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)

Tasting Another Epic 2015 Vintage Port Release…

It’s vintage Port time again and while I  have already done extensive commentary on the Niepoort 2015s, there have of course been some epic declarations from both the Symingtons (Warres, Dows, Graham, Cockburn) and the Fladgate Partnership (Taylor’s and Fonseca).


An agreed vintage year normally requires a certain degree of homogeneous grape quality across the lower, middle, and upper Douro. In 2015, it’s safe to say that the the upper Douro was in a league of its own, producing some of the best Ports since 2011.


One of these wines, the Stone Terraces vineyard, which is comprised of three parcels in a narrow curving valley, all of which are immediately adjacent; one faces north, known as “Cardenhos”, whilst the other two, face each other across the Sibio brook. Most of the southerly facing Malvedos vineyard were subjected to trying conditions in 2015, and it was the Old Vine Stone Terraces portion that were shielded from excessive heat, thus producing exceptional fruit.


The schist soils on the cooler exposures ensured that the Stone Terraces Cuvee performed yet again, as it did in its maiden 2011 vintage. Fruit was picked at an ideal maturity of 13.75 baume, and trodden for four hours in the new Symington lagares at Malvedos. The wine was then fermented at low temperatures to enhance the warm climate aromatics.

The Stone Terraces 2015 has subsequently emerged as one of the very best Ports of the vintage along with Niepoort, Noval, and Vesuvio. Seek it out and buy with confidence. 

The Symingtons explaining the complicated 2015 vintage.

Graham’s The Stone Terraces Viintage Port 2015, 20% Abv., Douro

Only the second time produced, the anticipation waiting to taste this wine was intense. But this warm dry vintage in the upper Douro delivers yet again. There is a sweet opulent nose of raspberries and cream, bramble berry, strawberry confit, and mocha wood spice nuances. Beautifully rich and concentrated, this wine offers up damson plum, liquorice, salty cassis and the most seductive creamy sweet mineral tannins in a pristine, textural, harmonious package. Finely integrated acids with high quality spirit, seamless fruit concentration and a very long, lingering, pin point finish make for a very smart vintage port indeed. 

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

The Splendour of Port ~ Tasting the New Limited Release Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port Special River Quintas Edition… 

Founded in 1820 by William and John Graham in Portugal’s Douro Valley, for nearly two centuries Graham’s has cultivated its reputation as one of the greatest names in Port. The quality of Graham’s Port relies on the finest grapes from their five iconic quintas in the Douro Valley: Quinta dos Malvedos, Quinta do Tua, Quinta das Lages, and two others, Quinta da Vila Velha and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas, which are privately owned by a member of the Symington family. 


Located in the heart of the Upper Douro Valley, all of these quintas enjoy the hot and dry microclimate and unique schist soil only found in this region. Together these two factors provide perfect conditions for both the growth and optimum ripening of the various Port grape varieties.


It has been over a hundred years since the famous Six Grapes motif was first used on a bottle of fine Port, and the winemakers at W & J Graham, Charles Symington and Henry Shotton, recently decided to bottle a small quantity of a special wine made exclusively from the oldest vines on Graham’s five Quintas.


The presentation of this special edition Six Grapes Old Vines Port pays homage to the original Six Grapes label that helped make the wine famous so many years ago and will only be available in very limited quantities.

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port Special River Quintas Edition, 19.5 Abv.

Fabulously rich, dark opaque black plum colour, this is a wine instantaneously recognisable as a serious Port offering. Dark fruited and broody, made very much in a vintage port style but with a little more early accessibility. The nose is full of Christmas pudding, creamy creme de cassis, black plums and a complex undertone of dusty granitic minerality and dried herb nuances. The palate is tight knit, deep, dense and wonderfully fleshy and opulent, with seductive bitter black chocolate, black cherry confit, kirsch liquor, liquorice, and a black bramble berry fruit finish. Very classy and well constructed, this is a finely crafted Port from one of the greatest houses in the Douro that is structured, vibrantly fresh, but succulently fruit forward. Attractively priced at around £20 per bottle, this beautifully balanced, intense, Port delivers on so many levels. Drink now to 2030+.

(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Niepoort Port Masterclass with Dirk Niepoort to Celebrate the 2015 Vintage Declaration in London…

Few tastings are more fascinating than listening to and tasting with master wine maker Dirk Niepoort. It’s as much fun listening to his philosophy on winemaking and the world of wine as it is tasting his superb wines. Last week, Dirk and his importer Raymond Reynolds hosted an excellent Masterclass to celebrate the declaration of Dirk’s 2015 vintage Ports.


The 2015 viticultural year was the hottest and driest growing season of the last three decades, but abundant late autumn rain in 2014 and crucial spring rain in the Douro Superior, most unusually more than in the Alto Douro, produced exceptional conditions for ripening. 


Niepoort 2015 Vintage Port, Douro

Brilliant purple colour, this vintage is so exceptionally lush and fragrantly expressive. Layer upon layer of ripe plums, mulberries, sweet bramble berries and sweet raisined cranberry aromatics waft out the glass combining with an alluring dusty minerality, smoked spices and primary grapey notes. The palate is very finely knit together showing super elegance. The complete wine is so light on its feet, so focused, so precise with salty liquorice, damson plums, black berry and sweet creamy tannins. The freshness really defines this wine and helps elevate the perfume, fruit and the overall concentration. Real power with sublime harmony. This really is an impressive, very vinous Port, that Dirk considers to be one of his best creations yet. 

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


After tasting the beautiful 2015, Dirk ran through another two famous recent vintages to add extra context. The Niepoort 2011 Vintage Port is a beast of a wine, dense, dark, brooding, almost monolithic. It is a hedonistic journey into one of the most powerful, turbo charged, and structured vintages of recent times. This is one for the long haul. (98/100 GS)

Then, we tasted the Niepoort 2005. A bit of a sleeper, this vintage has a nose full of dark, earthy, bramble berry fruits, prunes, dried leather, raisined cranberries, and chocolate with a tight, dominating mineral finish. Slightly more rustic in style than either the 2011 or 2015. (95+/100 GS)


The Bioma Pisca Single Vineyard Ports

A few years ago, Dirk identified the Pisca Vineyard that continuously produced a unique expression from 80 to 100 year old vines. These 5 hectares of South facing vineyards are certified organic and yield around 12 HL/HA before being aged at Quinta do Napoles in 550 litre Port pipes.


Niepoort Bioma Vinhas Velhas Vintage Port 2015, Douro

Bioma Vinha Velha is a super rich, fleshy wine with an exotic, lifted nose showing savoury black fruits, sake nuances, rice wine, black brambly fruit and forest berries. Palate is massively dense, concentrated and powerful. Very intense black berry, kirsch, and cassis intensity is impressive. Tannins are ripe and sweet and superbly balanced with fresh acids and a creamy, textured minerality. Sweet and intense but finishes dry and long. 

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

The 2015 was certainly head and shoulders ahead in quality, precision and focus when we compared it to both the powerful, mineral Bioma 2013 (95+/100 GS) and the slightly reductive, saline, more rustic Bioma Pisca 2007 (94+/100 GS). But the true highlight of the Masterclass had to be the historic final pair of Ports – the Vintage Port 1970 and the Garrafeira Port 1952.


Niepoort Vintage Port 1970, Douro

Now I’ve tasted the Niepoort Vintage Port 1970 several times with Dirk over the years and every time we’ve drunk it, it has delivered sheer hedonistic pleasure, being a wine embroidered with such complexity and vinous interest. This time was no different and all the hallmark notes were there… sweet stewed red fruit aromatics, hedgerow spice, diesel rag, chocolate and earthy root notes, salty caramel and hints of fungal lift with shiitake mushroom nuances and a long finish of stewed black berries balanced with fresh acids and sweet, soft tannins. A beguiling wine that grows in the glass and unfurls into a multi-layered Port experience. 

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


Then, as if the famed 1970 wasn’t enough, Dirk treated us to a true rarity… the 1952 Garrafeira Port which was bottled into demijohns in 1955 and then re-bottled into 75cl bottles in 1987. Beautifully foresty and earthy, the ’52 has plenty of complex tertiary aromas of mushrooms, damp earth, oil rag, burnt oranges, cognac wood spice and an unctuous, nutty intrigue. Caramelised bruleed notes develop as the wine opens up, finishing with a grippy, mineral, almond skin, picante length. Tantalising! 

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 


All that can be said after this amazing tasting is that it is abundantly clear that Vintage Port is undoubtedly one of the world’s truly great fine wines and also currently one of the most affordable. But how much longer will this be the case? Now is certainly a good time to buy!

Celebrating the 325th Anniversary of Taylor’s Port…

So honoured to be invited to the fabulous 325th anniversary celebration of Taylor’s Port at the Tower of London. It’s hard to fathom the history and the achievements of this fabulous Port house over such a lengthy period of time.


The highlight of the evening, other than chatting to Rugby World Cup 2003 winner Lawrence Dallaglio, was tasting the truly individual new anniversary Port blend that was launched tonight. Another gem in the Taylor’s armoury…

Mr Port & Madeira Richard Mayson with Lawrence Dallaglio

Taylor’s 325th Anniversary Limited Edition Tawny Port, Douro

A superbly complex nose of tarte tatin, baked apples, bruleed oranges, botanicals and cognac spice. So opulent and complex that it’s difficult to pin this wine down. Multiple exotic notes develop on the palate as you allow the wine to open up. Rich and focused, there is beautiful concentration, fabulous acids and that nutty, picante, burnt citrus and caramelised apple pie intensity with real glycerol weight and breadth. The finish is super spicy, peppery, with almond skin bitterness balanced by the sweet nutty, caramelised opulence. This is a true tribute to a complex Port style and a supremely premium producer.

(Wine safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)