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Another dinner with Dirk Niepoort  

Of the many talented winemakers I’ve met, Dirk Niepoort stands out near the front. Dirk is a real wine geek, passionate about the subject, and while he’s got a very good business sense you get the impression it is passion for making great wine that is driving him, not solely a desire to make money. This is evidenced by the contents of his cellar – a wine anorak’s heaven. Despite the fact that he has achieved such recognition, he comes across as reflective and self-effacing, as well as being very smart.

I’ve met him now on a few occasions, so it was nice to be able to catch up with him on a visit to London. It was a dinner at Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House restaurant (boasting a Michelin star) and while there were plenty of well-known wine journalists present, as luck conspired I managed to sit next to Dirk for a good portion of the evening.

We began with the 2001 Redoma Rosé. A deep pink wine, this is quite serious for rosé, with plenty of structure, good acid and a spicy edge. ‘A lot of people think they don’t like Rosé’, says Dirk, ‘but this is because most Rosés are treated as garbage’. Many are made with a bit of residual sugar to hide the mistakes. Dirk first tried to do Rosé in 1996, and in 1999 he decided to step up the quantity a bit. Initially it was made with saignée (vat bleeding) of the best reds, but the result proved a little heavy.

In 2000 Dirk changed things round a bit. Into the blend went some Tinta Amarela that he’d picked early  to get good acidity and lower alcohol, and a portion of the whole blend was barrel fermented. The results have been impressive. Let’s face it, it has to be a good wine to retail as a Portuguese Rosé for £8.99, a sector that people might have suspected dead after the likes of Mateus and Lancers.

I like the rosé, but much prefer the second wine we tasted, the 2001 Redoma Branco. Dirk’s reds often steal the show, but his whites are fully serious wines – I can’t think of many contenders for Portugal’s best white than the Redoma Branco and it’s big brother, the Reserva. No Reserva was made in 2001, so the regular Branco is the top wine this year, and it’s delicious.

‘In the beginning I didn’t believe that the Douro had good terroir for white wines’, recalled Dirk. ‘But eventually we found a 70 year old vineyard 400 metres high up where the grower was prepared to pick the three white varieties separately’. The altitude is important in the Douro for whites: at 400 m it is considerably cooler than the hot temperatures at river level. All whites are made from vineyards with 400–600 m elevation. Dirk has decided that he doesn’t like Malvasia Fina for table wines, and that Rabigato is one of his favourites – this forms the base of his whites.

The Redoma Branco Reserva is usually made from three vineyards with a vine age of greater than 100 years. One of these vineyards has granitic soils. ‘I feel it is important: it shows the minerality of the Schist in the blend a lot more’, says Dirk. The whites are fermented and aged in barrels for 12 months with no racking. Yields in these old vineyards range from 5–25 hl/ha, which are very low. Malolactic is avoided to preserve the all important acidity.  The 2001 Branco has a lovely savoury lemon and vanilla-edged nose. The palate is extremely mineralic with good concentration and a savoury character. It opens up with time in the glass: I think it’s lovely.

On to the reds, which I’ve covered in quite a bit of detail elsewhere on this site, so to avoid repeating myself I’d recommend you to look at this page if you haven’t already. New this year is Vertente. It’s positioned below the other reds, fashioned mainly from young vineyards and bought-in grapes. It’s sees a shorter time in wood and only 20% is aged in new barrels. There’s less Tinta Amarela and a bit more Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. Dirk wanted to make a wine with Douro character but which is approachable a bit earlier, and is fruitier and cheaper than the others. The result is the 2000 Vertente, which is deep coloured with lots of ripe berry fruit, good acidity an nice minerality. Quite structured and tasty, although at £14 it’s not cheap. 

The next red was the 2001 Redoma, a barrel sample, showing lots of structure with some wildness to the herby, intense fruit. It’s tannic, but shows lots of finesse: good concentration and minerality. This retails at £25 or thereabouts, which is quite expensive but worth the money. For this price you can get rather basic claret, but here you are getting one of Portugal’s top 10 wines. But there’s more. The 2000 Batuta is what Robert Parker would no doubt describe as a ‘tour de force’. Very concentrated and tannic, this is firm with intense bold fruit. Well balanced but just a baby at the moment that needs time to show its best (retail £45 if you can find it). Charme 2002 is a fascinating wine. It’s made from low yielding vines picked a little early, with 100% stem contact. ‘I want it to be light, concentrated and long’, says Dirk. This shows ripe chocolatey edged fruity on the nose – ripe and full. Black fruits dominate with tarry richness and some new oak. There’s great elegance and finesse, with a rich spicy finish. Interesting stuff. Charme has so far only been made in tiny quantities and is hard to find, but retails for about the same as Batuta.

We moved on to Ports. The 1963 Colheita is a treat, with a lovely intense, spicy cedary nose and raisiny, spicy complexity on the palate. Niepoort Vintage Port 1970 is also an exceptional wine showing exquisite balance: rich and full with good acid and nice complexity. It still tastes a bit young. With all these wines it was quite nice to be drinking rather than spitting. After all, this is what wines is for, isn’t it?

See also: The Douro revolution; tasting notes of Portuguese wines; Dinner with Dirk Niepoort 3 (May 2004); weekend in Porto with Dirk (March 2004)

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