Quinta de Nápoles is a 30-hectare domaine with a very modern facility, that's where the Douro wines are vinified from what I understand. There is a flashy reception room that looks like a former chapel, and beneath, the chais and vinification, élevage rooms are very wide and high ceiling with easy access by gravity (you can access the vats from under or above), everything is ergonomic and planned for hygiene and comfortable work conditions. The facility lies mostly underground from what I call the former chapel or street level but with the slope it's not really under the hill, you just don't see the warehouses when you arrive at first.
Gabriela guided us around, explaining the hows & whys in each vat room and barrel cellar, which I didn't always catch the story because I was busy taking pictures. I wrote in my notes that they use their own estate grapes in their quintas but they also buy grapes to a good number of growers, of course from selected parcels they judge fit for the wines they want (altitude, variety, age of vines, soil). At one point I saw a line of recently-delivered new barrels (pic on left), they were made by a Portuguese cooperage, J. Dias & CA, SA, very interesting to know about a local cooperage. Forgot to ask Dirk about how he likes these barrels.
Here if my notes are correct the system here is designed to push the cap down, they do it softly so as not to extract harsh tannins. Gabriela said at one point that Dirk's philosophy is have freshnessand low alcohol, so in accordance with this goal they choose vineyards, slopes and parcels with this issue in mind (the Douro as you know can be terribly hot in the 9-month Inferno season...). They usually harvest very early, usually starts like 16-17 august; last year it was a bit earlier : 10 august and by september 10 the harvest was over. They work with lots of complanted varieties in old parcels. The grapes fall in the vats by gravity from holes in the cement ceiling. http://www.niepoort-vinhos.com/en/reports/
The multi-story facility of Quinta de Nápoles was designed by the architect Andreas Burghardt in 2000 and the construction of the building took place in 2007-2008. Given the volume of the rooms we went through, retrospectively it's hard to imagine all that space when you park near what I call the former chapel because it's all underneath like a couple of big walled terraces overlooking the valley. This fgacility isn't as sexy as an old chai and a barrel cellar on dirt floor but if it makes the job it's all forgiven..
We had a masterclass of Porto wine in one of the reception rooms overlooking the valley.
__ Porto Niepoort Dry White. Dirk says that i the last 30-40 years they have been working on checking the white Ports and most of the other wineries have been making whites the modern way : pressing the grapes and then fermenting with light wines that are fruity, have no color and had not much aging in barrels. He said that at Niepoort they never followed that fashion and consider that making white Port in this modern way boils down to making stupid wines, wines that are not interesting. They take the opposite approach, they work with old vines, with lots of complanted varieties, a lot of Malvoisie (a variety he doesn't like much for regular dry wines but likes very much for Ports). Most of these wines are made in lagares (these foot-stomping vats iconic of the region) and when not they're made with skin-contact fermentation which extracts quite a lot of tannin and color (which counts a lot also for whites). Then these white wines are ages for about 3 years in oak. They began these white Port wines 10 years ago and they are indeed 10 years old now. But beyond the 10 years of élevage what counts here is the fact to have lmade these wines the old-fashion way, that's what makes them very interesting. This Dry White is dry, he says , but not bone dry, there's a little bit of residual sugar, which brings a bit harmony in the wine.
Very gentle white Port, harmonious (the couple alcohol/wine), remarkable, smooth and onctuous. 40 grams residual sugar.
__ Porto Niepoort 10 Years Old White. This dry Port is sweeter than the previous Port but much less than a usual 10-year old. Again, he says they think the balance is just right. 100 grams residual sugar. Sweeter indeed when tasted side by side but there's a wemcome bitterness that diminished the impact. Lovely. Very nice length, aromas of dry fruits, dry apricot for example. again, nice harmony with the alcohol part, going down the throat warmly & smoothy...
Someone asks how much time a bottle of Port wine can stand when opened. Dirk says that the longer a wine spent time in wood the longer you can keep a bottle open [without the wine getting spoiled] and on the other way, the longer a wine has spent time in bottle comparatively to its barrel time, the less you should leave this bottle open [unless taking the risk to have the wine spoiled]. This is because the slow oxidation in wood allows the wine to stand better oxigen when in bottle and the bottle is opened and not finished right away, it can stand 1 month, two months or more.
__ LBV (late bottled vintage) 2013, Emgarrafado Em 2018 (bottled in 2018). A red Port wine. Dirk says that basically when they make the wine during the harvest they have just one type of Port, they use red grapes which they extract as much as possible because since the fermentation is very short (they add the brandy in the middle of the fermentation, shortening its length compared to a table wine) and the extracting stage has to be very efficient in the early part of the fermentation. He says a Port is always a Ruby when it's born, and it's the aging process that will decide if it will remain a Ruby or turn into a Tawny, and the question is how-and-where we'll age it and how-long we'll age it. A LBV has to be bottled between the 4th and the 7th year, they try to bottle early after 4 years after aging in big-capacity barrels. The cork for the Port bottle is a real cork because they believe it behaves a little bit like a vintage, you don't have to drink it immediately, you can keep it a few years, 10 or 20 and see how it ages, the wine thanking you very much if you keep it some years.
I find this Port to have very vinous organoleptic properties, lovely, the closest to a regular red wine I had, again partly because the alcohol part is so discreet. Dirk says that the vintage poes very well with cheese, and his father found out that a very young Port goes super well with a pepper steak, what is fine is because of the pepper you don't feel the alcohol nor the sweetness, the Port is felt like a wine.
__ 10 Years Old Tawny (bottled in 2015). Dirk shows how the colr is different here. This is a blend of different vintages with an average now being of of 14 years, these Ports were all aged in pipes (534-liter barrels), they do fill the barrels to the top, they don't look for extra oxidation; the vintage Ports and the LDBs are really focused on the fruit, he says, on the wine character side while the Tawny has a much bigger spectrum of aromas, which are not at all based on fruit, there is lot more bouquet and expression. He says we started with the Vintage and then got the Tawny, which does make sense he adds because the vintage is the King of the Port while the Tawny is a little bit like the President by election... Interestingly, Dirk says a few minutes later that we shouldn't focuse on the Port trade itself (someone had asked about the market tendencies and which type the youngsters were likely to favor) but instead on the Douro [wines] : the Port houses don't do that because they only are interested in Port, and as a consequence they get nervous because the sales are going down, they start making mistakes, bringing the prices down and it makes things even worse. he says what should be done is exactly the other way around, making Port something special, not a supermarket product, bring the quality up and at the same time work on the Douro wines themselves, including making garage wines proving that the region can compete with the best wine regions. And this is important to consider he says, that if we do all these things at the same time including developping high-end tourism, the future of Douro wines will be fantastic, people must understand that the wines of the Douro can't just be cheap.
When I tasted this Tawny I was still under the charm of the LBV and had difficulty to adapt to this 10 Years Tawny. I came back to the other glass (LBV 2013) and this goes down indeed very well...
__ Porto 20 Years Old Tawny. People who like Tawny like them as old as possible but Dirk says there seems to be a truth that the best Tawnies are the ones between 20 and 30 years. 20 yeays is smoother and the aftertaste is much longer than in a 10 years.. A 20 Year old is something they always blend wanting it to stay the same, he says, so they have a house style which they try to be in accordance with.
Man, that's a good Port ! I agree, 20 years is way better than 10 years, that's why I couldn't tick with the 1st Tawny...
__ Porto Colheita 1997 (bottled in 2017). This is to compare a single-harvest Port with a 20 Years Tawny, Dirk says we'll see the structure is very different between the two. Here there's no House style they want to stick to, Dirk says it's like if you take a picture and it happens the subject is in a bad mood, well the bad mood will remain on the picture. they don't bottle everything at once and try to keep it as long as possible in barrel, the longer in barrel being the better, but for economic reasons they just can't keep the whole batch for 40 years so every year they bottle a litlle part of it and release it. He says the Colheita is maybe less elegant, less perfect in its expression but it has a little bit more color, as well as more structure and tannin, and it's a bit bigger.
Somebody asks about the recent vintages in terms of quality, Dirk says about the harvest of 2015 which he loved a lot that most people loved it too, but then for whatever reason the English Houses did not want to declare 2015 but opted for 2016 as a vintage which he thinks is stupid. He says 2016 isn't his cup of tea but he understand that they like it because it was much more overripe, much bigger in style while 21015 in his own mind has more precision, more elegance, it's just the perfect vintage. he says that even Houses that don't make usually good vintage Ports made fantastic things in 2015. Then there is 2017, the English Houses have a rule to never declare two consecutive years and he doesn't understand why this rule especially that if for him 2015 is a perfect year, 2017 is even better, a miracle, the most perfect vintage he has ever seen, in every single aspect. All of this is going to be very interesting to follow, he says, the world of Port in in a moment to change a few rules, which may turn to be good.
Asked about the harvest 2017 which is said to have been a tough year, Dirk aknowledges 2017 has been a very dry year but it was not a hot year and for example they hadn't to take out the overripe grapes like they use to because there were none. The mainstream producers love having overripe grapes because this gives more color, more tannin, more sweetness, but Dirk says he didn't have the problem of overripeness in 2017, it was just a question of waiting for the right moment to pick, and there was no rain at this crucial time like in 2016 (it rained in the middle of the harvest in 16), he doesn't like 2016 very much, even though the wines change for the better.
Enjoyable Port, it indeed still has tannin, but like he says, the 20 Years is really best now for drinking.
__ Porto Vintage 2015. Dirk said earlier that 2015 was a fantastic year and what he likes about this wine is the harmony, the balance between alcohol, sweetness and tannins, it's almost winy you don't get forward alcohol, it doesn't taste sweet and not very agressive at the same time; he says that's probably one of the most tannic wines we ever had in our life but it's not a monster, it's perfect in all the elements.
At one point Dirk made a few jokes about Nicholas (Nick) Delaforce, a Brit who joined his oenological team in 2003 (pictured on right) and whom he likes to tease, hinting that they may have disgreeed on their respective evaluation of certain vintages (the 2017 among others...).. The man who has something reminiscent of a Rowan Atkinson was taking the jokes heartily and he's apparently doing a great job on the Port winemaking part here. His name comes from his French ancestors that were Huguenots émigrés who fled France to Holland then the U.K. due to political repression centuries ago. In the U.K. from what I understand his ancestor there began selling wine and met there a man named Gassiot who offered him to run his business in Porto, Portugal (known now as Martinez Gassiot & Company Limited), which is how Nick got connected to this region through his ancestors, this is quite a dinasty...Dirk says he hired him some 15 years ago because he needed a real engineer, someone who has studied oenology although he is wary of oenologists because he thinks they have studied too much, but he adds that Nick was really the perfect person because he's old-fashioned in his head and he's adapted quite well along here.
This Port Vintage 2015 is indeed exquisite with thin glass-paper tannins and so fresh with (he's right) perfect balance with the alcohol/brandy part. All these Ports make 20 %. Aromas of crushed blackberries.
__ Same Port, carafed. Even better, and these chalky tannins ! Super good !! This was a great masterclass, fun, exciting, demanding and with these different and such excellent Ports. We then proceeded to the lunch table on the terrace. There's no established restaurant service at this facility, this was a friendly lunch prepared by a middle-aged female cook if I'm right (forgot to snap her pic) but it was top-notch cuisine, really, I love this job...
The lunch with Dirk Niepoort was the occasion for him to pour us several of his wines, some of them not being released and being trials, something he likes to do.
__ Riesling Au...Au 2017, from the Douro; 8 % alc. from a magnum. Vines are 25 years old, grow at 700 meters. Fruity, sweet and acidulous, notes of English candy & Berlingot. This proves that the region with its different altitudes and expositions can let many different varieties tell their story.
__ Redoma Branco 2014 Douro Reserva. White blend from different varieties, 80-year-old vines. Dirk says the grapes went through a short skin contact maceration, 50 % of the volume is made of Corduga & Trebigato and the rest is made with many other varieties. The wine hints at wood élevage (French oak, we're told) but still harmonious. Speaking of the age of the vines, 80 years is some kinf of average but there are as well 70 years old as 80 and some more than 100 years old, scattered in small parcels.
__ Coche Branco 2016. Very nice white, some wood too, well integrated. Blend of many white varieties, grown at 750 meters of altitude on a soil that has more granite; good acidity. Fermentation in barrels, malolactic also completed in barrels, the malo makes the wine rounder. THe wine is very focused and intense. Got that with excellent small potatoes and meat.
__ Coche Branco 2014, same cuvée, still in the cellar now in bottles. Poured from a magnum marked with chalk. Much more mineral & almost rough on the edges, a white with character. Should show itself beautifully in the years to come.
Time for a red, and this was not any red...
__ Redoma red Douro 2014, poured from a magnum with labels. 12,5 % Important to notice for the region, and the color tells you a lot too in this regard.Blend of old vines. Very, Very beautiful, I weigh my words. Fresh, thin tanninc touch, very enjoyable chalky chew, a top wine for me. Dirk says he vinifiede this with 60 % whole-clustered grapes. Has 20 of free SO2, very little.
Here is another experiment by Dirk Niepoort,
__ Vinho Verde, poured from an unmarked magnum by Dirk himself. Look at the glasses he uses intentionally, he says this is to be had like a beer, as an easy summer refreshment in the shade. No SO2 at all here. Very nice indeed if surpricing, good acidity by quite smooth at the same time.
__ Porto Vintage 2003, bottled 2005, poured by Nick Delaforce himself. 2003 was a hot year here in Portugal like in the rest of the continent (heat wave). Beautful Port, chalky, intensity with luminous dust feel; delicate silky tannins. Love it, it was gorgeous with the fresh goat cheese, an artisanal cheese I forgot to ask Dirk about where he finds that.
__ Port Colheita 1983; aged in wood & bottled 1993. This goes down the throat, illuminating the inner body all the way down to the stomach. Aromas of caramel, leather, just so delicious, no words, no literature... There was a magic mood that day, it's a combination of all these great wines, the warmful and welcoming manners of Dirk and his aides, this excellent cooking and ingredients....
Source : http://www.wineterroirs.com/2018/04/quinta_de_napoles_niepoort.html