First taste: Susana Esteban/Dirk Niepoort Sidecar 2014, Portalegre
Collaborations between Portuguese winemakers are very much the exception to the rule. But those exceptions are often exceptional. Take the Douro Boys, Baga Friends or Young Winemakers of Portugal, who have very successfully raised the profile of their member producers, grapes and regions too. As for collaborating on the winemaking itself, Dirk Niepoort is a repeat offender. I’m not sure if it all kicked off with Doda, his 50:50 Douro/Dao blend , with Alvaro Castro, but he shows no signs of stopping. I tasted his latest collaboration – Susana Esteban Sidecar 2014 – when I visited Esteban’s Alentejo cellar last month. It was fascinating to taste it alongside her wine from the same year.
Esteban is herself becoming something of an uber-collaborator. Quite aside from her consultancy work, she makes two wines with Douro pal Wine & Soul’s Sandra Tavares de Silva, Crochet (from the Douro) and Tricot (from the Alentejo, which I spotted maturing in barrel).
As for Sidecar, Esteban told me it’s about inviting people from outside Alentejo whom she respects, admires or feels a curiosity about their work to interpret the vines in their own way. “It is obviously a good way to learn and share experiences, but it must be fun for both simultaneously,” she says.
When I asked Esteban what had come out of the experience of making Sidecar she replied, “[H]ow to do a wine opposite to my wine with the same grapes.” Well, some of the same grapes. While Niepoort’s grapes come from an old field blend plot right next door to the source of Esteban’s Procura grapes, Procura includes younger block planted Alicante Bouschet from Evora. The presence of Alicante Bouschet (a teinturer) is certainly evident in the deeper colour of Procura, firmer tannins and blacker fruit spectrum.
Susana Esteban/Dirk Niepoort Sidecar 2014 (Portalegre)
Niepoort is a huge fan of old field blend vines, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that his wine comprises 100% field blend fruit. And where he is putting increasing emphasis on freshness and elegance (a recently tasted sample of Niepoort’s Douro red Redoma 2013 blew me away with its uncommon levity and lift), it also makes sense that he has focused 100% on Portalegre’s elevated, granite-based vineyards and aged this wine in an old 1000 litre Mosel cask (Procura is aged in barriques, some of which are new). Sidecar is a looser knit/gentler red (seemingly less extracted) with no trace of oak. The use of a large old cask also makes for silky, softer tannins too. In the mouth, Sidecar has sweet earthy raspberry and fleshy plum fruit with an undertow of earthiness/spiciness which I associate with old vines and old wood (casks). Long, fresh and limpid, it’s a very clear eyed wine from this “minds eye” winemaker (Niepoort always has a strong vision of what he wants to achieve). Made for earlier bottling/release than Procura, it has a pinosity and freshness which flirts with vin de soif territory, though I reckon this wine will be interesting to come back to after several years. Firmer, more concentrated, muscular and brooding, Procura is some way off bottling, let alone broaching. Even so, I see a connection between the two. It’s in their freshness, also the swoop of red fruit and minerals beneath the Procura’s mocha oak and tight black fruits. Like I said, fascinating.