The Dawn of a New Vintage – Tasting the Component Parts of the 2017 Vintage Port With Dirk Niepoort…

After selective Port house vintage declarations in 2015 including Niepoort and Quinta do Noval, Niepoort then decided not to declare a 2016 Vintage Port when most others did, as the quality of the provisional 2017 vintage component parts were considered some of the highest quality wines Dirk had ever seen, showing similarities in style to his excellent 2015 and possibly even surpassing 2015’s exceptional final quality. 

It seems to me, after tasting almost all the 2015 single Quinta Vintage Ports as well as all the 2016 Vintage Ports, that some houses got themselves into a bit of a muddle. In the end, the 2015s appear to have turned out better than most expected and then of course the pressure was automatically on to declare the ripe 2016s. The problem remained that most producers had by then already realised that 2017 was going to be a small but exceptional vintage, creating the unusual dilemma of whether or not to break the unspoken Oporto rule of never declaring two consecutive vintages in a row.

Today, in early April, the declarations for 2017 Vintage Port started and later this week, I will taste the final completed bottled expression of the Niepoort Vintage 2017 Port with Dirk Niepoort. According to Dirk, 2017 was a great year in all aspects, with the harvest promising perfection and the weather during the harvest helping to achieve this. Up until this point, 2015 was considered the best Vintage Port he’d made. 2017 follows in the same vein as the 2015, but with a touch more perfection according to Dirk … 

“It is possibly our finest Vintage Port since 1945. This is a Port that is concentrated and intense with beauty and perfection shining through. Perfect tannins with a fruit component that is austere, precise and alive. The spirit is perfectly integrated, and the resulting finish is long, seductive and persistent. All its components are wonderfully balanced, a veritable orchestra in harmony. A fatal attraction with an insane potential for ageing, yet unbelievably perfect in its youth. This 2017 Vintage Port is unquestionably a King of Ports.”

The 2017 Vintage

2017 will be remembered for the intense heat and record low levels of rainfall. In-spite of the dry weather, flowering and bud burst developed under good conditions and in August and September the high temperatures during the day and cold nights allowed an even and gradual ripening. The decision to start harvesting early, at the perfect moment of ripeness, allowed grapes to be received in ideal conditions with fantastic natural acidity. Harvest at the Vale de Mendiz winery, began on 24th of August under perfect weather conditions, with musts displaying an intense colour and a powerful character. The last grapes were harvested on 26th of September. The yields were approximately 30% down on a normal year essentially due to dehydration.

I look forward to seeing Dirk Niepoort again soon when he launches his newest creation. But as the perfect entrée, I have typed up my tasting notes from the fascinating masterclass he presented in London in May 2018, where he presented eight individual 2017 Vintage Port blend components taken from barrel, alongside a his final “indicative blend”. 

A Snapshot of the 2017 Niepoort Vintage Port In Component Parts: 1 to 8

Component parts 1 all came from very old vines, the majority over 100 years old, with component parts 2 also coming from very old vines from between 80 and 100 years old. Both wines deliver incredible intensity and concentration adding real gravitas and length to the blend. Blend component 3 showed fine harmony and balance while component 4 came from the Pisca vineyard and was fortified with organic spirit. As is often the case with the Pisca wines, there was a youthful aroma of bananas before melting away into sweet black berry fruits. Ripe and very concentrated, “it tastes like where it comes from so you need to use it in moderation” according to Dirk. This cuvee also showed a very fine tannin structure indeed. Component 5 was a little more vinous in weight, lighter and shorter as a wine acting to help lift the concentration of all the other component parts coming from 100% Souzao fruit. A superb blending component at 2-3% normally. Component 6 was cooler and earlier picked from the Charmes vineyard, with some of the juice going into the Niepoort Charmes unfortified red wine with the remainder being worked harder and going into the Port blend. Component 7 was rich, opulent, grippy and gravelly with savoury tannins that added a whole extra dimension to the wine. Component 8 was from a small parcel made by a small grower producing fruit and wines in a very individual style, allowing 10% to make the final preliminary blend. 

Preliminary Niepoort Vintage Port 2017 Indicative Blend – (Barrel sample taken in May 2018)

Dense, long and profound with great precision, tannins and fruit power that you can savour and chew with an incredibly long finish. So many aromatic layers of graphite, sweet black berry, mulberry and nuances of blueberry preserve. Suave and elegant yet utterly imposing, powerful and masculine, very well honed and chiselled. Creamy, powerful, with powdery mineral grippy tannins, showing such fresh vibrant acid perfection, textural seamlessness and sublime harmony. Pronounced classical bramble berry fruit profile loaded with hedgerow spice, incredible intensity and precision and a very long, block-buster finish that goes on and on and on! Classy benchmark Port, this really is an inspired creation. 

(Wine Safari Score: 97-99+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

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