Niepoort Vertente Douro 2009
I love Niepoort. Their tawnies are amongst the best in Porto, their vintage ports hit well above their renown and the LBV’s are sleepers. In my mind only Quinta do Noval makes better port. But that’s not the end of the story.
Niepoort is perhaps even more exceptional for their dry wine program. I visited the port house several years ago on an impromptu volcano induced trip to Portugal, and while the ports did not fail to impress, it was the dry wines that were truly staggering. I had never tasted dry Portuguese wine with so much finesse and harmonious structure. Niepoort’s dry reds are some of the best in the entire Iberian peninsula and deserve far greater attention from the wine cognoscenti.
Learning the Douro
Dirk Niepoort was one of the first to try to take dry reds in the Douro to the next level. He is a visionary and, in my opinion, one of the best wine makers in Europe. He seeks contradictions in his wines – power and extraction along with elegance and finesse. The experiment began in 1990 with the “Robustus” label. It has since evolved into a wine program with several labels. By the end of the 90’s Niepoort introduced the brilliant Batuta (the more powerful) and Charme (the more elegant) high end bottlings, which are consistently the best wines in Portugal.
Along the way, Dirk has learned many lessons. For instance, because of the extreme heat of the Douro, Dirk seeks to plant on North Facing vineyards, which allow for more even ripening. Foot crushing and stem inclusion are key to elegance, but only create the desired result when perfectly timed. All of this did not come easy in a region that essentially had rejected dry wines as a platform for serious quality.
As an example of the changing style and philosophy over time, I particularly like this anecdote reported by Jamie Goode:
“Dirk reveals how he served the Robustus [from 1990] to Michael Broadbent, who described it as the Latour of Portugal. Dirk’s father, Rolf, responded saying that it was disgusting and smelled of new wood. Dirk countered by saying that it was never in new wood. Michael says, ‘Rolf, it’s really good.’ Rolf says, ‘It smells of shit.’ Then they opened some 1945s and the evening went well from there.”
An Entry Level to Challenge Preconceptions
Unlike the top tier bottlings, the Vertente is meant for near term consumption. It is made from younger vines and sees less new oak treatment. In this market it is priced above the basic table wine level, but surpasses many wines at its price point. The wine is essentially a field blend of indigenous varieties. If you really care what they are, google Niepoort. What matters here is that you get a very good, versatile, medium bodied red with structure and elegance that doesn’t need deep thinking, just easy drinking. There is considerable charm to this wine and I highly recommend it, particularly for those who think they know what the Douro is all about. Niepoort demonstrates the greatest potential of this famous Port valley.
If you want to get more serious, check out the Batuta and Charme bottlings, which are far beyond what anyone else is doing in the Douro when it comes to elegance, finesse and beauty.
$45 at Kits Wine