Few wines have redefined the meaning of fine wine in Portugal quite like the red and white offerings from Dirk Niepoort’s Quinta de Baixo estate. Philosophically rooted in the past, these wine’s are illuminating the future possibilities of fine wine in Bairrada. Today I caught up with Dirk Niepoort in London to taste and talk new vintages.
Quinta de Baixo Vinhas Velhas is the result of combining the varieties Maria Gomes and Bical from century-old vineyards situated on a wonderful limestone terroir.
These exceptional old vine vineyards give rise to wines naturally very high in acidity with a pH below 3.0. The wines are fermented in 1000 litres Mosel fuders that are over 60 years old. The wine is then bottled with very low sulphur additions and no filtration or fining.
Quinta de Baixo Vinhas Velhas 2015, Bairrada, 11.5 Abv.
Sophistication personified, but this is also a wine made with the most honest, natural intensions possible. Perhaps that is the root of its greatness. Beautifully expressive and intense, unfurling delicious aromatic notes of pear purée, nutty almond skins, green apple, dried baking herbs and a wonderful underlay of white citrus, lemon rind and pithy, stony, gravelly limestone minerality. The palate is very finely poised, perfectly balanced, where the incredible concentration and acid intensity is balanced by piecing stone fruits and a saline, briney depth. This is undoubtedly a profound Bairrada white wine, which based on this showing, it has acquired an extra confidence and complexity, but most impressively, a sense of true vinous grandeur. It stimulates the senses and leaves you quite speechless. A massive vinous triumph for Dirk Niepoort.
Well, it’s that time of year when we gather to bid farewell to fine wine friend Keith Prothero before he decamps to the Cape for the summer / UK Winter. I volunteered to organise the lunch finale with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce, Keith’s favourite restaurant in London and below is a little snap shot of the epic wines consumed. All wines were tasted blind before they were revealed.
First up, a vibrant, tantalising Clos des Goisses 1996 Champagne from Philipponnat with a fine leesy biscuit lift and a pronounced, creamy citrus note. Beautiful definition, purity, and a salty briney undertone that melts away into dusty lemon, buttered toast and a crisp, vibrant finish with great structure. A good bottle drinking at its peak. (96/100 GS)
The first flight of five whites started with an impressive Niepoort Coche White Blend 2011, briming with creamy peachy yellow fruits, lovely struck match reduction, ample minerality, woodsmoke, cassis leaf, wet slate, and wonderfully fine depth. I loved the tension and profound, subtle, buttery depth. Truly one of Portugal’s finest still white wines. Malcolm Thwaites, who has just recently visited Dirk Niepoort during harvest, actually called the wine amazingly! (95+/100 GS)
Next up, Keith’s Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 Chardonnay. Initially smokey and seductive, with intense saline notes, lemon and lime cordial richness, huge concentration, this was a complete ringer for an old world Burgundian grand vin. Only after it had sat in the glass for a while, did it finally start to reveal some exotic new world fruit notes. A monumental effort from California and the ultimate ringer capable of fooling even the most talented tasters. (96/100 GS)
The Sandhi was followed by one of the truly great white wines of Burgundy, a superb bottle of J-F Coche Dury Meursault 2013. Wow, tasted blind, this was intensely taught, pin point, and precise showing lime, stoney liquid minerals, crushed limestone tension and focus. Very intense with seamless texture, regal mineral complexity, subtle passion fruit hints and great rigour on the finish. “Wines like this should challenge the senses, not entertain them!” was a very poignant comment from Nigel Platts Martin. (96/100 GS)
At these lunches, we always seem to open our “back up bottles” even when not required, and here again, my Didier Dagueneau Buisson Menard Pouilly Fume 1997 was added to the first flight. An interesting bottle, it had tasters scratching their heads endlessly as the wine unfurled in the glass. Plenty of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and stoney minerality were in evidence. Beautifully exotic with a mercurial dry finish. “A bit of an upstart”… but certainly showed its class in my mind. (93/100 GS)
Just as we were about to move on to the reds, we were treated to another late addition and definite rarity. A fine bottle of Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002. The initial nose was quite lactic, with hints of cottage cheese and cream, yet also full of oyster shell, fennel, pineapple and aniseed. There was a touch of wet dog to the wine combined with great minerality which led many of us to the Loire. But this was classic, elegant, fresh, super fine Grand Cru Chablis at its best and developed wonderfully in the glass. (94/100 GS)
The first three reds revealed a Rhoney theme but with a few twists. First up was Neal Martin’s amazing Jaboulet Cornas 1972 that showed a bouquet of rich brûlée oranges, savoury cured meats, and cherry confit. Rich and textural, this beautifully lifted wine sang a wonderful melody, and while mature, was thoroughly enchanting. So typical of the Northern Rhone, almost all at the table plumped for Hermitage or even perhaps a great vintage of Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle was even mentioned. But Cornas it was. I would have expected a little more blood and iron for a Cornas but perhaps the Jaboulet personality was shinning through more than the appellation’s terroir. A real treat. (93+/100 GS)
The wine that followed was younger and required a bit more thought. Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2000. Very complex Mourvèdre dominated wine (60%) loaded with black berry and bramble fruits with saddle leather, cured meats, liquorice, tar and sweet earthy black fruit notes. Dense and concentrated, this was a delicious grand vin wine almost certainly drunk too young. Give this classic another decade at least. (96+/100 GS)
So we were well and truly treading a Rhone path, when the next red from Alex Lake had us all a bit fooled. A Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 was not to my memory picked out as New World by anyone. Smoky lifted nose with granite dust, aniseed root, and earthy black berries, this was a very compact, focused wine with plenty of tension, crisp acids, and a subtle, restrained, savoury boxwood and pepper corn spice finish. A very smart wine that along with the Mullineux reds, is one of the few new world Syrahs / Shirazes Keith openly admits to drinking! Nice to taste this wine again with more age, but still a long life ahead of it. (95/100 GS)
The next pair of reds charmed some more than others, but as a devout Italian fine wine lover, the next two reds had me weak at the knees, (or was that the previous 10 bottles?). An utterly sublime Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was bursting with sweet cherry blossom perfume, savoury earthy notes, saddle leather and wet tobacco, gun smoke, and graphite. Plenty of energy, this really was a superb, seductive hedonistic red full of character. (96+/100 GS)
To partner the Soldera was another real rarity ~ a Valdicava Madonna Del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990. Not a wine you come across very often anymore, this wine had all the archetypal power and prowess Valdicava’s Riserva’s are so famous for, except this one was finally giving an impression that despite being beautifully fresh and vital, it was approaching peek drinkability after 27 years! Dark and smoky, dense and dusty, it was quite saline, tight and precise, with pithy caramelised cherry fruits, grilled herbs, leather, graphite, aniseed and meaty savoury bramble berry depth. Very fine acids and also a touch of VA just to add more lift and complexity. The Riserva can be a hard wine to understand in its youth, or when James Suckling scores them 100 points, like with the 2010. But after tasting a maturing vintage like this, a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. (96+/100 GS)
At this point, we were all amazed that no Burgundy or Bordeaux had featured in the flights yet! But the next wine broke the drought. A most majestic Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 from St Emilion. This was a real treat and must be one of my favourite vintages of Cheval Blanc. Loaded with black berry fruits, gun powder, briary, and aniseed notes, it was also so vibrant, energetic and packed full of saline cassis, a touch of ink, leafy spice, sandalwood and buttered brown toast. Drinking in the perfect harmonious mid point between youth and maturity. For me, a top right bank Bordeaux ready to drink does not get much better than this. (98/100 GS)
The last red was possibly another late addition, hence it was not included in the Rhone flight. But in many ways, it received more deserving attention being served in isolation. A contender for wine of the lunch, the Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire 1990 from Lucien & Andre Brunel was indeed profound. A solid 100 pointer on the Wine Advocate scale, Robert Parker once described this wine as one of the greatest vintages ever made at the estate. This bottle was deliciously saline, rich, intense and dense but never tipping over to heavy in anyway. Sleek, crystalline, and supremely elegantly textured, this wine is still so youthful, fresh and perfumed, showing its true class. A really profound wine. (98/100 GS)
To accompany a most delicious cheese dessert course, two sublime sweet wines were served. The iconic Mullineux Olerasay No.1 Chenin Blanc NV made from a Solera system. The word that encapsulates this wine is effortless harmony. It is neither too sweet nor too unctuous, merely finely balanced and beautifully intense. A lot of effort goes into making straw wines of this quality, and this blend deserves a big score if for no other reason, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Amazing wine. (98/100 GS)
Before we could cross our T’s and dot our I’s, we were treated to another profound dessert wine ~ the Reinhold Heart Ohligsberger 2010 Mosel Eiswein. After a long afternoon of intense, thought provoking fine wines, nothing could possibly refresh the senses better than a delicious, vibrant glass of rapier fresh Eiswein. Packed full of lemon and lime cordial notes, white peaches, and sweet yellow grapefruit, the acidity balanced the sugar brilliantly and was the perfect ending to a fascinating afternoon of fine wine and of course exceptional Michelin starred food.
Bon voyage Keith, I am sure most of us will still be talking about many of these wines by the time you return in 6 months time.
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!
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)
Yesterday, London played host to The New Douro Tasting featuring a broad cross section of still and Port wine producers.
Of particular interest were once again the brilliant wines of Dirk Niepoort. It just seems Dirk can do no wrong and any vinous venture he embarks on is destined for inevitable greatness.
But a real stand out wine for me was one of his classics, the Niepoort Redoma Branco Reserva 2015, which I later discovered chatting to Dirk, is a wine he considers his best effort yet. First produced in 1995, there have been many profound versions, none more so than the 1999 vintage, of which I drank my last treasured bottle of around two years ago.
The Redoma Reserva is made with grapes from ancient 80 years old vines, planted at an altitude of 600 metres in mica schist soils. Since its creation in 1995, the main aim of producing this wine has been to express the character of the Douro old vineyards.
At the end of the ageing period, the best barrels are selected, considering their minerality, complexity and ageing potential and not necessarily those with the most expressive aromas.
Tasting Note: The 2015 Redoma Branco Reserva is monumental. It’s loaded with dusty granitic sweet mineral lemon pastille fruits with a solid undertone of wet chalk, pithy green apples, honey dew melon and crunchy tart white peaches. The acids are beguiling, adding freshness, electric vibrancy and a real frame over which the intense fruit concentration is majestically draped. The full, textured palate finishes long and broad with a beautifully complexity of green caramelised figs and yellow citrus. This really is a sterling effort and certainly one for the cellar. Yet another super Dirk Niepoort triumph. (Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
The 27th September 2016 saw another edition of the Dirty Dozen Trade Tasting at the Vinyl Factory in London.
This is still one of the most exciting events on the London tasting circuit as all the twelve “members” still endeavour to show some of the top wines in their portfolios.
Inevitably, over the years, the wines on taste have become ever so slightly more pedestrian as there really isn’t any point putting a wine on a tasting when it’s sold out pre-release on allocation… and most unicorn wines are certainly pre-allocated and practically unobtainable for most trade new comers.
But I suppose these are the fine wine times we live in. Scarcity and rarity rule the roost. We all want what we can’t have. Nevertheless, here is a photographic snapshot of my top 12 wines tasted…in no particular ranking…in case you were not able to attend and want some top tips!