Here I am with Dirk van der Niepoort, having his 155 years old Niepoort port 1863 single harvest, to be specific, a Garrafeira Port. Aroma of prune, dried orange, toffee once poured without much swirling. Impressively youthful and delicious, the first sip last almost to eternity. A port that the company claims the wine is, “possibly the oldest fine wine in the world”.
This port will be in Lalique decanters – 5 beautiful demijohn decanters created using the ancient glassmaking technique, cire perdue, or the “lost wax” method, each engraved with the name of one of the 5 van der Niepoort generations. The first of the 5 generations decanters, engraved with the name of founder, Francisco Marius van der Niepoort is to be auctioned by Acker Merrall & Condit the coming Saturday on November 3rd in Hong Kong.
Founded in 1842 by Francisco Marius Niepoort, today the Port house is run by 5th generation member Dirk van der Niepoort. The design of the decanter is based on the original 11-litre demijohn from 1905. Where these 1863 tawny was filled in 1905 with the 1863 port in the Niepoort cellar in Porto.
“We only have one demijohn from 1905, which contains one of our first wines, the 1863. It is an incredibly rare Port, the result of years of dedication and craftsmanship. A big wine, but very refined, not too sweet but highly concentrated – it is the oldest Port we have ever bottled, and we wanted to do something very special with it,” says Dirk van der Niepoort.
The Slightly Confusing Types of Port
Not exactly a Tawny, a vintage port nor a LBV , this port is a type of Garrafeira Port, which today is only produced by the Niepoort family, is an elegant style of Port made from the grapes of a single harvest, like a Colheita (Single harvest Tawny) and therefore has a vintage date on the bottle. But “Garrafeira” is its own special category and unique ageing regime. Despite Niepoort has been at the cutting edge of “New Douro” table wines, having name of their port not the first that would pop up in mind when you would like to have one, their port, especially Garrafeira is actually one of a kind.
After aging in wood for some years the wine is transferred non-filtered (similar to vintage port where port wasn’t filtered for further aging in bottles) to glass demijohns (“bon bons”) which can vary (in the Niepoort Lodge) from seven to eleven liters apiece, and the ageing process continues in glass. While a typical tawny, once it bottled (filtered), the wine won’t change a bit. This type of aging adds a unique character known as “cheiro has garrafa” (translates to: savour or essence of the bottle) which is derived from prolonged direct contact with the glass demijohns. Further aging in the demijohns, sometimes for well over 50 years helps to produce a seamless, smooth Port that is delicate, fresh and possesses great finesse.
Depending on house style, Colheitas may be aged in the Douro where warmer climate speeds up the ageing process and encourage the broader caramelised, rancio flavours of so-called “Douro bake” or, a few such as Niepoort, in Vila Nova de Gaia’s cooler, which keeps the accent on freshness. Ullage practices also differ. Producers who top up barrels more regularly aim for a more vibrant style.
In fact, Niepoort also released quite a few years back a Colheita Port 1863 (bottled 1972 in demijohns and then bottle in 2008). As well having their Niepoort VV where the base for this blend is Port from 1863, aged in casks until 1972, and then “bottled” in demijohns, finally bottled in normal port bottle and released into market for their 170th anniversary in 2012, 999 bottles were made.
Tasting this Niepoort port reminds me of famed port house Taylor’s ‘Scion’ where the tawny was from the 1855 harvest (an acquired barrel by Taylor’s), and also Taylor’s 1863 single harvest port which matured for over a century and a half in oak casks then bottled before Launch in 2014 (same vintage of 1863; a great year it was) tasted 4 years back. Different, eg the Scion which was more on the spices side, like ginger, pepper , molasses, prune; both Scion and the new old Niepoort, with lifting endless finish, balanced wines of extraordinary depth.
Estimate by Acker is around HK$160,000-220,000 for the bottle, while they are speculating it will be much higher at hammer. For reference Taylor’s 3 years back their 1863 Single Harvest was launched at £3000 per bottle. This would probably set a record high in history. Can’t wait to see Mr John Kapon waives his hammer and sets a record.