Reflections on Vintage Port - Ramos Pinto and Niepoort 1924 - 2011

This is a parallel tasting of wines from two very individual Port shippers, both with a strong family input. The wines were presented by João Nicolau de Almeida and Dirk Niepoort respectively. These two producers obviously resepct each other even though they admit to doing things very differently. This is emphatically not a Ramos Pinto v. Niepoort tasting and the vintages selected were the years in which they thought that their respective houses performed strongly. The absence of Niepoort wines from the 1990s corresponds to a time when the house performed badly with a number of years going volatile in bottle. Dirk Niepoort hinted at these problems during the tasting.  

The tasting was conducted at a speed that most tasters (myself included) found hard to keep up with.   We had just an hour to taste all these wines; hence some rather brief notes. The wines are listed in the order they were tasted, culminating in the launch of the 2011s which, of course, provided the reason for this rather more extensive tasting of older wines.  

Ramos Pinto 1924 *** / ****

Pale to mid amber tawny; slightly soily casky aromas with delicate tawny style fruit emerging underneath, creamy milk chocolate intensity; light, still fresh with tobacco box character, drying out on the finish with the spirit showing through.  Lovely but now fragile.  16.5    

Niepoort 1942 ****

Mid-deep brick red centre, thin amber-tawny rim; surprisingly closed on the nose, sullen, arguably needing more time to show at its best; still firm and rich with tight knit fruit and fine peppery tannins, well structured and long but, incredibly, still too young.   18

Ramos Pinto 1970 ****

Mid- pinkish brick red; open and elegant on the nose, soft and mellifluous with lovely cherry stone fruit, firm, long and elegant, showing very well and drinking beautifully now.  17.5 

Niepoort 1970 **** / *****

A wine entirely from grapes grown at Quinta da Pisca near Ferrão (see Bioma below), made by Rolf Niepoort, Dirk’s father. Slightly deeper than the Ramos Pinto, pink tinged; closed, dense and introverted, needs more time to show at its best; tight knit and foursquare in typical Niepoort style, well-structured with spicy-peppery tannins and bitter chocolate intensity. Long and lithe.  18.5

Niepoort 1977 ****

From Quinta da Pisca like the 1970. Good mid-deep youthful colour, showing very little age; open with lovely fragrant floral fruit aromas; tight knit on the palate , solid, dark chocolate intensity, firm and full. Long and linear though without much flesh on the finish. A very good 1977 with plenty of life left. 17

Ramos Pinto 1983 **** 

Very deep at the centre  with a thin browning rim ,surprising given that 50% of this wine comes from Tinta Barroca; hot plummy fruit aromas, big and rich; similarly so on the palate, hefty, rich and unsually full bodied for 1983. Solid and structured with plenty of flesh to carry the wine forward. Big rather than elegant at this stage and very impressive. A revelation  17.5   

Niepoort 1983 *** / ****

Pinkish colour, rather paler than the Ramos Pinto; fine and well defined on the nose, lovely cherry fruit, firm and linear, boney and rather more typically 1983.   16.5

Ramos Pinto 1994 ****

Mid-deep youthful colour; ripe and opulent on the nose, open and showing the ripeness of the vintage; soft ripe and opulent initially in the mouth, with ripe well structured tannins rising towards a drier finish. Impressive.   17

Ramos Pinto 1997 ** / ***? 

Good, deep youthful colour; a hot nose, rather heady, spirit and ugly (perhaps just a phase), big and rich in style with spirit showing through, still disjointed, reserve for future judgment? 14.5

Ramos Pinto 2003 ****

Made from 60% Touriga Nacional: deep, youthful and opaque; closed on the nose, sullen; seemingly soft and loose knit on the palate initially and still raw but overwhelmingly ripe with powerful tannins rising on to a peacock’s tail of a finish. Still needs another ten years in bottle.  17

Niepoort 2005 ****

Very deep opaque, youthful colour; still raw, closed and and lumpy on the nose; ripe and fleshy with dusty tannins and lovely sweet fruit. Very well balanced and very promising. Needs another 10 years at least. 17.5

Ramos Pinto 2007 *** / ****

Very deep opaque colour, still raw and closed in with some lovely purity of fruit underlying; firm, grainy tannins, quite dense, needs time to come together, 15 years?  16.5 +?

Ramos Pinto Quinta da Ervamoira 2007 ***

Similar colour; deep, ripe heady aromas with more to give, rich, full and fleshy, very flattering in style, big, firm structured tannins with good over all balance. A lovely wine for the mid-term.  16

Niepoort 2009 **** 

Very deep in colour, dense and still raw on the nose, sweet and opulent in the mouth, big, ripe minty fruit, naturally sweet and very promising. Needs 15 years  plus.  17.5

Niepoort Bioma 2009 ****

The first vintage of this wine from Quinta da Pisca near Ferrão, now clultivated organically: deep, fine and focused, not so raw as the Niepoort wine above, more restrained, firm, tight knit, lithe, long and linear. Very, very good 18+? 

Niepoort 2011  **** / *****

Very deep blue-black colour; attractive pure, tight-knit aromas and fine fruit (the sample was served very cold); lovely pure sweet-spicy fruit, dusty fine grained tannins, refined with good balance.  18.5

Ramos Pinto 2011 ****

Deep, dark and raw yet open with blossom fragrance (this is 50% Touriga Nacional); dense, rich, sweet and minty with ripe tannins rising in the mouth, full and structured if a bit rough and raw around the edges. 17

Niepoort Bioma 2011 **** / *****  +

Very deep opaque black colour; ripe yet restrained on the nose with lovely underlying purity of fruit, a hallmark of this vintage; minerally, a word that I rarely use to describe Port, firm and very beautiful already with firm tannic superstructure all the way to the finish, ripe yet very elegant. A star of the vintage. 18.5 +?  


Location: Glaziers Hall, London SE1


19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)

17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)

15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)

13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)

10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)

8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)

Below 8 Faulty