Quinta do Noval, Swedes and Morris Dancing


Saw on Facebook that Jamie Goode is currently staying at Quinta do Noval. Hope he’s having a great time, I have fond memories of being there at roughly the same point for the 1998 vintage, which was, not to mince words, one of the crapper years in recent memory. It was in the period before Christian Seely, he of Mona Lisa smile and impeccable dickie bow, took the helm at AXA Millésimes and moved to Bordeaux, so he and his (now ex-) wife Maria were in residence at the Quinta. ‘Noval has an entirely Portuguese team and entirely French ownership – I’m the English axis on which things turn.’

Slowly working his way through stocks of old wines and overseeing production of some excellent new ones clearly suited him, as did a steady stream of visitors from various parts of the globe. The previous weekend, he’d been entertaining a group of rather quiet Swedes. Quiet that was until the end of one meal, when they coughed, looked at each, stood up and sang to the Seelys – in Swedish.

Over the course of three days, we yomped over the soggy terraces of vines, hoping that the sun would come out and – as in incey-wincey spider – dry up all the rain (it didn’t). We tasted some splendid wines – Nacional 1994 is truly exceptional, the 1996 isn’t far behind, while an array of colheitas culminated in a delicate nutty 1937 that in Aussie parlance was certainly not a shabby wine. And we nattered about various things, and it came out that Christian used to have a Food & Wine Gift Pack company called Presents of Mind and it came out that I came from a place where they did a lot of Morris Dancing…

Now Christian could compete with Roger Moore in the discipline of enigmatic eyebrow-raising, and I saw his brow twitch when the subject of Morris Dancing arose – clearly, I thought, he is a fan…

And so, the following morning, our last at Noval, after we’d wiped the toast crumbs and egg dribbles from the corners of our mouths and were sipping our last sips of coffee, I coughed, grabbed a couple of napkins, stood up and did a Swedish Morris Dance, complete with a suitable ditty. I’ll say one thing for Morris Dancing – it doesn’t half get you knackered. After several jumps, much waving of the arms (and napkins) and not a few hey-nonny-noes, I had renewed respect for the men in silly hats and crossed garters. I was flagging but I soldiered on, watching Christian’s eyebrows perform dances almost as wild as mine.

Can’t remember too much of what I sang, apart from: –

‘I have had a wonderful time
In the Douro where the lifestyle is freer
Than in Stockholm where we spend our weekends
In the car-park at IKEA.’

Oh, and I managed to rhyme ‘the eggs that once were oval’ with ‘Quinta do Noval’ – class.

In the 11 years since then, I’ve come across Christian and his wines several times. He still looks like he enjoys life, he still wears an enigmatic smile, and he still remembers me as the man who did a Swedish Morris Dance at the end of breakfast.

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