You should definitely check the decanter before you start and if necessary wash and rinse with water and leave to dry.
- Put the stopper back in the decanter and leave it until you are ready to serve.
The hardest part for me was extracting the cork cleanly and I’m glad my ports were only 8 years old.
On to what we found when we tasted the port…
Our ports were from Quinta do Noval. I decanted them both at the same time, an hour before my guests arrived. The pink ribbon on the decanter was to make sure I could remember which port was where! I even wrote it down before dinner, just in case age and alcohol got the better of me!
First of all, the Late Bottled Vintage. Unlike the vintage port, an LBV is kept in barrel for between 4 and 6 years. That allows the wine to mature faster so that LBV is ready to drink once it is bottled. Though, some will still benefit from a few years ageing in bottle. LBV has to be a ruby Port from a single year. In the case of the Quinta do Noval, also from a single vineyard. And, the Quinta do Noval LBV is unfiltered, just like its bottle-aged vintage cousin. Because it’s unfiltered, it will have carried on ageing in bottle. Samples of the LBV are submitted to the IVDP tasting panel for approval and issuance of the ‘Selo de Garantia’ so there’s little on the outside to differentiate it from a pure vintage.
I liked it a lot and am planning on stocking up a couple of bottles for Christmas. My testers also really enjoyed it and described it as velvet on the tongue, slightly sweet with a dryish finish. I thought it was bursting with autumnal fruity notes, plums and blackberries. We had a few figs with the cheese which complemented this port brilliantly too – and I enjoyed what was left the next evening sitting by the fire with a few chocolates.
The second Port, Quinta do Noval’s vintage, is from the same year. Each port house can declare a vintage whenever they feel it appropriate. The wine has to be produced, aged and bottled following the regulations for vintage port. Samples have to be ratified by the IVDP before the wine can be bottled and sold as vintage. And, for the most part, that happens three or four times in each decade and accounts for just 2% of Port wine. So, in the past decade, 2011, 2007 and 2003 were fully declared by nearly all shippers. 2012 was ONLY declared by a few producers, including Quinta do Noval who made just 1000 bottles. The Noval philosophy is that if just a small plot of vines produces top-quality wine, they will declare it – even if there is just a small amount available. These often become collectors’ items. Noval has now declared 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
While it’s possible to drink it now, they believe the 2012 vintage will age well for up to 40 years. Made from old vines and matured for 18 months in wooden casks, we found it a little dryer and earthier with notes of tobacco, still with those berry notes. It didn’t pair so well with the cheese, but we wondered if it needed further ageing. Sipping on the following night with chocolates was more successful and I really appreciated the complexity when paired that way.
Quinta do Noval, the producer of these two wines, is in the Douro valley in Northern Portugal and has been producing port since 1715. Unlike other port shippers with Port Houses in Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto their operations are entirely based in the Douro so the barrel ageing of their ports is in a cellar below their vineyards. They are best known for the Nacional Vintage Port, which is unique in that in the late 19th century, the phylloxera aphid was thwarted at Noval’s best vineyard by intense fumigation so, rather than grafting the vines on to American root-stocks, which was the usual practice, the original vines managed to survive using Portuguese stock – hence “Naçional”
The winemaker for the 2012 vintage, Antonio Manuel de Sousa Pinto Agrellos was Portuguese Oenologist of the Year both in 1997 and 2001 and comes from a family that has produced, aged and traded in Port for four generations. His nephew Carlos Agrellos is now the Technical Director at Noval and took over gradually through 2017/2018. This is an old and very traditional port producer.
Now, you may be wondering what next. As I mentioned, I’m planning on buying a bottle or two of the LBV for Christmas. At around £22 it’s a real bargain – and for me, perfect for drinking right now. The vintage port is outside my normal price range – I’ve found it ranges from around £60 to £180 a bottle. And, although I love port, even with guests I find it hard to drink a bottle fast enough to do this kind of premium wine justice (it will only really keep for a few days. But, I’ll be looking for the name when I’m enjoying a special meal out – and hoping that I can treat myself to a glass after dinner sometime soon, perhaps from an even earlier vintage.
Find out more about Quinta do Noval from their website.
Looking for something different? How about a white Port and Tonic? Summer may be over but it’s still the perfect cocktail