Dirk Niepoort has long been interested in the terroirs of Bairrada. He thinks that the combination of the chalky clay soils and the Baga grape variety makes this potentially the best terroir in Portugal, even though he acknowledges that in many respects the region is a bit messy. ‘It is not the easiest variety in the world, but if you tame the vines and don’t overcrop it, and pick it at the right time, then Baga from Bairrada is probably the best terroir in Portugal.’
He came to Bairrada for the first time in 1995/96, and made some wines with Casa de Saima and Mario Sergio at Bargeiras. Then, in 2010, he helped Filipa Pato with a fortified wine project, and at the same time made some table wine. In 2012 he made wine at Quinta de Baixo, eventually taking the plunge and purchasing the Quinta in December that year.
Taking as his inspiration some of the great wines of the past, he went full in and began working in the style he thinks best suits this grape variety and place. ‘From the beginning we worked without compromise,’ says Dirk, ‘with no extraction and working with whole bunches a lot.’ The reds are made partly in lagar with short fermentations of around 10 days, and part is fermented in closed stainless steel tanks. 40% stems is typical. Buckets are used to wet the cap, and that’s the limit of the extraction.
Critics say that Niepoort is producing wines that taste more of Niepoort than the place. I think they are wrong: his style, which is for less extraction, earlier picking and good acidity, is making compelling wines of terroir that should age brilliantly. ‘The secret and greatness of Bairrada is not power, but elegance, lightness, acidity and chalkiness,’ says Dirk.
Indeed, as we tasted through barrels of the 2015 Garrafeira (a wine not yet released), he mused on how much he would pay to taste this wine in 20 years’ time. There are 17 hectares of vines at Baixo, and he also buys grapes in from growers (estate fruit is enough for about 30% of his needs). We looked around a few vineyards, including a venerable centenarian vineyard that looks very ragged but produces amazing grapes. About 10% of the vines are white, and they go into the blend. The wine from this vineyard, labelled ‘D’ at the moment and unreleased, is his favourite, and it’s profound.
As well as Baga, Dirk makes incredible white Bairrada, and a lovely sparkling wine called Acqua Viva. The Vinhas Velhas white is fermented in fuders (old 1000 litre barrels imported from Germany) with very little sulfur dioxide for almost two years. It is bottled with no fining or filtration.
Dirk is trying to get rid of small oak and do everything in large barrels. He has an interesting collection of larger vessels, some from Germany and others from Austria. ‘In Bairrada it is important not to play too much with wood,’ he says. ‘It is not good at all for Baga.’
‘I have jumped into this project in an exaggerated way with no compromise,’ says Dirk. ‘I thought it would take 5-10 years to get the wine the way I wanted, but I have been happy with everything from the beginning.’
Goncalves Faria Branco 2013 Bairrada
10.5% alcohol. Fresh, linear, very pure and light with lemon, spice, pear and a hint of green apple. Stony in the mouth with some mineral intensity and nice acidity. 93/100
Goncalves Faria Branco 2015 Bairrada
Lovely lemony purity to this wine with a bit of appley richness. Good core of acidity with some citrus pith, too. Great intensity and purity here with a lovely depth as well as keen acidity and lemony drive. 92/100
Vinhas Velhas Bical Maria Gomes 2014 Bairrada
Very pure and fine with nice citrus and pear fruit with a bit of apple character. Lovely purity and elegance. Such lovely acidity. Has weight and purity. 94/100
Vinhas Velhas Bical Maria Gomes 2015 Bairrada
11% alcohol. Pure and pristine with nice intensity of citrus and pear fruit, together with keen acidity that integrates beautifully into the fruit. Juicy and linear with hints of tangerine, lemons and fine herbs. Nice fruit expression, too. Needs a bit of time to show its best, but already compelling. 94/100
‘B’ Vinhas Velhas 2013 Bairrada
This is an as yet unnamed, unreleased wine from a single vineyard that spends three years in large oak.Very fine and mineral. Intense and concentrated, and a bit saline. So mineral, pure and textured, this is remarkable stuff with immense potential. 96/100
Lagar de Baixo 2014 Bairrada
Beautiful aromatics here: floral cherries and raspberries. Supple and sweetly fruited, this is smashable but also refined and quite serious. Delicious and fine, and drinking perfectly now, although it will age. 94/100
Lagar de Baixo 2015 Bairrada
Old and young vineyards, fermented in lagares and then aged in large oak. Such aromatic purity! Red cherries, plums, fine spices, subtle sappy notes. The palate is light, expressive, pretty and digestible with lovely red fruits, fine spiciness and good acidity. Very light on its feet and elegant. Quite beautiful. 93/100
Goncalves Faria Tinto 2015 Bairrada
More clay soils here, inland. Very elegant, fresh and supple with pure red cherry fruit. Has a bit of crunch, with some tannin, but it’s very well integrated. Supple, fine and juicy with nice complexity. This is quite special. 94/100
D 2015 Bairrada
A special project made from a special old vine vineyard, with some white grapes in the mix (5-10%). This is unusual. There’s some reductive character still, with bright, grippy, fresh red cherry and cranberry fruit. Funky but serious with some firm structure and savoury detail under the bright fruit. Hard to assess right now but I think it will be amazing. 2016, tasted from barrel, is very special. 95/100
Poerinho Baga 2015 Bairrada
12% alcohol. So fine, fresh, concentrated and expressive with elegant red cherry fruits and nice grippy structure. Good acidity too. This shows lovely finesse with everything pulling together. So expressive and pure with lovely juiciness. 95/100
Nat Cool Baga Velha 2016
No sulphites. In a litre bottle. Very fresh, juicy and supple with tight, lively red cherries and raspberries. Juicy and fresh with good acidity and some grip. A very light, drinkable style with some edges. Smashable. 90/100
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