Niepoort Colheitas: the philosophy and a fine vertical of the 1937, 1934, 1912, 1900 & 1863
“Vintage Port may be king, but Colheita Ports are [popular] by election,” so says Dirk Niepoort.
What makes these Tawny Ports from a single vintage so appealing? While Vintage Port, which Niepoort described as “blinkered, very focused,” must be bottled within two years and requires years of cellaring to reveal its full potential, Colheita Port is aged for a minimum of 7 years in wood, often much longer, which means, he says, “they’re less precise, but more dimensional and expressive.” Indeed, this ageing process concentrates the wine by evaporation, while controlled oxidation accounts for a gloriously complex patina of age, characterised by nuts, spice and dried fruits. By the time they’re in bottle, these seductive wines are ready to go!
Variations on a theme
Depending on house style, Colheitas may be aged in the Douro (whose warmer conditions accelerate the ageing process and encourage the broader caramelised, rancio flavours of so-called “Douro bake”) or, like Niepoort, in Vila Nova de Gaia’s cooler climes, which keeps the accent on freshness. Ullage practices also differ. Producers who top up barrels more regularly aim for a more vibrant style.
Then there are critical decisions to be made about which casks to blend and when to bottle. Though Niepoort has been at the cutting edge of “New Douro” table wines, when it comes to Port, he’s quick to acknowledge the benefits of empiric knowledge, which has filtered down through five generations of Niepoorts and five generations of the Nogueira family, Niepoort’s blenders. As he points out “you cannot know everything – our responsibility is to learn through older people” and, for Colheitas, experience has shown that the trick is “to be patient and leave them for decades.”
A best before date?
And that goes for drinking them too. Niepoort took the opportunity of a vertical tasting of aged Colheitas to challenge the received wisdom (at least according to English Port shippers) that, once bottled, Colheitas should ideally be consumed within two years. Rather the Niepoort take is “we should drink it when it has spent 50-10 years in barrels and 15-20 years in bottle.”
Why? Niepoort explained, “when in barrel, the fatter and more concentrated the wine gets; in bottle the wine becomes sharper, more precise, less fat, more elegant and more expressive.” Of course, it’s a question of taste and, paradoxically, even Niepoort had to admit the following evening that a bottle of 1976 bottled in 2007 was a better wine than the same vintage bottled in 1985, though the room was fairly evenly split as to preference. Still, both these excellent wines reinforced the point that Colheita Ports can be consumed long after the supposed two year rule, as did this extremely fine vertical:
Niepoort Colheita Port 1937 (bottled 1995)
A green rim with a tawny core, sediment too. A deep, spicy nose shows dried spice and fleshy tamarind. In the mouth, it’s very concentrated, spicy and lively, with liquorice and darker treacle toffee notes. There’s a trace of bitterness to its slightly spirity finish, but it’s deliciously spicy with plenty of vigour.
Niepoort Colheita Port 1934 (bottled 1981)
A deeper mahogany hue with a saffron rim and fresh dates to nose and palate. In the mouth, it’s rich yet well balanced with a smoother delivery, the spirit better integrated. Long and lingering, with liquorice, savoury camp coffee and the faintest of dusty notes giving away its age.
Niepoort Colheita Port 1912 (bottled 1978)
A deep amber/mahogany with a touch of volatile acidity making for a sweeter nose, reminiscent of cough mixture, with liquorice, honey and dark spices. Slightly hot finish. My least favourite.
Niepoort Colheita Port 1900 (bottled 1972)
Mahogany in hue. An intriguing, moss and dust riff to nose and palate swiftly recedes into the background in the mouth, which explodes with shards of spice interleaved with jaggery, tamarind, macaroons and cigar smoke. Super intense, long and dimensional. Terrific.
Niepoort Colheita Port 1863 (bottled 1970 in demijohns and then bottle in 2008)
Deep amber with a saffron rim. A well honed, hugely intense nose and palate is impressively youthful with caramel-edged dried yet fleshy apricots, sultanas and nuts. Incredible power thanks to spending over 100 years concentrating in cask. Apparently, Niepoort still has a cask of 1863 Colheita which has yet to be bottled.
The Wine Detective
(Wines tasted 29 April 2011)