I’ve not written a single thing about Portugal, and that’s just not right. It used to be that you couldn’t mention Portugal without it immediately being assumed that Port was the next subject, but I think that’s been changing over the last decade or so for a few reasons. First off, I think fortified wine is by and large is somewhat out of fashion. Now that’s a broad statement, so let me dig down a bit. There are some fortified wines that are borderline trendy – Sherry for instance is trending toward cool in the right context, that is with tapas. And it’s good Sherry – not the old cream stuff that still has a certain following among an aging demographic. However, that’s very context specific. If you then turn your attention to Madiera, I think you’re almost as likely to conjure up images of Cristiano Ronaldo as you are a fortified wine. And as for Port, I just don’t see it being drunk so much. Something of a shame, but fashions come and go, and I’m sure it will have a resurgence at some point.
However, where Port is out of fashion to some extent, Portuguese table wine is having a Renaissance. Much of it is down to the Douro boys, a group of innovative winemakers who have had some great successes, first in making some excellent wine, but at least as importantly in getting their story out and getting glasses of Portuguese wine into people’s hands. They represent a new face to Portuguese wine, with a more modern style versus what is often thought of as a very rustic style of winemaking.
The best known to me is a gentleman who goes by the name Dirk Niepoort. Much of the wine trade in Portugal, in particular the Port trade, was dominated by foreign traders, primarily English I believe, but certainly some Dutch as well. The Niepoort family is obvious the latter. They arrived in Portugal sometime in the 19th century and are now on their 5th generation, having built up quite business. They now have a broad offering of wines, both fortified and not, with tonight’s bottle being table wine.
Portugal is blessed with a handful of wine regions for a small country, from the light whites of Vinho Verde to the concentrated red styles of the Douro which I’m enjoying this evening. The river Douro defines, and gives its name to, the region. The river ends at the sea in the city of Porto, but the wine region doesn’t start until you go up river perhaps 80km. Continuing through the Douro region, the river has it’s start in Spain where it is known as Duero and it is the core of several wine regions there as well.
The Douro is best know for fortified wine, Port, production and while there are over a hundred varieties officially permitted, the vast majority of grapes grown are red, and the most highly regarded are Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (also known as Tempranillo). Vineyards in the Douro were traditionally field blends, with different varieties within the same block or sometimes row, but I would imagine that has been changing over the last decade as reform and innovation has come into play. Still wines have become increasingly important to the region, and with that some level of varietal specificity. However, blending is certainly still the norm for Niepoort table wines.
This wine, the Niepoort Douro Vertente 2006 is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Amarela, Touriga Nacional and others. It’s a lovely wine, and a real credit to the region. It’s very dark in the glass, with an intense fruity and peppery nose. The palate is fruity without being sweet, though there is a bit of raisin flavour that brings to mind Port – that could just be in my head though and not in the glass. Likewise, with Portuguese wine I want to make a comment about it being rustic, but that’s not actually the case. It’s elegant with long length.
To make amends for neglecting Portugal so badly, I’ll be having another of their wines this coming week – a white I believe. Also, I’m hoping to add a map feature with pushpins as to the origin of each wine I’ve tasted. That should make clear which regions have been feeling the love and which haven’t.