Port wine at river's end: Tasting Quinta do Noval in Portugal and beyond

Port wine is one of our favorite evening drinks in autumn, winter, and spring. We recently stepped off the busy street on Avenido de Diogo Leite -- in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, across the Douro River from the city of Porto -- into the tasting room of the Quinta do Noval winery. Widely available in the United States and around the world, I'd recommend Quinta do Noval as a Port to serve at home, and as a place to top into if you ever find yourself in Gaia.

Tasting rooms in Vila Nova de Gaia are a curiosity in themselves. Historically, the Port produced up river in the Douro Valley was shipped by boat down the river to Gaia, the only legal export point for this world famous fortified wine. The tasting rooms in Gaia's Port houses developed into rather a carnival for the curious wine drinker along the waterfront at Avenido de Diogo Leite, providing visitors the opportunity go from house to house without making the two hour (or more) drive into the Douro.

And so ends our journey along one of the wine world's most famous rivers, beginning in Spain's Ribera del Duero with Bodegas Arrocal, continuing into Toro with Bodegas Elias Mora and the San Román wines of Bodegas y Viñedos Maurodos, through Rueda from which the Nuestra Verdejo of Bodegas Marqués de Tomares originates, into Portugal and across the breathtaking Douro to Quevedo Port Winery and Quinta do Pôpa. Yes, we've arrived at the point where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean, and here we've found Quinta do Noval. 

Quinta do Noval White Port

A novelty to many, this white Port struck up an alcoholic yet juicy melon nose. It's proactively pleasing, and will get folks talking at your dinner table (we've served white Port at dinner parties to great acclaim). Drinking it offers the sensation of biting into very lush fruit, a peach in particular, though it is quite dry. Try serve as an aperitif or palate cleanser.

2011 Quinta do Noval Late Bottle Vintage (LBV)

This LBV gives us the distinct nose of a red Douro wine. Swirling in the glass brings out a lighter, creamier coffee nuance to the otherwise dominant cherry vanilla notes. It's not overpoweringly sweet, and is lighter viscosity than what we expected, with notes of candied cherry and a lingering aftertaste when you exhale. We were left with the persistent sensation of cranberries covered in dark chocolate.

2003 Quinta do Noval Colheita Tawny

The darker tawny threw delicious scorched caramel notes of creme brûlée and brown sugar. It was again less viscous than expected, and tasted like winter with a little maple and something at the front that reminded us of youthful holidays.

Quinta do Noval Forty Year Old Tawny

By far -- and predictably -- the smoothest of all we tried, this aged tawny conveys the same level of sophistication as a fine whisky. A pretty color of deep amber and rust gives way to smoke, brown sugar, and molasses mingling together in the nose and palate. It's exactly what you want to end a long day, as it lays softly on the tongue and begs you back for more.