wa2.gif (4241 bytes)

abut9.gif (3095 bytes)

abut12.gif (3207 bytes)
abut10.gif (3636 bytes)

abut11.gif (4039 bytes)


The Douro revolution Part 2
Dinner with Dirk Niepoort

Wednesday May 22nd 2002, Alistair Little, Soho

Rather strangely, the write-up of my recent Douro trip begins at a dinner in London. It feels slightly odd starting here, but this event was the catalyst for my trip a couple of weeks later. 

I’ve been following the striking table wines from Dirk Niepoort with some interest over the last couple of years, and so I was glad that Danny Cameron (of Raymond Reynolds, the UK importers) invited me to a winemaker’s dinner with Dirk in the week of the London trade fair. I was even more pleased when I found out that Danny had seated me next to Dirk, which gave me an ideal chance to get to understand what he is trying to do with his wines.

Straight away, I asked what his winemaking philosophy was. ‘I like wines with extremes’, he explained. ‘As rich and tannic as possible, but they have to have harmony’. So what does he like to drink at home? This is always a revealing question. For whites, he prefers Mosel Riesling (Haag, Loosen and Willi Schaefer are mentioned) and white Burgundy. He likes Champagne, too. And reds? ‘Red Burgundy, when it is very good, is the best wine in the world’.

We began tasting with Dirk’s whites. White wines are rare in the Douro. The problem is that it’s simply just too hot to grow white grapes successfully in most parts of the region. However, since 1995 Dirk has fashioned a very successful white Redoma by using grapes grown in vineyards over 400 m in altitude, which helps preserve acidity. The Reserva is a selection of the finest barrels, aged for longer in mostly new oak.

Redoma Branco 2000
Barrel fermented and aged in 50% new oak for 13 months. Quite a forward spicy nose with some lemony complexity and a bit of classy toasty oak. Rich textured palate shows some lovely herby, lemony fruit and nice minerally acid structure. A delicious full flavoured white. Very good/excellent

Redoma Branco Reserva 2000
Barrel fermented and aged for 18 months in 80% new oak. The rich toasty nose is savoury with a lemony, mineral edge. Powerful, rich savoury palate with lots of herby flavour. Despite its considerable size and concentration, there’s still some elegance here. Lots of flavour, although the oak is currently quite prominent. Very good/excellent

Rosé 2001
This is mainly a Saignée wine, but one of the Quinta de Nápoles vineyards that is susceptible to rot is picked a little early to increase the acidity. 40% of the wine is barrel fermented. It has a rich nose with herby strawberry and cherry fruit character. This leads to a rich, spicy, herby palate with lots of flavour. An unusual, individual wine. Very good+

There are now four red wines in the Niepoort stable. The top two, Batuta (first vintage 1999) and Charme (first vintage 2000) will only ever be made in tiny quantities. Redoma has been around for a while (the first vintage was 1991, after an experimental wine called ‘Robustus’ was made in 1990) and the style has been evolving since them until the benchmark year of 1999. This was the vintage that Dirk took on new winemaker Jorge Serôdio Borges, and he now feels that he’s finally hit on a style that represents what he wants to achieve with this wine. Dirk has given Jorge oversight of the fourth wine, Quinta de Nápoles, and it’s interesting to see the stylistic differences between this and the Redoma. Dirk says that he had been looking for someone to work with him for five years, until he found Jorge. He was looking for someone ‘technically better and different’, but at the same time someone who would understand him. Dirk says that he and Jorge have a very good relationship, and he allows Jorge more-or-less free rein with Nápoles. [note added February 2004: Jorge has now left Niepoort and is concentrating on his own wine, Pintas.]

Quinta de Nápoles 2000
Fermented in lagares after destemming, and matured in mostly new oak barrels. Very deep purple/black colour. There’s an intense, slightly roasted edge to the deep berry fruit on the nose: the wood is a little more prominent at this stage than in the Redoma. High acid palate has rich, taut fruit -- cherry and raspberry with a woody edge. Very powerful and concentrated with spicy tannins and some wood. Lots of potential here. Very good/excellent

Redoma 1999
From 60 year old north facing vineyards, this is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged in barrel. Very deep coloured, with a rich, brooding liquorice-edged nose that displays smoky blackcurrant fruit. The rich, liquoricey, herby palate shows great concentration and depth, with firm tannins and spicy, herby fruit. There’s lovely balance despite the size. Quite wonderful. Very good/excellent

Redoma 2000 (cask sample)
Opaque colour. Rich, spicy, quite lifted nose. Concentrated rich, spicy palate with quite a lot of new wood evident. Very tannic and primary, this is currently quite hard to assess but shows great promise for the future. Potentially superb

With Batuta, Dirk’s aim is to make a ‘monster' wine, but at the same time one that it extremely elegant. Rather enigmatically he says, ‘I like wines that are a bit in excess, but always tasting the opposite of what they are’. In contrast, with Charme his aim is ‘finesse, finesse, finesse’. Charme is an unusual wine in several respects. First, it’s made in a slightly surprising way. The grapes are foot trodden in lagares (large, shallow stone troughs) with the stems, which you’d think would result in a harsh, tannic wine. But Dirk’s view is that foot-treading with stems can actually produce elegant wines, and he cites Domaine de la Romanée Conti as his precedent. ‘It’s very difficult to make wine with stems’, he says. ‘If they are too green, they result in aggressive, unbalanced wines with off flavours’. Timing the pressing correctly is also important. ‘In 2001 we missed pressing of one lagar by five hours. It won’t be a Charme.’ Interestingly, Dirk alludes to the fact that his inspiration for Charme comes from Grand Cru red Burgundy. Burgundy-like wines from the Douro? Watch this space. The other unusual thing about this inaugural Charme is that it received Pingus-like 200% new oak treatment (malolactic fermentation in new barrels followed by racking to more new barrels). Dirk say that this is not an experiment he will repeat, although the result is not as oaky as you’d think it might be. 

Batuta 1999
The first vintage of this wine, which is based on grapes from Niepoort’s own vineyard at Quinta do Carril. This north facing site has an average vine age of 60 years, and yields are a miserly 10 hl/ha. Opaque red/purple colour. Very rich spicy herby nose is complex with tarry, liquoricey notes. The palate is extremely rich and concentrated, with firm tannins and spicy complexity. Wonderful stuff with real character. Sensationally good. Excellent

Charme 2000
First vintage of this wine, which is fermented on the stems in lagares. Deep coloured. Spicy, caramelly nose is quite restrained and classy. There’s a really attractive sweet spiciness to the fruit on the palate. Some real elegance and harmony here: midweight, but with quite firm tannins. The stems give a tiny bit of structure: a ‘feel of acidity’. Lovely and quite different to the other reds here. Very good/excellent

Batuta 2000 (cask sample)
Youthful at the moment. Hugely concentrated, rich, spicy and very tannic, with a roasted edge. A massive wine with real class. Sensational potential, but very difficult to assess properly in this youthful state.

Next, a real treat. I had several glasses of this...

1970 Niepoort Vintage Port
Lovely rich, spicy Port which shows great balance, the lively acidity underpinning the fruit. Great character here. Deep coloured with some complex caramel and toffee notes. Still some tannic structure. Excellent

It was getting late and a number of people had already left. But more was to come. To the remnant, Dirk poured his three top 2000 ports blind, and invited comments.

Vintage 2000
Opaque colour. Tremendous liqouricey, spicy nose. Very deep and dense: this is a massive wine with sweet, rich fruit and firm, spicy tannins. Deep and concentrated, with huge structure. Excellent (this was my favourite, but surprisingly not the group’s)

Passadouro 2000
More herbal and caramel edged nose. Very herby palate which is rich, rounded and expressive with some caramel character. Very good/excellent

Secundum 2000
Opaque colour. Spicy, herbal nose with a vanilla edge. Very concentrated, with some tannin. Quite expressive and rich. Lovely. Very good/excellent

By this stage I was full (we hadn’t been spitting). I very quickly warmed to Dirk, and his passionate approach, always seeking to do better and push back the boundaries further. But this isn’t random experimentation: he seems to have a clear idea of where he wants to go. These truly are extraordinary wines. During the course of the evening, Dirk invited me to visit the Douro and experience first hand some of the exciting developments currently taking place. It’s not in my nature to decline such an invitation…  

see also: Dinner with Dirk Niepoort 2 (May 2003) and 3 (May 2004); weekend in Porto with Dirk Niepoort (March 2004)

Back to top