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Niepoort

dirk van der niepoort in the cellarNiepoort was originally founded in 1842 as a négociant firm buying in Port wines, blending and maturing them its own cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia located across the River Douro from Oporto. A family-owned business Niepoort gained a reputation for very good quality Ports, including the legendary 1970 vintage, although it wasn't until the enfant terrible Dirk van der Niepoort joined the firm that revolutionary changes began. Despite the company's success through five generations of Niepoorts it wasn't until 1987, shortly after Dirk started working for the family business, that the run-down Quinta de Nápoles estate, in the prime port-producing area of Cima Corgo (Upper Corgo), was purchased quickly followed a year later by the similarly dilapidated Quinta do Carril close by. The Quinta de Nápoles dates back to 1496 and is one of the very oldest estates in the whole of the Douro. 15 hectares of vines were replanted with the remaining 10 hectares of 60 year old vines retained. This was followed in 1990 by the acquisition of Quinta do Passadouro, a collection of 4 small quintas. Niepoort now owned its very own vineyards and had total control over the entire production process for the very first time.

Traditionally the grapes for Port production were trodden in long granite troughs called lagares in Portuguese. This was always an important part of the production process carried out to extract colour and tannins prior to fermentation which, in the case of Port wine-making, is interrupted after about 36 hours or so by the addition of grape brandy before fermentation is complete in order to retain high residual sugar levels. Stopping the fermentation in this way restricts the natural extraction of colour and tannins hence the tradition of treading the grapes. Technological advances have led to the development of the auto-lagares now used by many producers but Dirk wanted to return to the old tradition in order to maximise extraction to enhance both the density and complexity of the best wines.

Within 3 years Dirk had also begun his experiments to produce unfortified table wines from the Douro vineyards. His first vintage was the 1990 Robustus which was declared to be undrinkable by tasters in much the same way as early vintages of Max Schubert's Grange Hermitage in Australia. Robustus was cellared for 10 years, during which time Dirk continued to make table wines as well as Port, and was again tasted by an assortment of wine-makers, critics and judges only now to be heralded as something rather special. Dirk had cemented his reputation as an iconoclast in what was a relatively staid region and is commonly regarded as the focal-point of the Douro Boys, a group of like-minded individuals from 5 estates in the region producing and publicising dry table wines made with grapes from the vineyards of the Douro.

vineyard terraces of quinta de napoles

 

Niepoort - The Port Wines

Niepoort, in common with other Port producers, markets a wide range of Port wines of very high quality the volume of which is smaller than many of the better-known names. It is possibly less well-known in the English-speaking world due to the firm's Dutch heritage whose marketing was traditionally targeted at the Dutch and Belgian markets.

Niepoort Colheita Tawny Port

The reputation of Niepoort was founded on its Colheita Ports - rarely available vintage Tawny Port, a wine more commonly produced by blending several vintages before being bottled. Regulations require a minimum of 7 years ageing in barrel before bottling but in reality this can be anything up to 50 years. Niepoort also produces both the more straightforward Tawny, which is aged for 3.5 years in barrel, as well as the traditional Tawny range with an average age indication (of 10, 20, 30 and 40 years) which are the result of blending a range of vintages to give an average age of the wines.

Niepoort Vintage Port

harvested grapes quinta de napolesVintage Ports are regarded as the "jewel in the crown" of producers' Port ranges and Niepoort is no exception in this regard. A Niepoort Vintage Port is known for being quite approachable in youth before the youthful fruit closes up somewhat for a number of years. They do not really begin to show what they are capable of until about 20 years of age but are then quite comfortable for at least another 30 years given good cellaring. Although very densely structured they display great finesse and delicacy. These port wines are produced in a very traditional manner and are bottled, at between 2 to 3 years old, without being filtered in order for the wine to develop to its full potential. Decanting, as with all vintage port, is essential.

Pisca - Bioma Vinha Velha Vintage Ports

The Pisca vineyard, a 5 hectare plot acquired in 2003, had supplied Niepoort with grapes for its famous vintage Ports, including the 1970, for more than 40 years. With the change of ownership it was decided to produce a single vineyard vintage Port in 2007. For legal reasons the name of the wine was changed from Pisca to Bioma for all subsequent vintages. Organically grown grapes from vines in excess of 80 years old produce this wine which is matured in port-lodge pipes of 550 liters capacity rather than in the much larger vats used for most vintage port production. This is a less reductive process which allows for a degree of oxidation to occur and which was used for the 1970 vintage Port. Unusually Niepoort has decided to offer these old vine single-vineyard vintage Ports at a price point that is comparable with their standard vintage port although production quantities are by necessity rather smaller.

Other Niepoort Ports

In common with other Port producers Niepoort offers what must seem like a bewildering selection of other Ports to the uninitiated including a range of White Port, made from white grapes, as well as Ruby, Late Bottled Vintage and Crusted Ports.

 Video: Tasting the 2005 Vintage Port with Dirk van der Niepoort

  1. Niepoort, Vintage Port, 1970

    Niepoort, Vintage Port, 1970

    Niepoort Vintage Port 1970 is the sort of bottle that really makes an evening complete. It is an incredibly dark and dense vintage port with complexity and real elegance. Still dense in colour although showing yellow at the rim it is a very well-balanced vintage port with fat fruit and great concentration on the palate accompanying rich and sweet cherries, dried fruits, figs and raisins which dominate the nose along with hints of coffee and black tea.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  2. Niepoort, Vintage Port, 1983

    Niepoort, Vintage Port, 1983

    The Niepoort 1983 vintage port is still quite fresh and full of life. Very soft and elegant, the tannins have melted and left behind a port of wonderful complexity. The nose is just as lovely as the palate offering cherries, dark fruits, raspberries, chocolate and caramel.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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  3. Niepoort, Vintage Port, 2005

    Niepoort, Vintage Port, 2005

    2005 was declared a vintage by Niepoort although many of the bigger port producers decided to release single quinta ports instead that year. A vintage port that merits an 18.5 score with Jancis Robinson, who confesses to rarely giving more than 18 points, is a very good port indeed. As it is very young, we would recommend giving it another 10 years or so before popping the cork.

    Details
    Colour Port
    Grape Variety Port Blend
    Country Portugal

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