Wine: Julia Kemper’s 2012 Dão Branco
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In the first in a new series, wine writer Mark Slaney samples Julia Kemper’s 2012 Dão Branco

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Dão, which is pronounced, I think, something like “down” is a historic region in the north of Portugal, pretty much centrally situated between the coast and Spanish border. I remember drinking red wines from here back in the 1980s. They were okay but a bit dusty, rustic and lean. Portugal however is undergoing a wine renaissance and I’ve been over there twice recently and have been really impressed by the wines that are now on offer.

The Portuguese are fiercely proud of all their local grape varieties – there are over 200 that you’ll probably never see outside of the country. Julia Kemper’s white Dão is made mostly from a grape variety called Encruzado. If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t worry, neither had I and I’ve been buying wine commercially for ages.

Being trained to evaluate new wines according to colour, body, tannin, acidity and all that sommelier’ secret code stuff, whilst I was still looking at its colour, my girlfriend had taken her first mouthful. “Wow, that’s really good,” she said. Since, because of my work, she gets to partake of quite a few bottles of wine and many, very expensive bottles get no more than a “It’s okay. I don’t get though why it is 50 quid a bottle”, response, Julia Kemper’s white had clearly received a resounding “yes” vote.

What did I think? Well, I was really impressed too. Often a wine label will give you a clue as to what to expect. A highly ranked vineyard in Burgundy or Bordeaux comes with the same expectation as climbing into the driving seat of a sports car with the word “Turbo” pinned on the back. The Kemper wine is a bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I reckon in a blind tasting it will beat plenty of whites at twice its price.

When I have a bottle of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc regardless of where in the world it comes from, I’ll have a fair idea as to what to expect. Cracking open this bottle, made from Encruzado and Malvasia Fina grapes, I felt I was going right off the beaten track. I loved the wine; it exceeded my expectations. If your idea of a decent walk is not the park at the edge of town but heading off into the hills and you approach wines with the same attitude then this is a wine for you.

It was full bodied and dry. It had generous fruit on its palate and nice acidity. I thought it had a hint of smoke – a bit like when you dunk a Lapsang Souchong tea bag in your cuppa for just a few seconds. We drank it with linguine with fresh clams in garlic butter and each mouthful was able to match the food. It’s a big wine but not cumbersome. The vineyard is quite high – 450 metres – and the vines are grown on granite. The grapes are picked by hand. The wine is part fermented in stainless steel and part in oak barrels. It’s not a big vineyard, there’s only around 6,000 bottles made. All this perhaps contributes to the wines elegance. I found the wine developed more flavour and aromas in the glass after it had warmed a tiny bit and had a chance to breathe.

Dão Branco. 2012. Julia Kemper is available from the following stockists: The Oxford Wine Company, Planet of the Grapes (London, WC1), The Vineking (Horley), Corking Wines of Yorkshire and KWM Wines and Spirits (County Down, Northern Ireland). Expect to pay around £18 a bottle.

Mark Slaney has been a commercial wine buyer for hotels and restaurants for more than 30 years. He has written a book on wine, Tasting Notes, which will be published in paperback later this year. He is also MD at Horseshoe Restaurant with Rooms, Eddleston, By Peebles, Scotland, EH45 8QP