Not another stodgy Port: Noval Black

As I write this holiday-season column about Port, a troubling thought comes to mind: Doesn’t most everyone think Port is, well, stodgy?

Notes for you

• This week’s paid-tier edition – my report on a fine Reserve Ruby Port for winter sipping – goes out as a holiday gift to the entire community. Like what you see? Consider upgrading to our paid tier and join us every week! Already a paid subscriber? Thanks so much. You help make this happen. Click here to subscribe.
• For the holidays: Food and wine books you’ll like
• Today’s tasting report: Noval Black Reserve Porto

Even the august New York Times is on the record saying so.

“I know, I know,” Times writer Rosie Schaap opined in a 2013 holiday-season column, Pour the Port, Hold the Stodginess. “Port has a whiff of empire about it, and that doesn’t sit well with every drinker,” Schaap went on. “It has become something of a stock figure: a stodgy old man, a bit of a snob, the indignant, unknowing butt of a joke or two.”

Really? I confess that I’m on record as a fan. “Port, the powerful red fortified wine of Portugal, strong and sweet, has been a world favorite for two centuries or more,” I wrote in a September 2018 column, Any Port in a storm. “Beloved by the British, its siren song sung by literary lights from Sam Pepys to Sam Johnson and beyond.”

Perhaps there’s some American stereotyping of the imagined sniffy upper-crust Brit going on here. Despite our apparent fascination with the royals and their foibles, we did engage in a revolution against King and Parliament nearly 250 years ago.

Be that as it may, even Quinta do Noval, the producer of today’s featured Port, acknowledges this powerful, sweet Portuguese red wine’s reputation as it introduces Noval Black Reserve as a modern alternative to the old stuff:

Noval Black Reserve is a new way to drink Port, a new-age {ort destined to be enjoyed with dark chocolate or simply drunk chilled, used also as a cocktail ingredient. A clear expression of the Noval style, no ageing and no decanting necessary. No complications, just a great glass of Port.

What makes Noval Black different? It’s clearly still Port, made with the region’s standard grape mix of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, and Sousão.

Many Port producers continue the ancient custom of treading ripe grapes in concrete vats called lagares.

Many Port producers continue the ancient custom of treading ripe grapes in concrete vats called lagares.

The grapes – half of them, at least – are even trodden by foot in the ancient Portuguese custom. The other half undergoes a more modern vinification in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats; the portions are then reunited and aged for a relatively brief two to three years in a mix of stainless steel and large wooden vats intended to preserve the wine’s freshness.

This is no fancy Vintage Port. Its affordable price, and the wine’s origin in relatively young vines, make that clear. But it’s a step up from generic Ruby Port, the most basic style meant for early drinking. Its careful if relatively brief aging process qualifies it as Reserve Ruby Port, implying a higher level of quality, color, and complexity than the standard Ruby.

If the title Reserve Ruby Port feels unfamiliar, that may be because it’s relatively new. As Wine-Searcher reports, “The style is often informally called Premium Ruby, and was once known as ‘vintage character’ Port in English-speaking countries. The latter term was banned in 2002 by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP), as it implied a connection with the much more expensive Vintage Port.”

So there we have it: A new marketing approach for a modern designation for an older niche of affordable Port. The result is an approachable wine that’s strong and sweet but adding a sleek, smooth character that fits in with modern tastes: A 21st century take on a 400-year-old tradition.

Old or new, there’s no reason to look down on Port. As writer Schaap put it in concluding her Times article: “Ultimately, port is just too gentle and comforting to be called stuffy. But don’t let me stop you if you happen to have a tufted leather wing chair, a brace of Cavalier King Charles spaniels and the diary of Samuel Pepys. These, too, go well with port.”


Today’s Tasting Report

Noval Black Reserve Porto ($29.99)

Noval Black

A traditional Port blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, and Sousão grapes, Noval Black Reserve Porto isn’t quite black in the glass, but it’s definitely a dark blackish-purple. Appealing blueberry scents rise first from the glass, leading to a rich, sweet flavor that’s not merely sugary-sweet but shows fascinating complex nuances of sweet dates, dried cherries and dried figs, plus a touch of dark chocolate in the background. Served chilled as the producer advises, there’s perceptible heat from 19.5% alcohol. Its bold sweet-fruit flavor mellows, though, as the wine airs and warms in the glass. U.S. importer: Vintus LLC, NYC. (Dec. 21, 2023)

FOOD MATCH: It’s designed as an easy-drinking Port for enjoyment on its own or even as an ingredient in cocktails. Try it, though, with nuts, cheeses, or dark chocolate; it was spectacular with a dark, fudgy homemade brownie.

WHEN TO DRINK: In contrast with vintage Port, it’s not made for aging. Buy it, drink it, don’t worry about it going over the hill, but there’s no need to cellar it.

My $30 local price was significantly above’s $23 average U.S. retail,, with scattered vendors offering it for as little as $16. Reserve Ruby Port typically sells in the $20 to $30 range, and as always, it makes sense to shop for value.

The QR code on the back label takes you to Noval’s Black Porto page.

For more extensive information, visit importer Vintus’s Noval Black Port page.

Check prices and find vendors for Noval Black Reserve Porto on

Learn more about Quinta do Noval and browse its Port portfolio at this Wine-Searcher link.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to read more about Reserve Ruby Port and find listings for dozens of other wines of this type.


Wine Focus December 2023
Benchmarks of Grenache

Our online Wine Focus topic for December 2023 is Benchmarks of Grenache. This easy-to-like red variety is one of the 13 permitted grapes in Southern Rhône blends, including the classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Grenache is probably best known for this historic role, but it’s also important in Spain, and gathering steam in California and other wine regions around the world.

As always, you are welcome to open a bottle, jot down a note, and bring your impressions and your questions to our WineLovers Discussion Group. Let’s talk about Grenache!


Find the wines you want

Explore Wine-Searcher is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.


Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!


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