March 13, 2011

The Wines of Julia Kemper, Dao, Portugal

By In Vineyard & Wine Travel, Wine Notes

julia kemper

Take a mix of native Portuguese grapes – all replanted only a few years ago on Júlia de Melo Kemper’s inherited estate – add some state-of-the-art drip feed irrigation, rebuild a collapsed 1950’s winery with modern stainless steel and expensive pressing equipment and, produce after a little aging, two of the most beautiful wines I’ve ever drunk.

The wine estate has been in the Kemper family for nigh on 400 years – probably longer – wine has been made here for almost as long. In gathering twilight we had a meander through long abandoned vineyard plots, stone backed terraces now holding a tangle of scrub, lavender and gorse in full yellow-flowered spring splendour.

The upper terrace is where the modern action is concentrated with extensive irrigation supporting new plantings of Jaen, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Aragonez) and the intriguing Alfrucherio. We are deep in the wilds of the Dao one of Portugal’s under-rated regions. Across the estate there lie dilapidated buildings once homes and store rooms geared towards wine production. Now I envision holiday let potential. Who could resist spending a few nights surrounded by the wildness of this beautiful landscape? I wonder if the estate has considered such an idea.

One large building, home to stone legares and concrete vats, has been restored. The vats cleaned, lined, graced with stainless steel and made smaller, to handle a reduced but higher quality grape harvest, lie under an expensive press and temperature control apparatus. The room and equipment have a sheen of newness.

For an estate so new, we marvel at the quality of the latest vintages, only the third I believe under the reinvigorated management. The vines are young, the fruit pushed into just two bottlings – Julia Kemper Tinto and Julia Kemper Branco. Future harvests, as the vines mature, should be stunning. Mirroring the elegant demeanour of the owner, Julia Kemper herself, the red especially oozes style and sophistication.

An edge of wild herb and gravelly texture graces both wines; elements one fancies that are lifted direct from the dramatic, lightly tamed, landscape. At the same time though Julia Kemper has managed to layer that Dao wildness with a sheen of elegance. Wine always tastes better when savoured in the winery overlooking the vines and savouring the landscape, which we did even in the gathering dark.

Later we revel in the wines perfect food-matching qualities with a meal at the Casa da Insua restaurant. The Julia Kemper Branco 2009 [Adegga / Snooth] a 50/50 blend of Malvasia Fina and Encruzado is superb with the local speciality of octopus. Lightly fragrant, balanced and elegant the texture and weight make for superb food matching experiments.

The Julia Kemper Tinto 2009, [Adegga / Snooth], is beautifully intense and structured, made mainly with Touriga Nacional plus 15% Tinta Roriz, 15% Alfrucheiro and 10% Jaen. I was revelling in the lush cherry and black fruit medley enlivened with a hint of cinnamon and wild herbs while the fellow diners delved into the roast kid course. The forthcoming revelation that the wines are not available in the UK was met with resigned sigh’s and shaking of heads.

The wines are gorgeous!

kemper tinto 2008

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