Let the Ports of Sandeman Cellars tickle your taste buds
I was recently in Portugal and had the opportunity to taste quite a few Ports of all shapes and sizes. I was a longtime fan of Sandeman Cellars before my trip, but I learned even more about them while I was there. Now it's fair to say I'm even more impressed with their Port wines.
The House of Sandeman has been in operation since 1790. Their portfolio is impressive because it offers something for every occasion, taste bud and budget. However, my eyes and palate were opened in a totally different way as well: I had the opportunity to witness and sample the use of Ports for cocktails. This wasn't something I'd really considered very much before my trip. Having experienced it now a number of times over several days in Portugal, and a few times since I arrived home, I'm a believer. Of course I would never use vintage Port to make a mixed drink; that wouldn't be right, because it's a particularly special wine only made in legendary vintages. However, Ruby, Tawny and Late Bottle Vintage Ports are all fair game when it comes to cocktails. I tasted all of the Sandeman Cellars current releases, and while I found something to like in each for different reasons, here are three of my absolute favorites.
First up is the Sandeman Ruby Porto. In a sense this is the introductory Port in their portfolio. It's a style of Port that has been around for a long time, and Sandeman has been making it since the beginning of their history. The wines that are blended together to create the Ruby Porto come from a variety of vintages they have on hand when each new release is put together. Blending trials determine the best combination possible to achieve a representation of Sandeman Ruby Porto that will live up to the profile of the ones preceded it. This wine can be enjoyed for up to a month after it's opened. This Port sells at most retailers for right around $10.
Plum and red raspberry aromas fill the nose of this wine. Through the palate, those characteristics are joined by a host of red cherry flavors as well as a nice spice component. Wild strawberry flavors lead the finish, and they're joined by light baker's spice and a hint of pepper. Ruby Porto is a perfect choice to experiment with as a cocktail component. The Sandeman website has a number of recipes, but coming up with your own is even more fun.
Next up is the Sandeman 2003 Vau Vintage Port. This wine is produced in a style aimed at drinking younger wines. If you're a fan of vintage port, but don't want to wait for the great ones to age properly or want a vintage port-type experience for a lower price point, Vau Vintage is a wine to consider. This wine most often sells for around $18.
Huckleberry aromas lead the impressive and heady nose of this 2003 wine. There is a host of cherry and berry flavors on display throughout the palate, along with copious quantities of plum pudding spice notes. Plum, strawberry, chocolate sauce and hints of sour cherry are all part of the impressively long finish on this wine. If you're thinking of a port to pair with something chocolaty, this is the one. Chocolate cheesecake with a splash of raspberry sauce might be the perfect match. This wine can also be dessert all by itself. For less than $20 this wine represents nothing less than a phenomenal value. It's made to drink now, but you can safely store Vau Vintage for five to eight years.
Lastly I want to take a look at the mother of Ports. Vintage Port is only made in declared years. Each Port House has to decide two years after the vintage itself if their wine is worthy of a declared vintage. On average, most of the classic Port Houses declare three to four times per decade. It's important to keep in mind that with vintage Ports their life cycles should be thought of in decades, not years. While they are enjoyable upon release, they improve dramatically with time. It's not unheard of for Ports in legendary vintages to be on the uptick 40 years or more in.
The Sandeman 2007 Porto sells for around $70 or thereabouts. The first thing that's striking about this Port is the color; it's literally darker than night. Hints of eucalyptus and mint are both present in the nose of this wine. These are somewhat subtle and lead to a ton of red and black fruit characteristics. The palate of this wine is intense and layered with wave after wave of fruit and spice flavors. Hints of dark, dusty baker's chocolate, black pepper and continued fruit flavors all resonate resoundingly on the finish. This wine has firm, gripping tannins and just immense structure. If you're going to drink this wine over the next few years I recommend decanting it for a minimum of four hours. However, this wine is just a baby with most of its secondary characteristics still hibernating below the surface. The 2007 Sandeman Vintage Port is destined to be a classic. If you have the patience, lay a few bottles down for 10 to 20 years, and then you're sure to be wowed by an incredibly impressive expression of the best Portugal has to offer.
I feel very strongly about the Ports coming out of the House of Sandeman. While these are three of my absolute favorites, I heartily recommend their portfolio at large. They are a consistent producer of quality wines year after year. When I started discovering Port, Sandeman was among the first names I picked up; a couple of decades later, I'm further down the road with my knowledge and love of Port, and I still find myself reaching for Sandeman.