“I had to spend a week going to the dentist for some intensive treatment. Jan Paulson, a dentist who has a rare wine business, agreed to treat me. I like him a lot. He’s a very, very good person.
On the day I arrived at his home in Germany, we were sitting outside in the garden and he opened a bottle. I started thinking aloud, saying, ‘This is syrah, a Côtes du Rhône, but it’s too elegant to be syrah so it’s pinot noir, a Burgundy.’ I said, ‘It’s too tannic, so tannic and yet elegant, so it’s La Tâche 1991,’ and it was.
Not that I had tasted it before, but I’ve never had a wine that is so tannic yet so expressively fine. Six months later, the same thing happened somewhere else and it was La Tâche 1991. Another six months later, everything was the same, but the wine was younger than the 1991. It was La Tâche 1996.
It drives me crazy that Romanée-Conti is so famous because, in reality, it is a very complicated, difficult wine. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Actually, I think that most people don’t understand it and don’t actually like it, so I find it extraordinary that it is one of the most famous wines in the world. So sometimes the world is right!
I started wondering how is it possible that the wine is so aromatic, yet so fine. The combination was very unusual. I said to myself, ‘Well, they have low yields, they like to pick late, so if I want to make something like that in the [hotter] Douro, I have to pick early and use 100 percent stems.’ That would fool everyone and make the wine look like it has more acidity than it actually does.
My thinking was, maybe I can do something different. This was the reasoning behind Charme [one of Niepoort’s red Douro wines].
It was also inspired by [Barolo producer] Elio Altare, who inspired me to do a short maceration with Charme. He and I had big, big discussions about short maceration. I thought it was nuts because a ‘real’ bottle has to have long macerations. He insisted on doing it because he wanted the finesse of Burgundy and he believed he could achieve it.
One day, it clicked in my head that maybe the guy is right and I am wrong, so the combination of a short maceration, 100 percent stems and early picking is how I created Niepoort Charme.”
As told to Sarah Ahmed
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