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!

Get In the Mood for Summer with Dirk Niepoort’s Mouth Watering Loureiro Vinho Verde… 

The Generic Vinho Verde Tasting was recently held in London and I was seriously annoyed to miss it due to other obligations. It’s always such a fun tasting as well as eye opening. So Enroute to South Africa for a weekend of festivities, I was thrilled to stumble across the Projecto de Dirk Niepoort Vinho Verde at Heathrow Terminal 5, made specially for Fortnum & Mason. 


Fortnum & Mason Niepoort Loureiro Vinho Verde 2015, 11 Abv.

Beautifully fragrant nose evocative of summer flowers, orchard fruits, waxy green apples, incense and wet chalk. Palate is crisp, vibrant and linear but also impressively dense, intense and pure fruited. There is a wonderful glassy, crystalline acidity, green apple zest, a hint of lime peel and a crunchy green pear finish. Plenty of wet river pebble minerality and aromatic zip. Somehow Dirk Niepoort conjures up a wine that is both serious and frivolous all at the same time, but undoubtedly thoroughly refreshing and moreish. The wizard of Portuguese fine wine does it again! Bravo Dirk.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 

Tasting a Cutting Edge Alentejo Red ~ Herdade de Sao Miguel ART.TERRA Amphora 2015…

There are several countries that never cease to amaze with new vinous expressions… South Africa, Italy, and of course Portugal. Today I tasted a most incredible wine at the Raymond Reynolds importer portfolio tasting. Made by Marta Galamba, oenologist from Herdade de Sao Miguel in the Alentejo, this classy red is one of the most characterful wines I’ve tasted from the Alentejo in a long time.


A blend of 10% indigenous Moreto, 45% Trincadera, and 45% Aragonez… this wine is whole bunch fermented in large 1000 kilo epoxy lined amphora for 3 months, then pressed and racked into smaller unlined 100-200 litre amphora on the 11th November (St Martin’s day). All fruit is co-fermented together with malo completed in small amphora normally.


Herdade de Sao Miguel ART.TERRA Amphora 2015, Alentejo Tinto, 13.5 Abv.

Beautifully complex nose of raisined cranberries, raspberry coulis, freshly cut hedge row, wet tobacco and dusty gravel. So many levels, layers and dimensions reveal themselves. The palate is soft, harmonious and attractively elegant and creamy marrying sweet plum, earthy cherry confit, red bramble berry fruits and smokey tobacco, crushed Granite and dark pithy spicy fruits. So brilliantly complex and showing so much energy. Tannins on the finish are pithy, dry and structured, adding wonderful frame to the fruit. This is a very expressive Alentejo red gem. A real revelation perfected with expertly managed amphora treatment. (Recommended retail £18.99pb. 

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW) 


Another Unicorn Slain… The Niepoort Projectos Chardonnay Vinho Regional Tras Os Montes 2003, 13 Abv. Portugal

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m a big fan of Dirk Niepoort’s still wines. After all, I’ve been buying them for the best part of 15 years, when Premium Portuguese wines in the UK market consisted of only Barca Velha from the Douro and Pera Manca from the Alentejo.


I first encountered Dirk’s Projectos wines with his unfortified Navazos flor white from Jerez several years ago with several other oddments along the way, more latterly the experimental Projectos Baga wines, the precursor preparatory wines to his Quinta do Baixos venture in Bairrada.


Today, I got to taste a true Unicorn wine. The Niepoort Projectos Chardonnay 2003. The Denomination states Vinho Regional Tras Os Montes, but if I’m not mistaken, I remember Dirk telling me the grapes were from high altitude Chardonnay vines from the Douro, but this could not be named on the label as such due to appellation laws. Whatever the case, this was possibly one of the last bottles in the UK to be consumed and it did not disappoint. But then again, when has a Niepoort wine ever failed to impress!?

The Projectos are small experiments where Dirk Niepoort tries out different paths to create unique wines to share with lovers of his wines. The greatest Chardonnays come from Burgundy (Chablis and Cotê dór), and the grapes for the Projectos Chardonnay were picked from twenty year old vineyards planted at 750 meters of altitude, with the wine being fermented and aged for 8-9 months in old oak casks. Even though 2003 was a very hot vintage, Dirk’s objective was to make a Chardonnay as fine, light and elegant as possible with high acidity “important for the drinkability factor” and also ensuring the wine’s ageworthiness. 

Tasting Note: Rich, expressive wine laden with green apple, brioche, sour dough, salinity, a youthful chalky minerality, and a tightly laced, linear pear and lemon butter seam. Plenty of dusty dried herbs and green tea notes on a tight, fresh steely palate showing pithy, taught mid-palate tension and real pin point detail on the long, fresh, focused finish. A supremely delicious wine that feels no older than 3 to 4 years. Dead ringer for a 1er Cru or even Grand Cru Raveneau Chablis. The talents of Dirk Niepoort cease to amaze. (Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)