What really excites me about wine is its dynamic nature – its mutability according to variety, site, vintage, winemaking technique and age among other factors. How do so many winemakers resist the lure of working with other varieties, sites or regions?
Most definitely not to be counted amongst their number is fifth generation Port producer Dirk Niepoort of Niepoort, who set the tone when he strayed from the path of Port and started also to make Niepoort’s first table wines in the nineties. The core range, Batuta, Charme, Redoma and Vertente, are focused around native grapes from the Douro’s aged mixed varietal vineyards.
Since then, in cahoots with right hand man Luis Seabra, Niepoort has well and truly extended his range through Niepoort Projectos. Single varietal Vinho Regional (Trás-os-Montes/Duriense) wines from the Douro include a Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Bastardo. Douro red blends Omlet and Ultreia are made in conjunction with Spain’s Telmo Rodriguez and Raúl Peréz respectively. And Niepoort himself makes wine abroad in Spain (Navazos-Niepoort from Jerez and Niepoort Ladredo from Ribeira Sacra) and in Austria (Muhr-van der Niepoort from Carnuntum).
As you might expect, the wines are as exciting as they are accomplished, especially Niepoort Ladredo, one of my January Wines of the Month, indeed a highlight of last year’s tasting calendar. Below you’ll find my cumulative notes on two Niepoort Projectos tastings presented by Dirk Niepoort last October (25th) and November (6th).
Niepoort Moscatel do Douro 2000 (Douro, Portugal) – served as an aperitif on 25 October 2010 alongside crispy suckling pig and spicy almonds. Portugal’s best known fortified Moscatel is Moscatel de Setubal, but Douro Moscatel, made from Moscatel Galego (Muscat à Petit Grains, not Setubal’s Moscatel d’Alexandria), is also well worth getting to know. It’s traditionally grown around Alijo and Favaios at the northern, elevated end of the Pinhão Valley and Niepoort, who says the wines can age 50 years in bottle, aims for a well structured, ageworthy style. For him, the secret lies in the acidity, to which end grapes are picked early, “just when they are starting to ripen.” The grapes are then foot-trodden (with 100% stems) before being aged in 500-600l oak barrels (just 10% new), this wine for ten years. It’s a well-focused but very smooth, refined fortified wine; excellent integration of spirit allows its nuts, barley sugar and orange peel to shine. Very good and interesting to contrast it with the lifted orange blossom of a barrel sample of the 2010 vintage tasted in its first flush of youth in Lisbon on 6 November. £18.99 (half bottle) at Fareham Wine Cellars
Navazos-Niepoort 2008 (Jerez, Spain) – served with oysters, also a shrimp wonton with sweet chilli at the tasting on 25 October. I first tasted this collaboration between Niepoort and cutting edge (yes really!) sherry producer Equipo Navazos in September 2009 during a visit with the Douro Boys (see here for my tasting note and a detailed report of the trip). It’s made from the sherry grape Palomino Fino and, like sherry, barrel fermented under flor but, unlike sherry, it’s not fortified. Though bone dry, its tangy, apple and quince fruit has really come to the fore since last time and I love its combination of freshness and nuttiness, also its leesy/flor’y flavours and texture. Niepoort reckons its chalkiness has increased with age. A really interesting, lively wine with a palpable pulse. 12.5% £18.36 at The Sampler and £18.95 at The Little Wine Club whose website will flesh out the cutting edge comment!
Niepoort Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Vinho Regional Trás-os-Montes) – Dirk was a founder member of Lavradores de Feitoria which has, for some time, made a good Sauvignon Blanc (watch out for my upcoming report on October’s New Douro tasting) This is rather different in style, with less overt varietal character, indeed it tastes more Douro than anything else. Part barrel fermented it’s straw/yellow in hue with impressive depth of flavour, showing a flinty/toasty/ struck match reductive note (which I like), savoury, textured lees and a long mineral finish. Very good and, interestingly, from schist soils (many whites are planted on patches of granite). Tasted in Lisbon, 6 November.
Niepoort Riesling Dócil 2009 (Vinho Regional Trás-os-Montes) – Dirk is a big fan of German Riesling and dócil signifies an off-dry/medium dry style (which concept he has also introduced into Quinta de Soalheiro’s range of Alvarinhos – see here). This Riesling comes from the fruit of 20 year old vines planted at 820m and is fermented in stainless steel. Fresh and well balanced, it shows lifted elderflower, sappy, juicy apples and slate on nose and palate. It weighs in at a featherweight 8% abv, though it feels a tad weightier than most German equivalents – more Austrian if you like. The nose is especially delicious and though very attractive and enjoyable drinking, not to mention a tremendous achievement given its source of origin, I prefer a little more tension and line on the palate. Tasted in London and Lisbon.
Niepoort Bastardo 2008 (Vinho Regional Trás-os-Montes) – much deeper in colour than Conceito’s Bastardo (the first and only other single varietal Basatardo I’ve tasted – see here for my note), it was picked quite early, in August and fermented with 30% stems before being aged in used barrels. While the Conceito put me in mind of Pinot Noir, this is more Cru Beaujolais, especially as it opens up in the glass, showing ripe sweet red and black berry fruits with a fresh picked quality and silky texture. As you might expect, compared with blended Douro reds, it’s relatively straightforward but none the less enjoyable for that! Tasted in London and Lisbon.
Niepoort Pinot Noir 2006 (Vinho Regional Duriense) – Pinot Noir is many a winemaker’s holy grail and, as Jancis Robinson says in her (soon to be updated) book Vines, Grapes and Wines, it’s “a minx of a vine.” To his credit, Niepoort’s Pinot Noir displays good varietal typicity with its chocolate-edged quite austere red fruits as well as its (Douro) roots (the latter taking the form of its backbone of schistous minerality). It’s most definitely more Old World than New World in structure and flavour, which impression is reinforced by fermentation with a proportion of stems (20% whole bunch), which lends an earthy, vegetal note. I’d like to spend more time with this wine to see if air (in glass/decanter) or time in bottle brings a little more lift and unfurls the fruit. It’ll also be interesting to taste subsequent vintages – this was made with the fruit of seven year old vines, a selection massale from Burgundy planted in 1999 at very high density (12,000 vines/ha). Tasted in London.
Niepoort Raúl Peréz Ultreia Douro 2008 (Douro) – Raúl Peréz is one of a new generation of Spain’s cult winemakers who, like Niepoort, is a strong believer in old vines and native varieties. In Spain he makes wine and consults in Bierzo, Monterrei, Ribeira Sacra and Rias Baixas. This, his collaboration with Niepoort, is quite meaty and wild (and appeared a little reduced on its second showing in Lisbon), but it showed lovely floral, peppery lift too (putting me in mind of Spain’s Mencia grape – in Portugal Jaen – for which Peréz is renowned in Bierzo). Grounding gritty, firm mineral tannins bring backbone and balance. Good freshness too. Very good. Tasted in London and Lisbon.
Niepoort Omlet 2005 & 2008 (Douro) – the clue to this wine’s Spanish collaborator is in the name, Omlet, Telmo spelled backwards, for the winemaker is none other than Telmo Rodriquez. The 05 I found quite polished, savoury and leesy – I missed the Douro’s schist which, to me at least, brings more lift, minerality and backbone. Though the 2008 has that savoury, creamy quality, it also shows a lovely spiciness and pronounced minerality with its salt lick finish. Good. 2008 tasted in London and Lisbon; 2005 tasted in London only.
Niepoort Ladredo 2008 (Ribeira Sacra, Spain) - my pick of the bunch this, one of my January Wines of the Month, is a really beautiful wine whose floral, white pepper and incense spice notes bring great energy and lift to its langorous and long raspberry fruit. Fine tannins make for a fluid, refined finish. Simply gorgeous, this blend of around 60% Mencia (Portugal’s Jaen) and 40% Alicante Bouschet hails from a small, 50 year old east-facing vineyard which leans precipitously over the river Sil in Galicia. Niepoort again opts for picking relatively early, he told me, some 2.5 to 3 weeks than most. Tasted in London and Lisbon.
Muhr-van der Niepoort Carnuntum 2007 (Carnuntum, Austria) – Muhr-van der Niepoort is a Carnuntum-based joint venture between Niepoort and his Austrian ex-wife, Dorli Muhr. This, the entry level Blaufränkisch (100%), is sourced from younger vines and, though initially shy and a little reduced, once it opens up it’s a well delineated, sappy, intensely floral (waxy petalled) medium weight silky red which captures this Austrian native variety at its most elegant. Very good.
Muhr-van der Niepoort Spitzerberg 2008 (Carnuntum, Austria) – older vines make for greater intensity and though this has greater concentration, structure and length, both in London and Lisbon I detected a distracting green/metallic note.
Niepoort Crusted Port – Niepoort told me since his new winery was completed, he’s enjoyed spending more time “fine tuning” the Port range and, bottled in December 2007, this is Niepoort’s maiden crusted Port. Made predominantly from grapes harvested in 2003 and 2005 this relatively low production wine (6,900) bottles was foot trodden in lagares prior to ageing in large old wooden vats. It’s very good, really bright-fruited, pure and clean with a lovely concentration of ripe but juicy damson fruit edged with liquorice, cinnamon and cassia bark spice.
Niepoort Pisca Vintage Port 2007 – 2007 was also the first year in which Niepoort made this single vineyard Vintage Port which, I guess unsurprisingly, is very singular. I’d tasted it a couple of times before (see my write up here) and, this time, it was a little more closed and brooding, its concentration and depth of fruit to the fore as opposed to its aroma and minerality. Very impressive and I look forward to tasting the 2008 which has also been declared though not yet released.
Check out Niepoort’s Projectos website here for more information about team Niepoort’s wayward leanings!
The Wine Detective
(Wines tasted 25 October & 6 November 2010)