Although my very first vineyard visit was to Portugal 30 years ago, my work does not often give me a chance to taste Vintage Port so, when an opportunity presents itself, I am delighted. Consequently I found myself attending a tasting hosted by Joao Nicolau d’Almeida and Dirk Niepoort, representing the houses of Ramos Pinto and Niepoort respectively. These are both Portuguese Port houses, with a reputation for producing lighter, fruitier styles of Port as opposed to British Port houses (Graham, Taylor, Warre and the like) who have a reputation for producing darker, more tannic Vintage Ports.
As we kicked off with the Ramos Pinto 1924, this was obviously not just any old Port tasting. As it happens, the 1924 was lively, flavoursome and had an unmistakable aroma of bonfire – particularly appealing to one who counts bonfires as one of his favourite pastimes. We then moved on to Niepoort 1942, which again tasted as if it could last forever, and a number of Ports (18 in all, not all of which I was inclined to spit) finishing with some 2011 cask samples. Here are a few of my conclusions:
· If you are invited to a Port tasting that includes 1924 and 1942 vintages, accept.
· Ramos Pinto produce a wonderfully approachable style of vintage port, fruity and forthcoming, with notes of spice. Very useful if you are looking for a Vintage Port that has good depth of flavour but does not require decades in the cellar to reach its peak.
· Niepoort produce a fascinating style. Certainly fruity but with an intensity and grip that seem to stem from the vines they come from rather than from solid tannic structure. Also very fresh. I found a rather appealing chalkiness on the finish but, as there is no chalk in the Douro, I must have been dreaming. Mind you, wines that make you dream must be pretty good.
· 1994 and 2003 both seem to have produced quite heavy Ports, impressive but possibly lacking finesse.
· 1997 and 2005 look more my style, fresh, balanced and invigorating
· 2011 looks sensational, wines of real depth and intensity, but well balanced by freshness on the finish.
· I ought to drink more Vintage Port.