A wine in a state of evolution. Great Langhe Nebbiolo is such a treasure when produced at this level of quality. That haunting aroma of Nebbiolo in its complex and mysterious form. A shape shifter in a glass. To taste it's fine grained and firm tannin with bright lashes of forest berry and strawberry compote, for me is pure delight.
NIEPOORT Vinhos - A NIGHT IN PORTO
Dinner at the restaurant O'GAVETO. Notes from a Trip November 2016
Looking at our schedule of wine makers, winery visits and dinners, I was excited that I would have the opportunity to revisit some producers I had already met on previous occasions. This third time would allow me the opportunity to truly synthesize and close 'a' chapter on what these wineries meant for Portugal. Of course there were a few producers I had never heard of and of course there was several among the few that I was very excited finally get the real low down. One of these producers was Niepoort Vinhos.. Niepoort, doesn't sound very Portuguese does it. Hear me out, Niepoort sounds un-Portuguese, only in name. Dirk Niepoort is a winemaker and an innovator that has pushed the envelope and the creative potential of the wines of Douro and the Wines of Portugal. Now let the record stand...Dirk Niepoort, the current winemaker for the Niepoort house, is the 5th generation of wine makers, the house has been family run since 1842, and have employed 5 generations of the Noguiera Family of Master Blenders over the last 50years. Everything about this house is #tradition but with a contemporary profile and flavour of the wines...! Though in the same breath I have to say that the wines are very Portuguese. So much that they stretch the imagination as far as the grapes will allow.
Sitting at dinner with Paulo Silva (Sales and Marketing) and José Teles (General Manager) I was in for a truly immersive dinner and tasting at a world famous seafood restaurant O Gaveto, in Porto.
First a word on the restaurant O Gaveto...the quality of fish and seafood here is managed by two brothers Joâo and José Pinheiro. Located in one of the biggest and most important fishing ports, the Matosinhos which is also happens to be a suburb of the greater city of Porto. The Pinheiro family has been serving up the freshest fish since 1984 and with some of the fish coming from a proprietary farm that the family operates ensuring consistency and quality. This is the first choice restaurant of any Douro wine producer and should not be missed if you visit the lovely city of Porto. As a child of West Indian parents, I've had the luxury of tasting the freshest fish of the Caribbean at home in Canada and at the source in Barbados...direct from the sea. As well one of my earliest wine trips took me to Santorini and a night of dining on fish literally plucked from a holding container in the sea at table side, I can say that O'Gaveto might have eclipsed all of my previous experiences with fresh seafood.
As I sit here writing and thinking, I ask myself how can I get straight to the point about this tasting and dinner, without the writerly flourishes that one might expect and flourishes that I am barely capable of achieving. I will attempt to revisit the tasting, and dinner as I have in my notes.
Dirk Niepoort is a man of ideas, In 1987 he started to make table wines in the Douro and wanted to exploit the potential and the synergy of Table Wines in Portugal. In 2002 he joined the group Douro Boys, which included Val de Meâo, Vale de Maria amongst a few, that intended to market and push the boundaries and more importantly the perceptions of what Douro table wines would be...call them the Barolo Boys of Portugal...modern, avant-gardiste, breakers of tradition but the guardians of heritage. Later in 2012 he would expand his horizons by joining the Baga Friends of Bairrada. Baga Friends - a group of like minded friends and associates looking to improve on the grape Baga. Baga a noble and fierce grape making wines that have been compared to Barolo and also has the capacity to make traditional sparkling wines not unlike that of Pinot Noir in France.
Niepoort is a collaborator, a protagonist and an artist.
He now makes wine in other regions of Portugal, in particular the Dão and Vinho Verde. The Vinho Verde would be the first wine of the night as we were served our first course of dinner.
Teppo Peixe Branco 2016 Vinho Verde. Niepoort Vinhos.
The wine is from an estate purchased in 2015, this vintage is a combination of the grapes Avesso, Trajaduro, and Azal from a vineyard- Quinta de Val Boa located in the subregion of Basto in Vinho Verde. The wine opens with bright green apple, and slight underripe pear with lemon zest. The wine has a gentle spritz, call it effervesence, which is not too distracting, supporting some soft creamy tropical white fruit flavour. A crisp and pleasant wine as an aperitif.
Conciso Branco 2014, Dão. Niepoort Vinhos
The label for this bottle is one of the most compelling I have seen in a while. The artist is João Noutel , like the wines of Niepoort, the labels are conceptual and quite stunning as contemporary art pieces. He has collaborated with other wineries, a few mentored by Dirk. What I did notice about the label and something I have never seen on any wine label...PERIOD, was that the hand on the wine label was that of a black man, in a suit. I thought the hand of Barack Obama, of course, as this trip was on the eve of the US Presidential Election last November.
The vineyards for this wine are located at 600-800metres above seal level, comprised of old vines Bical and Encruzado. Fermentation for this wine was in traditonal granite lagares and malolactic fermentation was completed in barrel. Initial impressions on this wine was of lovely brioche like aroma with apple, sweet peaches, lemon and lemon curds. A wine in its youth the palate continued with nice oak integration and a rich palate dominated by bright acidity - a vinous combination of apple, white peach and pastry notes.
This was not the first experience with a Dão wine from the hand of Niepoort. My first experience with his wines were with DODA. I proceeded to ask our hosts about this wine.
DoDa / (Do)uro and (Da)o. Niepoort Vinhos.
The concept was suggested by Dirks' father, Rolf, to create the best wine in Portugal by combining the elegance and longevity of the Dao wines and the power and structure of the Douro in one wine. The collaboration would work best with his equal, the wine maker Alvaro de Castro from Quinta de Pellada in the Dão. de Castro himself a master of winemaking in the Dao. The original blend was 50/50 of each wines...being made at their respective Quinta and then blended at Niepoort in Douro. The original name as I was told was DADO, but they had to change the name, at the same time the wine falls out of any appellation law and is simply and beautiful concept wine. Currently the 2011 vintage is available in our Ontario market from Terroir Imports. The wine is killer!
Bical + Maria Gomes Old Vines 2013, Bairrada. Niepoort Vinhos.
This is a gem of a wine, coming in at a whopping 11% alcohol from 60 to 100 year old vines on limestone soil from the coastal region of Bairrada. The elevated acidity in these grapes allows for full fermentation and malolactic to occur in 50 - 100 year old black barrels, originally from the Mosel, Germany. Try to imagine sucking on a well chiselled diamond!
This wine is laced with layers of mineral, mineral and more mineral tones, with slight green notes of green garden herbs: celery, parsley and savoury. The nose is rather quiet in regards to fruit, though I think with time this wine will evolve towards bright and gentle white floral notes, with lean citrus undertones.... I mean this wine is so pure and clean it was difficult to find the upfront pleasure of drinking it in it's youth. Personally, I would study this wine and with time re-visit and intellectually enjoy it's evolution.
I had to ask José and Paulo about this wine and they both attested that Dirk is someone who 'learns by doing and he respects the terroir, the grapes and the identity of the wines. His collaborations with wine makers such as Telmo Rodriques of Spain, Raul Perez and other have informed his beliefs on the benefits of balance and low alcohol in wines'.
Both admit that it is quite possible that Dirk's wines are 10 years ahead of their time. All of the vineyards are currently converting to biodynamic viticulture, the concept of 'less is more' holds true is an underlying theme to the Niepoort wines.
Redoma 2015, Douro. Niepoort Vinhos.
This wine is sourced from an 85 year old vineyard at 600-800 metres above sea level on schist and granite soils in the Cima Corgo. A classic field blend primarily composed of Rabigato, Codéga di Lorinho, Viosinho amongst the few. Here is a wine of upfront pleasure and richness from the floral and bright fruit of lemon, peach and apple with distinct mineral highlights. The must is fermented in oak with 8 months of ageing and the wine still remains as fresh as apples and summer peaches. If you thought that elegance could not be found in the Douro, then you should try this wine.
Charme 2014, Douro. Niepoort Vinhos.
Charme is made in one of the historical Port Wine Quinta in the Niepoort portfolio of properties, the Vale de Mendiz. The grapes, mainly a field blend dominated by Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and others, are whole bunch foot trodden in classic 'lagares', with 3 days of maceration with fermentation commencing and then completed in barrel with further ageing of up to 18 months. Out of the bottle the wine leaps forth with pretty red floral notes, some wood spice moving to red apple, red cherry and field berry fruit. Overall the nose is subtle and complex moving to a palate that is gentle with fine grained tannin wrapped in a halo of spiced and slightly candied fruit of currant, strawberry and raspberry flavours.
Rumour has it that the name 'Charme' is a play on words with Charmes-Chambertin of Burgundy. Taste the wine and see for yourself!
Recently the Niepoort house launched the Projectos Series of wines. The Projectos vision manifests itself as limited edition of wines focused on regions and grapes of Portugal that are unique and of interest and/or are made in partnership with other like minded wine makers from within Portugal or abroad. The Projectos include the Conciso Branco and Tinto of Dao , Poerinho of Barirarda and Turris an old vine Quinta in the Douro.
Bastardo 2010, Douro. Niepoort Vinhos.
The grape Bastardo was relegated to the sidelines of Douro wine production because of it's inability to produce wines of colour and weight, it lacked the power to contribute to port wine blending. The Bastardo grape is related to Trousseau of the Jura in France. What Niepoort has been able to do is fashion a wine of brigthness and a légèreté of bright red cherry, with herbal and savoury notes. A nice salinity runs through the wine which is rather tart and soft in tannin.
Conciso Tinto 2013, Dão. Niepoort Vinhos.
Another killer, label on this wine, a blend of old bush vines Baga, Jaen, Alfrocheiro and a touch of Touriga Nacional from a very ancient vineyard in the Dão. Like Voltron the wine is Part de-stemmed plus whole bunches, with the fermentation in granite lagares followed by barrel ageing and we have before us a wine of elegance and beauty. Tart red and blue fruit, with a wild mint to cola scented aroma laced with black pepper spice. The palate has earthy and gritty tannin, with more of the same fruit with light vegetal/herbal tones. This wine is beyond complex it is compelling.
Baga 'Poeirinho' 2014, Bairrada. Niepoort Vinhos.
An unfined and unfiltered wine, a palate of black plum and black cherry, with fresh dark green savoury notes. From a cool vintage the wine is tart and bright with a cool and lean profile.
Baga 'Poeirinho' 2013, Bairrada. Niepoort Vinhos.
This vintage shows a touch more warmth than the 2014, with black plum, cherry over botanical flavours of cola and root, with gentle tannin and an earthy profile.
Turris 2013, Douro. Niepoort Vinhos.
From a 130 year old single vineyard, dominated by the grape Touriga Franca, the wine is otherwise a field blend, that offers up a wine that is fresh and lifted, with dark berry fruit, floral hints, and warm spiced tone on the nose. The palate offers pure and driven flavours of ripe dark berries, plush and pleasant with a tartness to balance and easy tannin to keep the wine pleasurable.
Well, you can imagine how fun and engaging dinner was. We finished the meal with a 1997 Colheita Port, which was the best way to finish this engagement. I was thrilled. José and Paulo were very charismatic hosts, the food was amazing, the wines were fantastic! It was an honest and meaningful encounter with wine.
NOTES FROM A TRIP IN NOVEMBER 2016
It was soon time to leave the Alentejo and start the journey to the north of Portugal, though before going north there would be a visit to the house of José Maria da Fonseca. One of the longest standing wineries in all of Portugal and if it is not the first, it certainly is one of the very first wineries to export wines out of Portugal to International market.
Today the company has approximately 650 hectares under vine that can produce up to 6.9 million litres of wine. With 80% of their exports to Scandinavia, Canada, USA and Brazil and only 20% consumed domestically, da Fonseca is an example of a family run winery that has transformed itself into a well run company with deep roots in the Peninsula de Setúbal appellation. Under the wine guidance of Domingos Soares Franco, a graduate of the wine school at University of Davis in California, Domingos and da Fonseca are known as a leader in research, innovation and winery technology. On my first visit to Portugal in 2013 I had the opportunity to have lunch in the family garden with Domingos and his nephews. His nephews assist in the management of the company and it is their father António, whom I had lunch with on this recent visit, who is the CEO of the company.
Back in 2013 I had the opportunity to taste single bottling of over 15 different Portuguese grape varieties to better understand their character and what they each bring to the blending of wines. Yes the blending of wines is an art in which the best winemakers succeed at. A mastery in the Art of Blending is the key to consistent quality for the wines of Portugal, combined with innovation and improvements in the vineyard the potential is exciting. It is certainly the case for house of da Fonseca
We engaged in a rather quick fire tasting before sitting to lunch. Below are my notes on the wines tasted.
2015 Perequita Branco. Sourced from the very first vineyard for the company, the Cova de Perequita. A blend of Verdelho, Viosinho, and Viognier. No oak, simply pure clean and fresh aroma of orchard fruit, pear with dried flowers. I would say that it was much less fruity and floral than I expected. This wine is direct, fresh and lean.
2015 Perequita Original. This wine is the original and first wine brand the first to be exported. Around 800,000 litres of this wine is made. Aged in 100 year old Mahogany barrels. Mahogany wood is preferred as it is neutral, and strong enough to be shaped into the barrel size the company prefers. The wine is a classic blend of Castelão, Trincadeira and Aragones blended producing an aroma of rather fresh ripe red berry, with gentle floral tones and on the palate moving to gentle tannin almost vegetal and earthy, leading into a soft mineral tone. The fruit on the palate is easy, fruit driven and tart. Good Value and Easy drinking.
2014 Perequita Reserva. The Reserve is a wine that was created roughly 10 years ago, the blue print is Castelão with Touriga Nacional and Touriga France. Vines are roughly 30-40 years old. This wine was made with sheer drinking pleasure in mind, it shares the same structure profile as the 'Original' Perequita, though we go deeper and richer with black berry fruit, seemingly sweeter fruit over layers of vanilla from French oak, and certainly a fuller bodied wine.
2014 'Domini', Tinto Douro. It was only in 1990 that da Fonseca purchased vineyards in the Douro and started making the 'Domini'. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinto Barroca, Touriga Frances and Tinto Roriz. I found this wine as I have with the other Douro I would taste on this trip, to be quite subtle in aroma and persistence. I feel that the wines need a lot of time, like the wines of Bordeaux. The palate seemed to reveal the future of this wine in aroma and palate evolution with dry dark berry fruit, some spice, and earthy tannin and texture. Almost like waiting outside of the club in the line that stretches around the corner, you can feel the bass and sound emanating through the walls, you know what to expect once you get inside the doors, but you still have to wait and be patient.
2014 José de Sousa Tinto Alentejano. The vineyards for this wine are in the heart of the Alentejo at a region called Requengos. The vineyards are cherished for their granitic soils, giving way to mineral and fresh wines despite the ripeness that vines can achieve in the heat of the growing season. So details on this wine, we stretch back to traditional methods with 10% of the wine raised in clay amphora with a grape blend of Grand Noir, Trincadeira and Aragonez. In the glass the wine displays ripe plum and berry aroma with violet floral perfume. Palate is rich and full ripe and baked dark fruit backed by firm tannin and crisp acidity. Despite all this the wine remains fresh and cool to the touch.
2010 'Alambre' Moscatel de Setúbal. Moscatel for me is by far the best value and one of the highest quality dessert wines out there. From a producer focused on quality and precision these wines never cease to please, even the most avid Sauterne or Tokaji connoisseur. Mind you that Moscatel is still very different. José Maria da Fonseca are specialist with Moscatel, the original Muscat of Alexandria. The Setubal displays an intense aroma of bergamot and orange, to rose petal and other floral tones, the palate remains light and elegant in its sweetness with balance. The wine is made from the free run juice from a first press and rests 5 yeas in very old oak barrel. Gentle yet sweet and one of the most balanced dessert wines I have come across.
We then sat down to lunch with António Sr. and we had a very lively conversation that ranged from politics, to world travel and to the history and future José Maria da Fonseca as a family run company.
It was not long ago that I knew absolutely nothing about Nebbiolo and the wines of Barolo e Barbaresco. As a matter of fact, I still know very little as I learn that there is so much to learn. I had read somewhere that Barolo was the King of wines and Barbaresco was the Queen. Wines with lasting depth like that of Aglianico in the south but with a more haunting finish than that of Brunello of Tuscany.
My first trip to Barolo was for a wine -trade event called Nebbiolo Prima, the vernissage of the years upcoming release to market of all wines Nebbiolo including Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo! My invitation was as a Sommelier/Buyer versus that of Media/Journalist. Choose your program was the initial email - vineyard visits, regional tours and choice of restaurants for the evening wine dinners. By the time I researched every single producer and restaurant for their worth, all options I wanted were booked. I was stuck with an initial tour of Roero…WoW!….It was great, it was amazing, what best way to warm up to the great wines of Piemonte than by tasting and learning about the gentle and playful wines of Roero.
I did manage to make but 3 rather crucial and important vineyard visits, really without knowing. The first was to Elvio Cogno in Novello. Walter (son-in-law and wine maker) and Nadia (daughter to Elvio) I had met a few years before and fell in love with their wines. The other 2 wineries were Bartelomeo Mascarello and Vietti. I really knew nothing about them, imagine! Well wasn't I a lucky bugger. 5 years later and 3 trips all in total - each time included a visit to Mascarello and Vietti. Recently I wrote a piece which included a few words about Mascarello (see www.goodfoodrevolution.com 'boy-oh-boy' Barolo) and I think now is an opportune time to share a few words about the house of Vietti and the current winemaker Luca Currado.
First I will reference Jamie Goode once again regarding an article about wine journalism and the subject of favouritism when writing and reviewing wines/wineries. Favouritism certainly and undoubtedly exists but what happens when you get to know the character of the wine and it's maker, after subsequent visits, research and tasting. I do find myself consistently noting that the wines of Vietti, like many others, stand out for their character and impact. Listen, I'm not talking about being the best wine, I'm talking about continually being a reference for erroir, technique and balance. Il est clair ce qu'on trouve tous qu'il faut dans tous les vins de Vietti!
Vietti represents innovation and tradition. I was in a trade seminar focusing on the region of Franciacorta hosted by Ricardo Curbastro and I will never forget him saying that 'a Tradition is the lasting result of an innovation that worked!'
NO BERLUSCONI, NO CRU SINGLE VINEYARDS!
Real Talk! Circa 1961 - Luca's father Alfredo Currado, the patriarch for the current rendition of Vietti along with Beppi Colla, then of Prunotto, asked the question, 'wouldn't it be interesting and innovative to identify and bottle single vineyard expressions from the whole of Barolo'. Up until this point the rule of thumb was that Barolo was a cuvée or rather a blend of the best vineyards and the best of different areas into one wine. That was the true way to make a balanced wine. What one vineyard couldn't give another would provide, producing a uniform and coherent wine year in and year out. Every wine of Barolo would represent a portrait of the region painted by the hand of the wine maker. But what of vineyards that almost had it all. Alfredo wanted a closer look at the region, at the communes and why and how each hill produced a different wine. Alfredo wanted to find greater value, greater depth and character of Barolo, and this new way of thinking would prove to be a great way to differentiate his wines from the others.
How would he achieve this and which vineyard to define this idea? The vineyard would be the heart of the Vietti family, the Le Rocche Vineyards in the commune of Castiglione Falletto. This was going to be the Barolo equivalent to the Burgundy 'Grand Cru'. La Rocche is the most challenging vineyard to manage, with aspect and slope so steep that everything must be done by horse and by hand. It is a vineyard that is the most challenging to interpret, making wines that need time. The results are enchanting, distinct and pure Nebbiolo. The second vineyard would be Brunate in the commune of La Morra with wines that reveals its colours from the beginning with elegance, ripe fruit and 'softer' tannin.
The third would would be Lazzarito of the commune of Serralunga d'Alba. Lazzarito a bonafide 'grand cru' with wines tanninc, spiced and rich with depth of flavour like that of Southern Rhône.
50 years on and these 'cru' are pillars of the Vietti Family of wines. They represent the first single vineyard expressions of and for Barolo. At the time it was an innovation that today has resulted in a widespread and now accepted and necessary 'tradition' of producers presenting an 'ultimate cru' expression of their vineyards.
A FEW MORE WORDS ON VIETTI
This is not the end of it. If you have not already you must taste the single vineyard expression of their Barbera from both Asti and from Alba with some vines surpassing 85years of age. Now, If you choose to continue reading you will not find tasting notes, but background information on a few of the the Vietti wines.
ARNEIS OF ROERO
Luca Currado is the current character behind the the wines of Vietti, along with his wive Elena they make a formidable and jovial pair. He from a family of winemakers and she from a family of restaurateurs.
Another important wine in the family is the Arneis from their Santo Stafano vineyards in Roero. Arneis being a white variety.
Roero is more than just the 'other' appellation for quality wines of the region of Alba. We seldom see the wines in the Ontario market due to the dominion of Barolo and Barbaresco. Though I will say, that on my first visit to Piemonte a few years back I toured the region and I was so pleased and enchanted by the approachability yet complex nature of the wines. The relatively sandy soils, various elevations make for more perfumed and softer wines. Don't drink 'under-age young vine' Nebbiolo from the B&B (Barolo&Barbaresco), drink Roero for a truer elegant and 'ready to drink' expressions of the grape.
But I digress I want to speak of Arnies, the grape once called Nebbiolo Bianco, As it was the blending partner to Nebbiolo in Barolo wines to create a softer and more complex profile to the wines of B&B in much the same way Viognier is used with Syrah in the Northern Rhône. This practice is no longer. Today Arneis stands on it's own and it was thanks to Luca's father Alfredo - the father of Arneis. At a time when the wine world of Italy was planting Chardonnay. Alfredo said No! We need a white wine that is not Chardonnay, and as an indigenous grape variety with character and moderate ageing potential Vietti in 1968 re-planted the Arneis in Roero, and rescued the grape from extinction.
PERBACCO - LANGHE NEBBIOLO
Perbacco - the Langhe Nebbiolo of Vietti is in fact a regular Barolo. It is a blend of several of the Vietti Barolo vineyards that include for the most part wines from Castiglione Falletto vineyards and in particular with the 2012 vintage some components of Barbaresco sites in Rabaja and Pajé. The process is that from the year 2000 they now raise the wines in barrel for 2 years as per minimum 'Barolo' specifications, they then taste the wines blind. Certain barrels that do not make the cut for the 'cru' they originate from then get declassified and go into the Langhe. When Luca's grandmother tasted the first wines of this new method she exclaimed 'Perbacco!' which means goodness or by jove!.
BAROLO - CASTIGLIONE
Castiglione is the Vietti signature house Barolo, comprised of several cru inside of the commune of Castiglione Falletto some of it occasionally be self-declassified Stock from any of the 15 cru estate vineyards around the appellation of Barolo. It is always a consistent wine and a benchmark for understanding their vision.
A few of the CRU
- Lazzarito of Serralunga - was once the site of a famous hospice, or hospital of the region. A quote from the 1600's says that if the hill was good for the people, it should be good for wine'. This wine can take up to 28 days of fermentation.
- Rocche di Castiglione - the first single vineyard 'cru' for Vietti. The emblem and heart of the Vietti family of wines.
- Villero Riserva of Castiglione Falleto - a very special wine that has only been made 10 times in the last 40 years. It is seen only in years of exceptional vintages for the single vineyard Villero in Castiglione Falletto. An international artist is commissioned to make the label for that vintage and the wine is only released 6 years after harvest.
- Ravera of Novello - this vineyard is shared by only a few producers. For Vietti this wine presents a very 'polishedstyle that they would every produces. The rule is that 2/3 of the production is dedicated the the Castiglione blend and 1/3 to be released as 'Ravera' Cru. He initially released the wines to much high critical acclaim but personally Luca did not like the wines. They were too slick. As of 2010 he recommenced single vineyard releases of the wine with limited bottles approx 14,000.
- Barbaresco 'Masseria' - is the Barbaresco made with the 'intelligence' of a Barolo wine maker, thus this wine has the same release as Barolo and has the same minimum specifications for barrel ageing, resulting in a deeper and richer style Barbaresco.
Well. That's it. I hope you may find these in your market pick a few and enjoy!