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Dinner with Dirk Niepoort, May 2004

Capital Hotel, Knightsbridge
London May 19th 2004

It’s becoming an annual institution. This year’s event was the third dinner with Dirk Niepoort, the first two being held at Alastair Little and then last year at Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House. This year we moved up a Michelin star to Eric Chavot’s restaurant at the Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge. The food, as you would expect, was superb, and it was nice to be drinking the wines in their correct context rather than just tasting them.

Neil Beckett (Harpers and World of Fine Wine) looks reflective (top right), Nick Delaforce (who works with Dirk on the Niepoort ports) takes a sniff (bottom right), and Jim Budd can be seen amid the glasses (bottom left).

To start off with, we had a dry white Port, but it’s rather different to most of the forgettable examples of this genre.

Niepoort Very Old Dry White Port
No one seemed to know exactly how old this wine was. Dirk says it was around 60 years old when it was bottled in 1984, having spent 55 years in glass demijohns of the kind used for the Garrafeira ports for which Niepoort are famous. It has a nose reminiscent of Madeira, with lemony, candied fruit, spice and caramel. The palate is smooth and lemony with nutty complexity. Real intensity and good acidity. Dirk says this has ‘great balance and elegance’, and I agree. Very good/excellent 92/100

Niepoort Redoma Branco 2002
I’m a big fan of Dirk’s whites. 2002 is considered to be a bad year in the Douro, but some growers really did pick certain vineyards before the rains that plagued this harvest. That’s the case for this wine, which comes from 60–120-year old vineyards at high altitude. The wine is barrel-fermented and aged in barrique for 12 months. There’s a little bit of wood on the nose with lovely minerality: fresh and appealing with a slightly smoky, spicy edge. The palate is intense, savoury, minerally and spicy with good acidity. Very fresh and potentially long lived: I’d guess that this will be brilliant in a decade’s time. It’s already hard to resist. Very good/excellent 93/100

Niepoort Redoma Rosé 2001
This is about as serious as Rosé gets. 25% is fermented in new wood, some in old wood and the rest in stainless steel. Dirk says that the wood helps to keep it alive in the ageing process, and thinks that this may age for a few years. It’s a deep pink/red colour. Savoury, fresh nose with some herby, strawberry fruit. The palate is savoury and fresh with herb-tinged taut fruit. Still tasting youthful with no sign of the wood. Very good+ 89/100

Niepoort Vertente 2001
Made from 15–60 year old vineyards, with quite a lot of Touriga Nacional and not as much Tinta Amarela as Dirk’s other wines. Dirk says that with Vertente he wants to make a wine that is more consumer friendly than Redoma with a bit more fruit. ‘Still, I don’t want to make a commercial easy drinking wine’. He hopes that with five years of age it will behave like a nice claret. Nice savoury berry and cherry fruit with a hint of green herbiness. The palate shows vibrant berry fruits with great depth, some structure and an appealing savoury character. Lovely balance to the fruit and nice spicy finish: a delicious wine that could probably do with a few more years. Very good+ 89/100

I’ve struggled a little to understand Vertente – despite being the most approachable red wine in the line-up, it isn’t showy or flashy, and for £15 it seemed a bit overpriced to me. But I suspect there’s more to it than my initial impressions had previously indicated: this could well be a wine that develops into something rather serious and interesting with a few years in bottle. Redoma 2001, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. It’s a wine with immediate impact, and to my palate the best Redoma yet. This was my second encounter with it. While the 2000 had become a bit civilized and less distinctive, this has more of the wildness of the Douro to it.

Niepoort Redoma 2001
Lovely ripe, robust, spicy wine showing dark fruits, spice and with a bit of chocolatey richness on the nose. Lots of flavour, with good acid and a tannic, spicy finish. A serious effort. Very good/excellent 93/100

Niepoort Batuta 2001
‘Batuta is not an easy wine’, says Dirk. It is wild and intense, but very refined at the same time, with great length and finesse. Chocolatey, spicy nose. Brilliant intensity of smooth, savoury fruit on the palate with firm tannins and a silkiness to the substantial structure. Good acidity. Excellent 95/100

Dirk had some interesting things to say about greenness in wines. ‘A bit of greenness is good, because it goes away,’ he said. Batuta 2001 was picked at 12.5 degrees alcohol with 8.5 g of acidity. In the Douro in 2001 he says that people were afraid that the wines weren’t physiologically ripe, with a bit of greenness. But 2001 has arguably turned out to be a better table wine vintage than the widely acclaimed 2000. ‘I like wines that have acidity; wines that are not boring’, he says.

We then moved on to Charme 2002. ‘2002 is in theory a bad year’, explained Dirk. It was a year where there were incessant rains at harvest time, resulting in a lot of rot and dilution. 70–80% of the grapes for Charme were picked before the rains, and the rest was harvested afterwards. But later on, in transporting the Charme barrels some of the numbers got mixed up and for a while they genuinely thought that the latter-picked portion was better. Charme is made in lagares with stems, and it is a difficult wine to make. ‘Every single detail has to be perfect’, according to Dirk. A lot has to be extracted very early on in the lagar, and then the rest has to be extracted very gently. In 2001 he says that they missed it by as little as a few hours, and as a result none will be released.

Niepoort Charme 2002
Very smooth ripe, rich nose. It’s elegant and full with a nice chocolatey depth, with a hint of wood. The palate is smooth and ripe with a nice spicy elegance. Smooth, with some tannic structure. Very fine and brilliantly elegant. Excellent 95/100

I felt that I had begin to understand what Dirk is trying to do with his red wines a little more from this evening. There are other wines from the Douro that are now gaining critics’ plaudits with their more immediate impact, but I feel Dirk’s are that little bit more serious – if you like, a more authentic expression of the Douro with the potential to develop with age. The style has moved around a little, but I suspect with the 2001 vintage that Dirk is more happy with the direction they are taking, and that this is the way that he will probably be going. But that’s just a hunch. To finish with we had three impressive Ports.

Niepoort LBV 1999
Lovely lifted, spicy element to the nose. Nice, spicy and fairly tannic on the palate with good balance. Subtly herby ripe black fruits. Quite tannic and structured, this is a substantial, bold wine offering lots of pleasure now but with some capacity to develop. Very good/excellent 92/100

Niepoort Vintage 1977
Quite deep colour. This has a wonderful spicy richness and youthful liqouricey fruit. Quite lovely with wonderful complexity and elegance – a bold wine. Excellent 95/100

Niepoort 30 year old Tawny
Complex raisiny, spicy and very elegant. Good acidity. Fresh and spicy with great length – almost profound. Very good/excellent 94/100

see also: Dinner With Dirk 1 and 2 and 4

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