Niepoort launch their amazing 2019 Vintage Port

Niepoort have launched their 2019 Vintage Port, in a tasting beamed live from the Niepoort Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia. It was led by sommelier Beatriz Machado, featuring Dirk Niepoort, his son Daniel Niepoort (recently returned from a spell in the Mosel to get stuck in with his family company) and Nick Delaforce, the Niepoort winemaker who oversees the Ports.

Niepoort has had a run of excellent Vintage Ports. 2005, 2011, 2015 and 2017 were all stunners, with 2017 regarded widely as practically perfect. 2019 is also amazing, says Dirk Niepoort, but it is different. ‘2017 is the closest to perfection in many ways,’ he says, ‘but 2019 has more personality. It is richer and riper, and doesn’t have the balance of 2017.’

The low light of the atmospheric Niepoort Lodge – Daniel Niepoort, Dirk Niepoort, Nick Delaforce and Beatriz Machado

‘The elegance and finesse of Niepoort is all there,’ says Nick Delaforce, who will bottle the 2019 in June or July. ‘As a year, it has the classic hallmarks of a rainy winter, then a dry summer, and it rained in the last weekend of August to help the fruit go to full maturity.’ This late rain is actually welcomed in the Douro. You don’t want it raining during picking, but it’s so hot in the summer that the vines can shut down. A bit of rain at the right time (this happened notably in 2011) really helps the vines start up again and ripen the grapes fully.

But this isn’t a ripe wine by normal Port standards. ‘When I say this is a bigger style, it is bigger in the Niepoort world logic,’ explains Dirk. ‘We don’t want to make a pruny, overripe wine; we want the balance we have had since 2005. It’s a bigger wine that 2017.’

What is Daniel Niepoort’s take? ‘I’m new in the Port wine blending business,’ he says. ‘At the beginning of blending I thought 2019 was a very elegant year. I thought it was light and thin. But my father told me: you have to wait – we are at the beginning. He was right. Every time I have tasted 2019 again, it has come together and it has got richer, in a nice way.’

‘We are tasting the final blend,’ explains Dirk, ‘but it has not been made physically.’

‘In northern countries we talk about single vineyards and single varieties,’ he says. ‘But in the Douro it is different. The basis is schist and extreme temperatures, and for Port the best vineyards are usually south facing. The blending is also very important.’ The Niepoort 2019 comes from vineyards 80 years old or more, with each a field blend of around 40 different varieties. ‘It is a very complex situation.’

With regards to blending different vineyards, Dirk says that a blend is always better than a single vineyard. ‘But if I were to suggest to DRC that they do a blend they’d never speak to me again!’ he says.  

The Niepoort Ports are overseen by the Nogueira family, who are fifth generation Port blenders. ‘We are a team with a lot of history and empirical knowledge,’ he says. ‘One of the trademarks of Niepoort is knowing and respecting history.’ He also emphasizes that blending doesn’t negate the importance of terroir. ‘You can only be a good blender if you have the conscience of the terroir and a respect for it.’

Beatriz Machado made the observation that a great vintage Port starts sweet, but finishes dry. ‘That’s really important,’ agrees Dirk, telling an anecdote about he had Robert Mondavi next to him tasting the 1970. ‘He said it was really good, and I said yes, and he said you are not taking me seriously but a great sweet wine should be sweet, but it should end up dry.’ Dirk adds, ‘when you taste this 2019, there’s generosity, complexity and richness, and then a broom comes and it clears your palate, and then finish is not cloyingly sweet. In the past the Vintage Ports of Niepoort were sweet, but the balance was there. Now we are doing them less sweet.

Niepoort Vintage Port 2019 Douro, Portugal
From a warmer, riper vintage than 2017, but this is Niepoort, and so it still has freshness. Deep in colour, this has amazing concentration. Floral, ripe-but-not-overripe nose with fresh fruit aromas. On the palate, great focus with fresh raspberry and cherry fruit, as well as some blackberry. Compact and refined. There’s lovely tannin here and a dry-ish finish, even though it is sweet. Lovely stuff: so refined, with ripeness but also restraint and precision. A Burgundian Port. 98/100