Bricks Wine Advent Calendar 2018: Day 23

23 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

I was hoping there would be a fortified wine somewhere in this calendar. Eureka, and it is a Port. I do not hate Sherry, but I LOVE Port. Making Port involves adding grape spirit to stop fermentation of (usually) red wine just before its midpoint, usually two or three days into the process when about 5-6% alcohol has been produced. Enough spirit is added to bring the alcohol level up to around 20%, halting the fermentation and leaving residual sugar in the wine. I am also excited to see some of Dirk van Der Niepoort’s work represented. These labels remind me of vintage soda bottles. More importantly, Dirk is an eccentric, dynamic, and highly animated wine producer who is known for innovation, and for saying (as well as doing) certain things that might enrage the more traditionally-minded, even as he never forgets his family’s five generation history of making wines in the Douro Valley. Before launching into what will be my last Advent entry for this particular calendar, some background information about Tawny Port is in order.

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High quality tawny Ports (or “aged tawnies”) typically rest in partially unfilled wooden barrels for at least six years, the wine exposed to oxygen so as to become browned and mellow before bottling. This is how such wines acquire certain classic aroma and flavour descriptors, including nuts or toffee. In this case oxidation is not a wine-making fault but rather a deliberate tool used to produce a particular style. However, so-called tawny Ports run a gamut from these sometimes venerable wines made from grapes all harvested in a single vintage (dubbed “Colheitas”) or average-aged across multiple vintages (10/20/30/40 Year Tawnies) all the way down to light-coloured waifs that have seen scarcely more aging time than their ruby counterparts, made with less ripe (and hence less darkly coloured) grapes from the cooler Baixo Corgo subregion of the Douro Valley or subjected to other winemaking techniques to keep the colour pale. The present wine would seem to fall roughly in the middle of this continuum: this has seen some genuine barrel aging, but less than that typically seen for an “aged tawny”.

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As I explained, Dirk is an eccentric fellow. However, the artist Regina Pessoa, inspired by Lewis Carrol, is apparently the mastermind behind NiePOoRTland: the magical place where the identical twins “Ruby Dum” and “Tawny Dee” live with the different characters from Alice in Wonderland. Riiiiight. Obviously I’m into it. Although the White Rabbit is associated with a rather rare dry white port and gets a special call-out on the website, I cannot help but surmise that the hookah-smoking caterpillar had just as much to do with such shenanigans (and likely much more). Anyhow, the wine-making concept here is also rather cool. Ruby Dum and Tawny Dee – the Niepoort ‘twins’ as reflected on the bottles – are wines from the same lot of grapes grown on schist soils, but over a five-year period they are aged differently so that the one is vibrantly rich and ruby in style, full of relatively youthful red fruit, while the other (tonight’s bottle) becomes paler and more brick-like in hue. All of the grapes originate from low-yielding vineyards in the Cima Corgo region of the Douro (Vinha da Pisca, Vale do Pinhão, and Ferrão). Varieties include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sousão, and Tinta Roriz. The grapes are predominantly foot-trodden in lagares, which are the famous shallow, low-sided stone vessels most associated with this method of extraction in Portugal. Ruby Dum is aged in large wooden vats, while our bottle here sees time in small 550-litre oak casks that permit much greater exposure to oxygen. The average length of barrel aging for the wine in this bottle is 3.5 years.

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Someone covered this dapper fellow with a label. What a travesty!

Voila. The colour just narrowly grades into anything resembling “tawny” for me, maybe slightly brick red in hue but still quite vibrant. The nose echoes back sultanas or golden raisins, Mission figs, dates, and butterscotch sauce, but also a passel of desiccated stone and tropical fruits (apricot, papaya, dragonfruit) along with low key walnut husk and a whisper of richer hazelnut. The palate flashes more black raisin and dried cherries than the sultanas on the nose, along with layers of sarsaparilla, chocolate Fudgsicle, and something suspiciously suggestive of Christmas fruitcake along with the ghosts of cherry Twizzlers past. I return to the glass around an hour after my initial musings to find that the wine has become even more warm and peachy, a cobbler drizzled with amber rum. Not staggeringly complex, but a purely enjoyable and boozier-than-normal way to sign off the Bricks 2018 Advent blogging run. Rest assured, those not yet tired of my poor man’s Karen MacNeil impression can join in as Peter and I tackle Vinebox, starting on Christmas Day.

89 points

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Cork Rating: 8.5/10 (fantastic! Cork of the campaign for me.)


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