Franciscus Marius van der Niepoort came to Portugal from Holland and created Niepoort Vinhos, operating as a negociant of port wines (buying finished product), since he had no vineyards or winery of his own at the time.
In fact it wasn't actually until 1987 when Dirk, fifth generation Niepoort, joined the family business and bought them their own Quintas (vineyards). Up to that point they had been working with a number of fantastic growers and buying grapes to make their wines, but now they had full control over the whole process from vineyard to bottle. Exciting times lay ahead.
Dirk truly believes in the terroir of the Duoro Valley and their single Quinta vintage ports are now consistently some of the best around. Dirk's son Daniel is now a part of the business after spending time in Germany learning his craft and making some fantastic Riesling. I was lucky enough to take part in a virtual tasting during lockdown last year and Daniel's passion for quality wine really shone through. It looks like with the sixth generation Niepoort will remain in good hands.
Port has been shipped over to the UK for over 300 years and some of the biggest producers in Porto have heavy links with Britain. During our wars with France in the 17th and 18th centuries, we had to look elsewhere for our wines and Portugal was the perfect spot, as we already shared good relations. The fortification using brandy was a measure put in place to ensure the wines arrived in the UK in the best possible condition as they would spend a number of weeks crossing by sea and the extra alcohol and sugar helped to preserve the wines in the barrel.
Here we've highlighted a few of our favourites from Niepoort showcasing the amazing spectrum of styles on offer - from white port through to single quinta vintage port.
Niepoort, Dry Rabbit White Port. 75cl
Dry Rabbit is part of the 'Niepoortland' series of ports which cover white, ruby and tawny. They offer fantastic value for money and between them make up a huge portion of our port sales. The white is a blend of three varieties - Côdega, Rabigato, Viosinho, Arinto and Gouveio. With much less sugar than normal port white port makes a perfect aperitif when chilled and is a great alternative to gin when mixed with tonic. This particular port has spent some time in oak barrels and has a lovely complex nutty characteristic to it. It's a banger when paired with cheeses that match that nutty flavours - so something like a mature gouda or aged Red Leicester would be spot on.
Niepoort, Senior Tawny Port
The senior tawny is one of Niepoort's classic house styles. It's a blend of more than 8 different varieties, including Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. Tawny port is renowned for its lovely dried fruit and nutty characteristics due to being exposed to small amounts of oxygen whilst ageing in oak barrels for a long time before being bottled.
In the case of the senior tawny, the average age of the wines included in the blend is 7-8 years. Tawny port - unlike vintage port- doesn't tend to continue to develop flavours and characteristics in the bottle. It's complexity and depth of flavour instead comes from the time aged prior to bottling. So it's not uncommon to see wines labelled '10 year old tawny' or 20,30,40 and so on. With vintage port on the other hand, which comes from a single year, you'll only ever see the year of the vintage eg; 2017 ( which happened to be an outstanding year for Niepoort).
When it comes to food pairing, the senior tawny has lots to offer. Again mature cheeses, particularly hard cheeses work well. But it's also delicious with dessert - something like a sticky toffee pudding or a classic Christmas pud would be great with this.
Niepoort, LBV Port 2017
Late Bottled Vintage is our first ruby port of the list and one that can sometimes cause a little confusion with vintage port. Our importing partners Raymond Reynolds, who have been working with Niepoort for a number of years now, sum up LBV perfectly:
'LBV fills the gap between the rubies and the vintage ports, since a Ruby Port should be drunk quite young and a great Vintage Port may need 15 to 20 years to really open up'
Again a blend of many varieties, the grapes are all handpicked and the wine is treated with the same respect and exacting standards as their vintage ports before a period of around 4 years ageing in large oak barrels. This helps to develop a more mature character to the wine. It's still bursting with primary fruit - we're talking ripe plums and juicy blackberries with smooth tannins and a herbaceous finish.
This is great to drink now, but will continue to age for up to 10 years. This is an ideal partner to chocolate-based desserts but again is versatile enough to go with a cheeseboard. We've included this as our finisher in our perfect Christmas Day Case.
Niepoort, Bioma Vinha Velha 2015 Vintage Port
Here we arrive at one of the very top wines in the Niepoort range - vintage port 2015. It's produced from a single Quinta, Vinha da Pisca, where the average age of the vines is a remarkable 80 years old.
With only tiny quantities made, this is proper terroir driven port which 'harks back to the golden age of port'. Interestingly here they age the wine in classic 550 litre port pipes rather than barrels and in the cool cellars the Duoro as oppose to large barrels in Gaia. Ageing takes place for 3 years before bottling.
You are instantly embraced by a rich concentration of fruit, but this is definitely a wine for ageing. Whilst it shows hints of its complexity, it's certainly got a bright future ahead. You'll want to hold onto this in the cellar until at least the end of this decade. Trust me, it'll be well worth it.