(Jancis Robinson MW - jancisrobinson.com – July 2002)
About this WINE
While several notable Scots and English families (Graham, Warre and Taylor, for example) emigrated to the Douro valley in the 18th century, others from Port-importing countries did likewise, and the Niepoorts arrived from the Netherlands.
Dirk Niepoort now runs the firm, with a dedication and enthusiasm that has made him one of the most popular figures in the wine trade. Niepoort was formerly more well-known for its Colheita wines, the vintage tawny Ports that are not often exported.
Dirk has striven to improve the company's Vintage Ports; His vineyards were upgraded (notably most are farmed organically, without any pesticides and herbicides) and the winery completely revamped. As for the grape crushing, Dirk is a passionate advocate of the traditional method of 'treading' (by foot) to extract maximum colour and flavour. These efforts resulted in magnificent examples from recently declared years.
Niepoort Vintage Port has a style that can be appreciated when very young, though as it matures, the wine soon closes up and becomes as long-lived as any.
The company used to buy all its grapes from small growers but since the end of the 1980s, Niepoort has invested in their own quintas. In 1988 it purchased Nápoles, followed by Carril in 1989 and Quinta do Passadouro, an estate made up of four tiny quintas, in 1990.
Dirk Niepoort deserves the accolades he receives for his hard work, though this also means the company's wines have become increasingly scarce.
Vintage Port accounts for only a small percentage of the total Port production - which includes Tawny, Ruby, Late Bottled Vintage, Single Quinta Vintage styles, among others - but is the finest, longest-lived and most expensive style that is produced. The best are as good as any wine in existence.
With the exception of legendary vineyards like Quinta do Noval Nacional and Quinta do Vesuvio, Vintage Port is made from a blend of wines from a producer's finest plots. It is aged for around 18 months in wooden casks before bottling; from then on the watch-word is patience. At least 15 years ageing – and for the top wines it will be significantly longer – is required before the tannins, spirit and fruit are fully integrated. Indeed, the finest examples can last well over 50 years.
Vintage Port is only made in exceptional years (normally around three times per decade) with considerable stylistic variation between different years and shippers. However, they all share a sweet, warming, spicy richness, power and complexity. In other good but not great vintages, many shippers produce a Single Quinta Vintage Port from their finest vineyard. These are made in the same way and have the same style as Vintage Port but tend to mature faster and are less profound. All Vintage Port throws a sediment as it matures, and thus requires decanting.
There are around 40 different grape varieties permitted in the production of Port - however the vast majority of Ports are produced from a blend of 5 grapes - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinto Cão.
Touriga Nacional produces small, dark-skinned grapes that produce opaque black wines of great extract and high tannins - it gives grip, body, and structure to the blend.
Touriga Franca has a thinner skin and consequently produces wines lighter in colour and tannins than Touriga Nacional. It contributes fruit, aroma, suppleness and roundness.
Tinta Roriz is the Portuguese name for Tempranillo and its high sugar content and low acidity contribute colour and fruit.
Tinta Barroca which is normally grown at highish altitudes and on north-facing slopes, is prized for producing wines of delicacy, finesse and with smooth, velvety fruit. It brings elegance and sweet, ripe fruit to the final blend.
Finally Tinto Cão produces fine and complex wines, though it is probably the least important of the 5 grapes as its painfully small yields have reduced plantings to almost insignificant levels.