December 10, 2021|In Winery Spotlight

NEW: Drink Me Nat Cool by Niepoort

Rule Number One... There are no rules!
Rule Number Two... Always respect the first rule

Are you a sucker for a cool label?

Are you desperate for a bit of liquid escapism after months of loony lockdowns?

Are you searching for that edgy, immensely smashable summer wine to turn everyone’s palates upside down?

Have you answered yes to any of the above? …BOOM! Have we got the hippest, coolest wine for you! Nat’ Cool is the new arrival – the WOW wine from our top-notch Port producer Niepoort. Get your taste buds ready for a brave new adventure in wine – there has been a heap of fun, shenanigans, sweat, and love gone into producing these idiosyncratic, textural, tasty Portuguese table wines…

For us it began, as it does at the start of the new work year in vino-land, with our ‘sourcing tasting’. Hundreds of potential newbies all vying for a spot in the salubrious stable of fine ‘n’ fab wines at Dhall & Nash. This little in-house event excites us wine geeks no end whilst also being a bit of a vinous ‘beauty contest’ selection challenge. But unusually for us this year, there was a unanimous decision when we tasted and agreed on a couple of cheeky wines with a kick-ass label and great juice to boot. Nat’ Cool Drink Me!

And they’re very, very cool! Here’s the scoop. If you live in the K’Rd – Ponsonby – Grey Lynn Axis of Cool, and you drink wine, then you’ve probably started down the Natural wine path a while ago – along with all the other wine nerds who want their wines to smell of farm manure, be uber cloudy, and strip the lining of their mouths off with acid. (Just kiddin’ ☺)

But they don’t necessarily have to be crap like that! Enter Dirk van Niepoort. He wanted to cater to that crowd but wanted a wine to also cater to the 99% of other wine drinkers that don’t want to drink #@$%.

Dirk is a descendant of the famed port house Niepoort that has been wine making in Portugal for over 350 years. He knows a thing or two about the land and about the grapes. And as head of one of the most influential Port Houses, he also realised that Port is a bit stuffy and isn’t drunk by a whole heap of fun-loving wine drinkers. So, he set about changing that by making dry, approachable, low alcohol, low intervention wines using the same indigenous Portuguese grapes that make up his ports.

And a few years ago he hit on a perfect strategy – invite great winemakers in the Porto region to collaborate in making natural wines that people would actually love to drink – the ‘Douro Boys’ was born. Dirk and his mates have brought back the fun. Fun wines to make and fun wines to drink.

Nat’ Cool is Dirk Niepoort’s baby – naturally ‘cool and funky’. It is the culmination of this innovative concept. To be Nat’ Cool the wine must be natural (that’s Dirk’s idea of ‘natural’), minimal winemaking artifice and with very low or zero added Sulphur. In addition, the wine must be bottled in litre sizes (Dirk wanted the wines to also be great value – hey, we all love a good deal) and most importantly, should be focused on the expression of terroir from the region.

He created Nat’ Cool as a response to a market (both in Portugal and abroad) that wanted cool, easy going, naturally-made wines that could be enjoyed every day – at home, by-the-glass in restaurants, out on a fun picnic, or wherever. They had to be lip-smackingly more-ish.

His project started in the appellation of Bairrada, working with the indigenous red varietal, Baga. As a rule, this varietal produces, big, dark, tannic reds, but Dirk instead made it as a fresh, easy, ‘glug-gluggable’ red wine in their signature One-Litre bottles with 12% alcohol and minimal Sulphur added. Bingo… he was onto something!

The Portuguese Wine revolution is happening now. And Dirk Niepoort is leading the charge!

The Wild Man of Wines:

Dirk van Niepoort is a thoughtful, yet provocative, winemaker. He has become recognised as one of the most inventive and progressive winemakers on the modern Portuguese scene, if not globally. He admits he’s a real wine geek, which shows in his engaging sense of humour. Allied to a fiercely analytical brain and notable commercial guile, he manages to always spin quite a wild wine yarn.

Today, the Niepoort family owns 80 ha of vines in the Douro, all farmed organically, incorporating some Biodynamic principles as well. They have also purchased some truly amazing, old vine vineyards in Bairrada, Dao and Vinho Verde. Dirk also now has vineyards in the Mosel in Germany, which he vinifies with his two sons. While the Ports remain fairly traditionally made, the still wines have evolved considerably since the days of late 90’s and early 2000’s when big, powerful, oaky wines were the trend. Today, the wines are very much in keeping with today’s more progressive fun ‘n’ funky drinking vibe. Namely, lower alcohols (often 11-13%), lighter, fresher, more drinkable-styled wines with minimal new oak influence.

“Portugal’s the most interesting wine country in the world!” Dirk exclaims expansively.

The Method to the 'Madness':

The affable Dirk cleverly combines tradition with innovation, equally using old-school granite lagares (large stone troughs for foot treading the grapes) and ancient indigenous grapes alongside sharp social media, alliances with artists, and collaborations with other winemakers around the world.

When asked what makes his approach different from others, he cites a strict attention to detail. To this you could add a healthy appetite for risk taking. Take his commitment to using stems in red winemaking – something many winemakers run a mile from, for fear of making astringent, green wines.

“The basis of good wine is a bit of green-ness” states Niepoort boldly. “It’s the same as freshness. It helps a wine age. I don’t believe in fruity wines. Although there’s no recipe, using stems can give firmer, more sexy tannin, and help eat up the fatness of wines.”

He sums up his winemaking style in the following terms: “I look for balance, elegance and authenticity”. He recognises the incongruity of his aim in the Douro, an area famous for making Port, one of the most powerful wine styles around. “In theory, what I’m trying to do is nonsense: make vintage port that tastes like red Burgundy. I love surgical precision and elegance in my wines”. However crazy the theory, his wines do him credit.

Always questioning fashion in wine trends, Niepoort is actually not a fan of trendy natural wines, nor what he calls ‘global wines’.

“We live in a world where wines taste more and more the same: ‘global wines’. Our society loves noise – the noisier the wine, the better. People don’t have time to understand things. I don’t like natural wines because they’re the same as global wines: they taste of who made them and how they were made. I want to taste terroir: where the wine has come from.”

He’s scathing about the new generation of Portuguese winemakers. While he concedes there are some bright sparks out there, he “would have expected more. There’s no invention. People are all doing things by the book, making over-ripe, crap wines. They have to be more fundamental, go the whole hog.”

“People ask me why I make so many wines,” Niepoort says. “My reply is that I’m not as clever or educated as some people. My way of learning is by doing.”

Introducing Dhall & Nash's Wines from Nat Cool:

Dirk Niepoort’s Nat’ Cool! range of wines were created to be terroir-driven, use native grapes of the region, be affordable, and be so smashable that they’re only sold in 1 litre bottles.

Luckily for all of us, now Dhall & Nash has brought into the country two sassy ‘n’ smart Nat’ Cool wines!

2020 Niepoort Drink Me Nat Cool Branco:

The first white wine off the block is a blend from Vinho Verde. But not just any Vinho Verde. In essence, it is a “Pet Nat”, but at very low pressure, sort of like a Txakoli (a very light fizz dry white from Basque country). Here, the wines are bottled with a touch of sugar that is left to ferment inside the bottle to create just a light fizz. It is actually an historic method that was practiced in the 19th and early 20th centuries in this region. Since the wine is not disgorged, there are also some lees in the bottle. You can let the sediment settle in the bottom of the bottle, or as Dirk likes to, shake it all up for a yummy, leesy, complex version. Vinho Verde with attitude!

Varietals – Azal, Arinto, Avesso, Trajadura, Loureiro

Vineyard – The grapes are grown in two areas of Vinho Verde: Amarante and Lousada. The vines are on average 25-30 years old.

Altitude above sea level – 100 to 150 metres

Soil type – Granite

Viticulture – All work in the vineyards is done by hand and practicing organic methods.

Vinification – The wine is made in a the very typical and traditional way for the region. Wild yeasts are used, and the wine is bottled before it is dry with some residual sugar and the fine lees. The wine then re-ferments in the bottle leaving a little bit of spritz and a cloudy appearance. No sulphur is used so malolactic fermentation also takes place in the bottle.


2020 Niepoort Drink Me Nat Cool Vermelho:

“I love Baga, it’s my disease”, Dirk enthuses. “It’s like Nebbiolo in Piedmont or Pinot Noir in Burgundy: it needs the right plot and proper handling in the winery. Baga and Bairrada (the region) are the best combination in Portuguese red.”

With his red wine release Niepoort chose the Baga grape. If you like medium bodied Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir, then you will love this wine. When we tasted it at D&N everyone’s faces lit up. The wine is so easy to drink, and it just keeps whispering in your ear – “have another glass”… This is a wine that has packed so much fun into a 1 litre bottle – obviously a no-brainer for summer.

Varietal – Baga

Soil type – Calcareous clay

Average vine age – 40 to 100 years old

Altitude above sea level – 80 to 100 metres

Harvest method – All hand picked

Vinification – This is not your typical inky, tannic expression of the Baga grape. Instead, you’ll find this light red table wine to have a very fruity character with freshness and floral notes. It’s an easy drinking wine fermented with wild yeasts and no sulphur during the carbonic maceration, in stainless-steel tanks. Pale, energetic, lightly funky, and very juicy, with aromas of red fruits and Mediterranean scrubland coming together on the nose. Unlike a lot of natural wines in this style it does undergo some malolactic, and the acidity is perfectly balanced. Dangerously easy to drink. Enjoy it with a nice chill on!

With these Nat Cool wines, it’s a bit of a “don’t think… just drink” thing going on! Both wines are fresh, direct, and salivatingly sexy. They are light on their feet and so easy to drink, they will utterly charm you. They make very versatile food wines too – just add a good meal and good friends! Serve chilled. Pure pleasure! Naturally cool!


Remember, the Nat Cool Drink Me! rules…









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