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Dinner with Dirk Niepoort No. 4, 2005

The annual dinner with Dirk Niepoort organized by his UK importer, Raymond Reynolds, is one of the highlights of the wine calendar. These are held in very good restaurants (this year, trendy St John in Smithfield; www.stjohnrestaurant.com) and aren’t overcrowded. The pattern of the evening is now a familiar one. We start off with a glass of something old and fortified that Dirk has liberated from the Niepoort lodge in Vila Nova. Ray then introduces the evening with one of his speeches – it would probably be a bit mean to say that public speaking is not his strongest point, so maybe I’ll just say that his style is unusual, with short sentences, spoken slowly, riddled with pregnant pauses. Then we sit down to eat, with Dirk giving a short introduction to each of the wines.

This year he has a new theme – that of attention to detail. ‘The difference between a good wine and a great wine is 100 little details’, says Dirk. It seems to be paying off, but you always get the impression with Dirk that he’s searching for a little bit more each year – as a result there’s a sense in which you are anticipating what is yet to come (for example, the 2004 reds), as much as appreciating what he’s already achieved.

Niepoort White Port from 1917
This is the sort of thing you only get to taste if you hang out with Dirk. Who else would serve a group of wine journalists a white Port that’s almost 90 years old? It was bottled in 1927 and it’s been slumbering away since then. It’s complex, spicy and slightly fudgey with richness and sweetness. Quite nutty and full. Nice weight and texture here: a complex old wine that’s still quite fresh. Very good/excellent 93/100

Niepoort Tiara 2004
New this year is another white wine for the Niepoort stable, Tiara, for which Dirk says his objective is ‘to make Riesling without Riesling’. It is made from old vine Codega, with the grapes being pressed immediately so there’s no maceration with the skins. No yeasts were added, so Dirk’s winemaker Luis Seabra got nervous, because after over a week the must still hadn’t started fermenting. They added 5 litres of fermenting Redoma, and still things didn’t start going. In the end they added 15 litres, and fermentation began. In the end it took three months to complete. ‘Oxidising musts in white wine can be good’, explains Dirk, ‘and can give complexity’. The wine was removed from gross lees just before fermentation stopped, and before bottling it was filtered because there hadn’t been any malolactic. ‘The whole process has something to do with patience and nerve’, he says. What’s it like? It has a fresh, crisp limey nose that is quite savoury. It’s a bit like a cross between a Riesling and a Vinho Verde. The palate is crisp and savoury, with good acidity. A fresh minerality and lots of focus and precision. Very good/excellent 92/100

Niepoort Rosé 2001
Who else would try to make a serious rosé? ‘I find it quite extraordinary that this wine gets better and better’, says Dirk. ‘It’s not a wine for a picnic, but every time I drink this in a fine restaurant with proper glasses it shows really well.’ This wine shows a lovely fresh red fruits quality with good weight and a nice herby elegance. Tastes fresh and quite serious. Very good/excellent 90/100

Niepoort Reserva Branco 2003
First impressions can be illusory. On my first sip, I came away thinking that this was the Douro equivalent of a California Chardonnay, with its rich fruit and oak influence. But I was wrong. Tasted again shortly after, this showed itself to be a serious Burgundy-like white with an expressive character. Richly textured, smooth, nutty and a little spicy, together with some minerality, too. With rich fruit and well integrated, classy oak, this is a very seductive wine. Very good/excellent 93/100

Niepoort Redoma 2001
‘It’s not supposed to be the best wine in the world’, says Dirk, ‘but rather it should be the best expression of the Douro without pretending to be the finest. It has great great personality with some tannins and acidity that can be a bit striking.’ This is showing really well now. It’s tight and firm but has a lovely freshness. The dominant feature is bright red fruits with a spicy, almost Italian character and hints of chocolatey richness. The palate is bright and fresh with serious tannic structure and good acidity – a fantastic wine with a long life ahead of it. Very good/excellent 94/100

Niepoort Batuta 2003
‘This is a wine I like a lot, even though I am not the greatest fan of 2003’, says Dirk. For his fine red table wines Dirk prefers north-facing vineyards, which don’t get direct sun heat and which show more even ripening. Batuta spends 30–45 days on skins, but not to achieve bigger tannins, but rather finer tannins. ‘It is a big wine, but it is elegant and quite light’. Dirk adds as an aside that if a wine is not so ripe, then it needs longer in oak to get the balance right. This wines shows a rich, ripe perfumed nose of great precision. Some rich, slightly chocolatey oak is currently showing. Dense, concentrated palate with some supple, spicy fruit that is still absurdly primary. Fine and elegant, a serious young wine of great potential. 93–96/100  (this was a sample of the final blend before bottling)

Niepoort Charme 2002
‘2002 was a bad year in the Douro, but for Charme it was pretty much perfect’, says Dirk. ‘Three quarters were picked before the rain and a quarter was picked after’. There was some dilution of the must in the rained-on portion, and they were kept separate. But in the journey to Napoles the barrels were mixed up, although this took a while to work out because the diluted portion tasted so good. ‘It’s the most complicated wine to make on earth’, he explains. ‘Everything has to be perfect.’ It’s made 100% in lagares with stems. Dirk admits that although ‘it’s a pain in the ass to make, the result is quite nice’. Lovely rich, soft elegant nose with a chocolatey edge to it. The smooth palate is ripe and sweet edged with a lovely elegance and some warmth. Nice spicy finish: this is serious stuff. Very good/excellent 93/100

Now for some serious Port. We tried two wines each from two vintages, separated by 40 years.

Niepoort 1963 Colheita
Complex, deep, spicy; raisiny, tarry aromatic. It’s hard to convey the sensory impression of an old wine such as this. The palate is spicy, raisiny and long with a lovely raisiny richness. Brilliant. Very good/excellent 94/100

Niepoort 1963 Vintage
The nose is smooth with ripe red fruits and a smooth, dusty, spicy tannic structural character (yes, Ports seem to convey structure by the nose too). The palate is smooth, elegant and spicy showing lots of expression, and a fair bit of fruit. Lovely. Excellent 95/100

Niepoort Secundum 2003
Quite tarry, sweet and spicy on the nose. It’s almost showy. The palate is very sweet and spicy with a tarry, spicy structure. Lots of character here: this is already quite accessible and full of interest. Very good/excellent 93/100

Niepoort Vintage 2003
Quite structured and dense. The spicy nose shows rich fruit. The palate is dense and spicy with a wonderful tannic structure. A massive wine: structured and dense with lovely purity of fruit. Very serious. Excellent 97/100  

see also: Douro wines; Dinner with Dirk 2002, 2003, 2004

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