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Dinner with Dirk Niepoort, featuring Redoma

16 May 2006

The latest of the series of Dirk Niepoort dinners was held at Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill, in Swallow Street near Piccadilly. The focus was on Redoma, the mainstay of the Niepoort portfolio of table wines, made since 1991, joined by Batuta with the 1999 vintage and more recently Charme and Vertente. ‘Redoma is an important wine for Niepoort’, says Dirk. ‘It is the backbone of the Niepoort range, and also the most individualistic wine’. While Batuta tilts its hat at fine Bordeaux and Charme pays homage to Burgundy, Redoma, in its wildness, is unashamedly Douro.

We began with the Rosé 2005, a tank sample of the final blend. ‘You can see from the colour that this is an unusual rosé’, says Dirk. Fermentation is in new french oak (conditioning the barrels, no doubt), with free run juice from lagares. As well as saignée, there’s some 40% of grapes picked early dedicated to the rosé, and a bit of skin contact.

Niepoort Redoma Rosé 2005
Deep pink/purple colour. Spicy, woody nose is quite powerful, but there’s freshness here. Elegant high acid palate showing some new oak structural elements. Bold stuff, rich and spicy. Lots of interest here. This is a great food wine. Very good+ 89/100

Next up, the Redoma Branco Reserva in two vintages. This is, for me, one of Dirk’s most profound wines, year in, year out. It’s made from old vine vineyards at elevations from 400 to 800 metres. 1993 was the first year for his white Douro wine, and it was potentially a bad one. There was lots of rain which resulted in dilution. Dirk asked the grower he’d contracted to pick everything separately by variety, but the grapes arrived all in one big container. But since then he’s never done anything separately, and has worked mostly with old vines, making a Reserva for the first time in 1995. Since then he’s shifted the style more to elegance and lightness. The objective is to work with vineyards as high as possible, and most of the wine is now sourced from three vineyards over 100 years old with 12–15 varieties, mainly Rabigato. The wine is barrel fermented, but there is no malolactic fermentation, important for retaining freshness.

Niepoort Redoma Branco Reserva 2004
Fantastic stuff: rich, bold, toasty and herby with a lovely minerally freshness to the palate. There’s great concentration here and lots of complexity, made in the style of a serious white Burgundy with well integrated oak. A brilliant wine that should evolve well. Very good/excellent 94/100

Niepoort Redoma Branco Reserva 2005 (cask sample)
Fresh, open primary nose. The palate is very primary with tight, fresh minerally fruit. Nice minerality here, and good acidity. There’s a sort of spicy edge to the fruit and this wine is in a fresh, elegant style. Lots of potential. Very good/excellent 91–93/100

Then we moved to Redoma reds, beginning with Dirk’s very first red wine. Robustus is an important wine in the history of Douro reds, simply because it is Dirk Niepoort’s first foray into winemaking, and because he is now perhaps the best known and influential advocate and maker of Douro table wines.

Robustus 1990 was an experiment made with grapes from Quinta do Carril, which was planted in 1925. Carril has a mixture of many varieties, predominantly Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarela, and is now the source of Batuta. Significantly, it is north facing. ‘It’s the first time I made wines from Carril’, says Dirk. ‘Over the years I had come to the conclusion that south-facing vineyards were best for Port, but for making great red wine you need more even ripening. In north-facing vineyards you don’t have direct sun so you don’t have burnt characters or heaviness’. He adds that because of more even ripening, in the Douro with its hot summers north-facing vineyards often result in wines with more alcohol because in the south-facing spots maturity stops.

‘When I started making wine I had a dream of making an elegant wine’, he reveals. ‘But Robustus 1990 was a monster: overextracted, dark, strange—too much’. Indeed, there seems to be a parallel here with Australia’s most famous table wine, Grange. When Max Schubert first made the wine in 1951, in an era where fortified wine was dominant, it was derided—to the extent that he had to take the project underground. Dirk’s first wine met with a poor reception from his father, who thought so badly of it that he sold the majority of it off while Dirk was in Australia in 1991. Of the initial five pipes, just one was left, which made a production of 630 bottles and 45 magnums.

Dirk reveals how he served the Robustus 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.

However, Dirk was convinced of the potential of the wine. ‘This is a wine region with 2000 years of tradition, but 1950 years of bad winemaking’, he says. ‘For the last 200 years the wine side has been mistreated because Port has been the focus. From 1990–2000 wines developed quite slowly, but from 2001 onwards there has been a dramatic change: we are living through a revolution’.

Of Robustus, Dirk says ‘I am very proud of it’, and says that despite the mistakes he made, he thinks it is amazing how good it tastes.

Niepoort Robustus 1990
Very dark colour. Exotic, spicy, medicinal nose is complex with some dark chocolate notes and nice full red and black fruits. The palate is dense and spicy with lovely acidity. It’s quite bold and full, and surprisingly youthfull still, with crunchy, dusty, spicy tannic structure. Rustic, but in a nice way: a delicious wine drinking well. Very good/excellent 92/100

We carried on the Redoma theme by tasting three vintages: the 1999, 2001 and 2004. These show the continuing evolution of style of Redoma, which first really hit its stride in 1999, but then continued, reaching perhaps what is the peak with 2001 and 2004. 1999 was an important vintage, because this is when Niepoort decided to major on table wines, and hired a winemaker and bought new barrels. He describes 1999 as a monster wine: big, alcoholic and impressive. He thinks 2001 is the best: this is where Redoma should be. ‘Redoma should show the wildness of the Douro: harshness, edges, not most polished’, says Dirk, ‘but I don’t want it to be jammy’.

Niepoort Redoma 1999
Sweet, slightly meaty dark fruits nose with nice smoothness and spiciness. The palate is open, meaty and spicy with smooth sweet dark fruits and a hint of olive. Nice spicy tannic bite. It’s made in quite a modern style but has attractive sleek darkly fruited expression. Very good/excellent 92/100

Niepoort Redoma 2001
Dark, spicy, chocolatey fruit nose countered by lovely fresh spiciness. The palate is bold and dense but fresh at the same time, with good acid and a nice tight spiciness. A really lovely expressive wine with great potential. Very good/excellent 93/100

Niepoort Redoma 2004
Rich, pure, chocolatey, sweet dark fruits nose. The palate is smooth with sweet dark fruits and also an earthy, spicy complexity. Nice freshness combines well with richness. A really nice presice wine. Very good/excellent 93/100

The evening finished with some ports: the impressive Junior Tinto and Senior Tawny, which are inexpensive but quite serious: required drinking if you want to get a good idea of the two rather different sides of Port. Then it was on to the rather serious LBV 2001, which is lovely, finishing with the expressive Colheita 1994. Another remarkable evening, and great fun to boot. 

see also

Wines tasted 06/06
Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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