Every wine is their best wine: Niepoort

I have already met quite a few winemakers, but non as “crazy” about wines as Dirk Niepoort, owner and fifth generation of the Niepoort winery. Niepoort has so many different types of wine in its assortment that I think not even Dirk himself knows 100% how many they actually make 🙂 🙂 Next to their “regular” gamma of wines and Port wines, Dirk also has something he calls “projects” (basically Dirk’s playground 🙂 ) . These “projects”go from making a Portuguese Riesling to making Baga to …. Niepoort even has an own app for your Smartphone where you can find almost all their wines (including some of the projects), but I’m sure there are still other projects that haven’t been officialised yet and therefore aren’t on the app yet. BTW, Dirk also loves to taste good wines (also non-Niepoort), he didn’t tell me, but something gave it away 🙂 (see pictures below)

3 generations Niepoort Family by Niepoort

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We had an appointment to meet Dirk Niepoort in Quinta de Nápoles in the Douro valley, but due to unforeseen circumstances he was only able to meet us in the evening, so it was the lovely Gabriella who showed us around the estate and introduced us to the wonderful world of Niepoort wines where we enjoyed again some very beautiful views of the Douro valley.

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The Niepoort vineyard can be subdivided in 2 parts, the Port wine vineyard and the “regular” wine vineyard. Like with all Port makers, Niepoort also age most of their Port wines in Villa nova de Gaia. Their regular wines on the other hand in Quinta de Nápoles in the Douro valley. When you first arrive at this Quinta you think it is a small vineyard as you  only see 2 small houses, but once you enter them you notice that half the hill ( at the interior 4 levels down) is all part of the wine estate and is where the wines are made and age. Inredible!!  With a total wine production between 1,5 and 2 million bottles a year (depending on harvest, etc… of course)… Niepoort is seen as a big vineyard amongst the small ones and a “small” one of the big ones :-). I must be honest with you and admit that until maybe 1 or 2 years ago I was of the idea that Niepoort only produced Port wines, so that is why my visit to the vineyard was mostly with a focus on their regular wines… What I won’t be doing is describe all their wines, as that would make my blogpost even bigger than they usually already are + they are already very well described on their website that I would just be doing double work. So in case you want to know all their wines and project do check the Niepoort website or download the free app of your Smartphone or tablet. A nice thing to know is that the first wine Dirk Niepoort made since his “leadership” of the Niepoort vineyard was the 1990 Robustus that back in the 90’s didn’t get released, but since 2004 got tributed under the same name (and I’m sure also an improved version). Not sure why it didn’t get released in 90’s though…

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For me Niepoort wines are fun wines, first of all because of the fun product in the bottle, but also because of the bottles itself or better their labels. You will ALWAYS be able to recognize a Niepoort wine (even from a far distance) thanks to its “stamp-like” labels (or at least, that is what it reminds me of – check picture below) and their country specific labels… Yes, country specific labels. They have a particular type of wine (Fabulous wines) for which they had asked designer Cordula Allesandri to make a comic book story to label their bottles and for each country a different one… It’s almost a pity to throw away the bottle afterwards… (I had a few “Allez santé” at home). A collector’s item I guess …although I’m not really the type of person who likes to keep the bottles too long in their cellar as they are to “njammy” to not touch…

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Dirk Niepoort is “private” person, someone who doesn’t talk that much when you first meet him (at least that the impression I had, but it could have been because of me of course). Once you start talking about and tasting wines you see him opening up with sparkles in his eyes… and the enthusiasm to have you taste all his best wines and all his new wine projects. If it were for Dirk, I think he would have opened every barrel. I know I keep repeating myself, but it is so much more fun to be around a person who is passionate about something and who wants to teach you something than somebody who doesn’t like what he’s doing… and Dirk has that enthusiasm x 10 🙂  and the amount of knowledge he has about wines from all over the world, WOW!

Luckily for us we visited Niepoort on ‘Dia de São João’aka St. John’s as because of this we could join the celebration that goes along to this day involving food and meeting interesting people. On Dia de São João it is tradition to eat grilled sardines and a local soup… to make a long story short, we had a wonderful celebration with lots of food and some great Niepoort wines… basically it all comes down to that it are the simple things in life that make people happy not matter how rich or famous… Simple food and wine in the company of Friends and/ or family . Events like this are also what I dream of whole year while working in Belgium…

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Niepoort has such a wide range of Ports and wines that it is difficult to really indicate a favorite, I mean for every moment or occasion you’ll find the perfect wine due to their difference and particularity. Each wine is as good as all the passion, know-how, good products and devotion you put in them, this makes that every wine you make is your best wine… Although I would suggest to try all of them, from the Ports I loved their Colheita’s and from their “regular” wines to many to mention… my wine-cabinet will be to small for all the new wines I’ll be buying after my Portugal trip 🙂

Enjoy!

Each man has a dream: Quinta do popa

As mentioned in my previous blog post, the main reason to visit the Douro Valley is for its wines. The vineyards in Douro have all been given the name ‘Quinta’ which would mean little farmhouse in Portuguese. You can compare it with the French using “Chateau”, only the Portuguese are more modest and therefore use a more modest name 😉 . The first vineyard I want to introduce to you is a newer vineyard from the Douro valley, Quinta do Popa. I know it might not immediately sound familiar, but after reading my blogpost that’ll change 🙂

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After a quite steep climb towards Quinta do Popa (you have incredible views from up here) you get a welcome like you wouldn’t believe, they welcomed us like they would welcome family in their home. A very nice feeling (really)! Normally we were here to meet Stéphane Ferriera (owner), but he got hold of some Worldcup tickets for Brazil 🙂 I can imagine for a football fan this is like finding the holy grail so unfortunately he wasn’t able to meet us… but if it weren’t’ for this we would have never met the very charming Leila +now I have the perfect excuse to come back to Quinta do Popa.

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Quinta do Popa view 2

Quinta do Popa view 3

Quinta do Popa view 4

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Quinta do Pôpa was bought by José Ferreira in 2003 as tribute to his father and to build up his father’s (Francisco Ferreira aka Pôpa) long life dream of one day owning his own Quinta. Pôpa actually refers to the crested hair like Elvis used to have and to a particular type of bird. The reason his father was given the nickname Pôpa was because after a whole day of hard work on the fields he would very dirty except for his hear, his hair was always in the perfect condition 🙂 talking about a proud man.

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The reason why I wanted to visit this vineyard was first of all because I like wines and am always keen on trying something new… but also because no one less then Luis Pato believed so much in this project he decided to help Stéphane and Vanessa (José’s children who are the faces of the vineyard and hardworking team behind José) with realizing their dream. It made me very curious on knowing more about this dream.

On their 30ha estate only on 14ha they have mostly old vines (some even up to 80 years old) where they mostly grow grapes to make red wine (although they do have a white as well). With Tinta Amarela (for dark coloring and full body flavour), Tinto Cão (will add finesse and complexity to the wine, is also rare grape kind), Touriga Franca (very perfumed), Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo)and Touriga Nacional (gives structure and body to wine, with high tannins and concentrated flavours of black fruit ) as their mean grape varieties. On the other remaining 16ha. they have olive trees from which they make some nice olive oil.

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In their wines they have 4 distinctions or I might even say levels.

  •  Contos da Terra: these are to me everybody’s friend easy to drink wines for when you are sitting outside or in front of TV. and feel like having a glass of wine
  • Pôpa: more complex wines than the Contos wines and my preferred type of wines (bit stronger and full bodied). Here you have a choice between TR (Tinta Roriz), TN (Touriga Nacional) or VV (old vines and my personal favorite and soon part of my wine collection 😉 )
  • Pôpa Doce: a sweet wine (not to sweet) perfect for with dessert
  • TRePA / PAPO: the perfect marriage between Douro and Barraida wines. The Roriz from Douro (Quinta do Pôpa) and Baga from Barraida (Luis Pato). Also a very interesting (must try) wine and very soon also another addition to my collection 🙂

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I know I indicated which ones were my favorites, but this is of course a personal choice and it also depends on which occasion you are drinking it (and if there is no, we’ll find an occasion 😉 ). Whenever I buy wines, I always prefer buying from vineyards I know and I have visited and have seen the sparkle in the eyes of the winemakers (which I did also see in Leila’s eyes (I didn’t stare to long, I promise!) and I’m sure José, Vanessa and Stéphane also have) which basically means the wine has been made with so much love, care and respect for the product you can be sure you’ll be having a great glass/ bottle… something that mass production products can and will never have….

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Quinta do Pôpa gave me one a gift I will cherish a lot. They gave me a little bottle filled with sand from their vineyards… so every time I feel sad or feel like going to the Douro valley, I just poor the sand on the floor, sit in it, serve myself a nice glass of Quita’s VV wine and close my eyes… it will feel like I’m back at Quinta do Pôpa on a summery day! (A holiday feeling right in my living room thanks to them 🙂 ) Thank you for that Leila (And Stéphane, Vanessa, José) and I’m sure we’ll be meeting again very soon!!

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One last thing about the winemaking I want to share, in the Douro valley to press the wine (to get the juice out of the grapes) they still have people stumble them like in the old days. FYI this is not for nostalgic or touristic reason they do this, they do this because it still seems the best way to do it…. just FYI 🙂

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Roadtripping through Portugal: The Douro Valley

The most memorable panoramic views we’ve seen during our trip were without any doubt those of the vineyards in the Douro valley. I might even say that it were some of the most beautiful vineyards I have ever seen. It had something mystical to it… also your respect for the winegrowers or better for the grape pickers grows enormously as all of the grapes are handpicked!!! I’m sure the harvest here takes a bit longer than in other parts of the world 🙂

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Do try to take a little cruise on the Douro River (if the weather permits it, unfortunately for us it didn’t), it normally takes 2,5hours (you can also take one for a whole day if you really like it) and brings you to some very beautiful place and gives you a totally different perspective and will bring to some very beautiful little towns aboard the Douro river like Pinhão with a very picturesque little train station and São João da Pesqueira with the beautiful Praça da República.

Pinhao station

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What many people actually don’t know it the importance of the Douro River for the Port wine? Did you know that the Port wine is actually made in the Douro valley, as it is here were all the vineyards are (there non in Porto itself) and until the 1960’s all the Port wines got transported over water (aka the Douro River) in barrels to Vila Nova de Gaia where the Port wine would be aging, bottled and exported all over the world with Porto as starting shipping point (which is right at the opposite site of the over the river from Vila Nova de Gaia). Nowadays they obviously use more modern ways to transport the wines to Vila Nova de Gaia. This is why you will also be finding all the Port estates here in the Douro valley represented by a Quinta.

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During our stay we slept at the Douro Folgosa Hotel, which is right t the waterfront. If you prefer a bit more luxury and a massage from time to time I’d recommend you to go to the Aquapura Duoro Valley hotel. If you have a bit of time and like refined gastronomical food, do try to stop at restaurant DOC, one of the 3 restaurants from Chef Riu Paula located right on the Douro river across the Douro Folgosa Hotel. I don’t think they are Michelin star awarded, but they definitely are at that level on both service and food!! The cuisine they serve is one I like a lot, as it is simpel with a twist… I mean you still know what you’re eating and they still were able to add that bit of special to it 🙂

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Please feast your eyes on our lunch menu  they served us at DOC all paired with Niepoort wines (I’ll be talking more about Niepoort). I loved every single dish and wine, it is true the hamburgers might seem small, but that were full of taste :-). We finished our meal with a glass filled with a heavenly drink aka a 1998 Niepoort Colhieta

Leatao Hamburger

Quail with portuguese cabbage

Cod fish with a maisbread crust topped with hot olive oil

White chocolat filled with red fruits

Trio of desserts Almond ice, Port sabayon, lemon souffle

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If you would drive towards Porto, take the old road for a while before going on the highway. We did this while heading to Porto and I can say that even though there are quite a few turns it was a very relaxing drive through the hills of the Douro valley

BUT the mean reason to come to the Douro valley is for its wines… more about my visit to the wine crazy Dirk Niepoort and the beautiful Quinta do Popa vineyard in my next blog posts