The Second Life of Douro Valley’s Wines

Widely known for the production of Port, in the past decades the Douro Valley, in Portugal, has started to draw the attention of wine lovers and critics for its bold, rich reds that are becoming more and more popular in New York. The revolution was started by Dirk Niepoort but other winemakers followed. (In italiano)


In the past, lovers of wine have known the Douro Valley in Portugal for one type of wine: the sweet and fortified Port. If you’re not familiar with Port, you’re not alone; many people associate it with a beverage that is only drunk during Christmas. But the Douro Valley has been making serious dry non-fortified wines for decades, and those who love wine in New York City are starting to realize that these wines are amazing.

Recently, I was able to talk to Verena Niepoort at a wine trade tasting. Her brother, Dirk Niepoort, is famous among wine critics and journalists as one of the wine making stars of the Douro Valley. Before anyone even considered taking red table wine (non-fortified) from Portugal seriously, Dirk was making these types of wines.

When I first asked Verena why Dirk Niepoort started making serious red table wines, she said that he wanted to make wines that he wanted to drink. Simple enough!

But, as we continued our conversation, she said that when her brother Dirk came back from studying and working abroad, he was inspired to try something new with their long-established family business. He loved the fortified sweet wines that his family had been creating since 1842, but he was also inspired by the great dry red wines that were made in other regions.

Dirk Niepoort helped to turn the Douro Valley in a newly exciting wine region. His family has always made a basic table wine for their workers, as well as for their own drinking pleasure. Dirk decided to present these wines the press. They were impressed. Because the “basic” wine that he showed them was so good, it was exciting to think what would happen once he got serious about making great red table wines.

And he has delivered on that promise by making some of the most interesting red wines in the world. He has also inspired other producers in the Douro Valley to make great non-fortified wines as well.

And the story does not end there. He recently released a wine called Turris which fulfilled another one of his dreams. It is made from very ancient vines (planted more than 130 years ago) that were lost in the Douro. It seems as if his main achievement was to find what was most special about the Douro Valley, and to introduce it to the rest of the world.

Why should you drink wines from the Douro Valley? The Douro Valley is not only a UNESCO world heritage site, but it has a wild landscape with steep, rocky vineyards. I am always surprised that they would be able to grow anything in those conditions, let alone high-quality grapes. But, trust me when I say that the flavors and textures in these wines are like no other that you have tasted. They are bold, rich, big red wines that are not shy.

It is interesting how a place like the Douro Valley, with its extreme landscape, creates such powerful and unique wines. It is said that this extreme environment creates enough stress for the vines to produce very interesting fruit. It is probably why these wines are starting to become popular in New York City, since it is such an intense city that creates one of the most exciting environments in the world.


Cathrine's Recommendations

Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)

2012 Lavradores de Feitoria Red Wine ($10): A great value wine representing a great project in the Douro. It’s a partnership of 18 young Portuguese winemakers, who under the direction of Dirk Niepoort, have decided to work together to bottle their own wines instead of selling their grapes to a local co-op. This wine is juicy with black cherry and exotic spices.

Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to 50)

2009 Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage Port ($28): I wanted to recommend one of the sweet fortified wines of Niepoort, and you get a lot for your money with their Late Bottled Vintage, also called simply LBV. LBVs can last several months once opened, so this sweet fortified wine (20% ABV) may be enjoyed a tiny bit at a time. This wine has delicious chocolate, stewed cherries and sweet spice notes with a lush texture on the palate.

Fantasy Wine (over $50)

2012 Niepoort Batuta Red Wine ($73): This is one of Niepoort’s legendary wines that shows his great skill of expressing power while keeping elegance. Integrated tannins that create a firm yet fine structure. Dark fruit with layers of complex notes of minerality, dried thyme, and white pepper. A long, stunning finish!


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