The Niepoort fan club joined Dirk Niepoort and his son Daniel on zoom for the launch of the 2019 Port vintage. We looked an eclectic bunch on line and to show our loyalty we were asked to wear a very Dirk-ish beige gillet with Niepoort’s logo (‘Sabe a Quem Sabe’) on it. One member of the fan club had gone a stage further having had a bottle of Niepoort’s V V tawny tattooed on his arm.
The Niepoorts have always done things their own way. Dirk’s father Rolf never enjoyed visiting the Douro and until the 1990s the company bought in wines from trusted growers, relying on the Nogueira family to source and blend their wines. Niepoort commands the loyalty of suppliers, consumers and employees and the Nogueiras are in their fifth generation, still blending Niepoort Ports.
Unlike his father, Dirk Niepoort is a man about the Douro forever identifying plots of old vines: ‘lots of little terroirs’ in his words. He believes ‘more in the vineyards than in the varieties’, a contrary view at a time when the big names in Port a relying ever more on the varietal vineyards planted from the late 1970s onwards. ‘Of the 70-80 fermentations we undertake in a vintage only two or three will be varietal’. Dirk is not a fan of ‘thick pruney Ports’ and in 2003 (a hot year throughout Europe) they excluded the ripest grapes. He adds ‘we now probably pick too early’ admitting that ‘a green component in the wine gives complexity’ over the longer term. ‘We like cool vineyards’ says Dirk, often North-facing: ‘we are used to extremes. We have a fetish for acidity and lightness’. I asked about the impact of climate change and Dirk responded that ‘Port likes extreme situations. Climate change is not that negative in the Douro’.
There weren’t many extremes in 2019 where a wet winter was followed by a dry summer interrupted (helpfully) by rain at end of August. It was ‘not as perfect as 2017’ (Niepoort’s last declaration) with 2019 ‘possibly bigger but still a very elegant year. The wines will come together, get richer and more “drinky”’. Dirk admits that his Vintage Ports are less sweet than in the past and that we are looking for the illusion of a wine that ‘tastes sweet but ends up dry’ on the finish. That ‘green component’ shows up in my note on the 2019 vintage with its ‘herbal’ character and ‘hedgerow’ fruit in the 2000 vintage which was offered for comparison. Dirk Niepoort feels that the 2009 vintage (a hot, ripe year declared by some shippers, including Niepoort) has ‘aged badly’ whereas 2003 has ‘aged surprisingly well’ as has the 2000 tasted here at 21 years of age.
The 2019 will be bottled in June 2021. Dirk admits that vintage Ports are being bottled earlier than in the past, something he doesn’t like. ‘The wine needs to be bottled at its best possible moment’ and if that falls during the summer months so be it. For example Niepoort’s Bioma is bottled, late often in its third year, along similar lines to the wines that used to be shipped to the UK in pipe for bottling prior to the 1970s. Niepoort’s wine maker Nick Delaforce concluded by saying ‘we do all the wrong things!’ There is certainly nothing wrong with either of these wines.
Niepoort 2019 **** +?
A field blend from old vineyards (80 years plus), with 40 plus different grape varieties: deep, bright but not opaque; lovely fragrant, elegant minty fruit on the nose with a sweet-scented herbal edge; gentle, spicy berry fruit, firm, fine and sinewy with a long, lithe finish expressing natural freshness and acidity. Young, very winey but in no way raw. Nothing overt or showy at this stage, it looks set to age gracefully. Resilient and still a joy to taste after ten days on ullage. 18+
Niepoort 2000 ****/*****
Mid-deep in hue, still youthful on the rim; wonderfully aromatic and exotic on the nose: gum cistus, wild mint and a touch of eucalyptus with a touch of medicinal cherry fruit; similarly exotic on the palate, hedgerow fruit and all-spice backed by fine, gravelly tannins with a long expressive berry fruit finish leaving an impression of freshness and poise, not big but elegant. A lovely drink now and with many years ahead. 18.5
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