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Berry Bros. & Rudd William Pickering, 20-Year-Old, Tawny Port
Scores and Reviews
Quinta do Noval was first owned, for more than a century, by the Rebello Valente family who were given it by the Marquês do Pombal, Portugal’s Prime Minister. It was later owned by the Van Zeller family who had to rebuild following a catastrophic fire in 1981. Finally Quinta do Noval was sold to AXA insurance group in May 1993.
Quinta do Noval is one of the most evocative of names and the maker of the most famous of all Vintage Ports - Naçional.
The scourge of European vineyards in the late 19th century, the phylloxera aphid was thwarted at Noval's best vineyard by intense fumigation and, rather than grafting the vines on to American root-stocks, which was the usual practice, they managed to survive using Portuguese stock - hence "Naçional".
Noval made its reputation with the declaration of 1931. Due to world recession and vast shipment of 27’s, it was one of only three shippers declared in 1931. Noval introduced the first stenciled bottles and in 1958 the first house to introduce a Late Bottled Vintage.
The Quinta do Noval itself lies perfectly situated along a steep hillside in the heart of the Douro Valley where the vines flourish and produce the highest-grade fruit.
Noval today appears to be thriving under the ownership of insurance group AXA with Managing Director Christian Seely, ensuring that their Vintage Port remains one of the most sought-after wines. AXA is a group which already includes a string of leading Bordeaux châteaux.
There are around 40 different grape varieties permitted in the production of Port - however the vast majority of Ports are produced from a blend of 5 grapes - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinto Cão.
Touriga Nacional produces small, dark-skinned grapes that produce opaque black wines of great extract and high tannins - it gives grip, body, and structure to the blend.
Touriga Franca has a thinner skin and consequently produces wines lighter in colour and tannins than Touriga Nacional. It contributes fruit, aroma, suppleness and roundness.
Tinta Roriz is the Portuguese name for Tempranillo and its high sugar content and low acidity contribute colour and fruit.
Tinta Barroca which is normally grown at highish altitudes and on north-facing slopes, is prized for producing wines of delicacy, finesse and with smooth, velvety fruit. It brings elegance and sweet, ripe fruit to the final blend.
Finally Tinto Cão produces fine and complex wines, though it is probably the least important of the 5 grapes as its painfully small yields have reduced plantings to almost insignificant levels.
Tawny Ports are aged in casks rather than large tanks or bottles like their Ruby counterparts. This gives them a lighter (in both body and colour) and silkier style. There are two major types of Tawny: a blend of several recent vintages with no specific statement of age – known as basic Tawny Port – and older-aged Tawnies, marked as 10, 20, 30 or 40 years old.
Basic Tawny is aged in small casks for two to eight years, during which time the wines take on a tawny colour (hence the name) and a smooth, sweet, dried-fruit character. Tawny Port can also be made by blending red and white Ports together, although the finest examples are not made in this way. Lightly-chilled Tawny makes an excellent apéritif but works equally well with chocolate desserts or cheese. It is ready to drink as soon as it is released, does not throw a sediment, and does not improve with bottle age.
Aged Tawny is the best-known and finest style of Tawny Port, often in par with the other venerable style, Vintage Port. It can be labelled as 10, 20, 30 or more than 40 years old. This age statement refers to the average age of the wines in the blend, although it is not an exact science. Older Tawny Ports are added for extra subtlety and complexity, while younger Tawnies bring freshness. Vintage-dated Tawny is also produced and is known as Colheita. It is relatively rare but often offers exceptional quality and value.
Aged Tawnies are aged for many years in wooden casks where they take on an increasingly tawny colour, a coffee, nutty, dried-fruit complexity and a silky character as the tannins soften. The oldest Tawnies are mellower, complex, delicate and less sweet in style. Once bottled, Aged Tawnies are perfect to drink and do not require decanting as they do not throw a sediment or improve with bottle age.
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