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Portugal’s Vibrant White

During the VinExpo wine trade fair in June, I stopped by the Portugal display to try new releases from my favorite Douro Valley producers and found this light, vibrant white. The 2009 Niepoort Tiara has very pure green apple and citrus flavor notes and the kind of wet stone and slate element you find in riesling. Yet this intense and complex wine is a blend of Portuguese grapes you’ve probably never heard of, leading off with codega and rabigato.

The Douro Valley, with its long, winding river, steep terraced hillsides, and searing summer temperatures, is noted for the red grapes that go into the country’s great rich sweet ports. Few realize white grapes grow there, too. Until a decade ago, Dirk Niepoort, the fifth generation to run his family’s 150-year-old port business and a pioneer in making superlative red table wines in the Douro, assumed the region’s terroirs were no good for whites.

But as one of the world’s most interesting and provocative winemakers, Niepoort is a constant experimenter, always in search of a new challenge. A decade ago he found two important keys to making Douro whites: grapes grown at higher altitudes where temperatures are cooler, which preserves acidity in wines, and very old vines, whose low yields give them greater concentration.

The grapes for this 2009 Tiara come from several vineyards at 600 to 800 meters (1,968 to 2,624 feet) above sea level and the oldest vines are 100 years old. They’re pressed quickly so the wine retains a bright freshness. Using only natural yeasts for fermentation translates into an added layer of complexity. No wood aging means the pure fruit flavors stand out.

The result is a unique-tasting white that is a good match with just about any kind of fish you can name.

Zester Daily contributor Elin McCoy is a wine and spirits columnist and author of “The Emperor of Wine: The Rise of Robert M. Parker, Jr. and the Reign of American Taste.”