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Sandeman 20-year-old tawny port
In a nutshell: A hedonistic, rich, barrel-aged port of quite stunning complexity.
The Sandeman firm has one of the most recognised logos in the wine world. You might not know the wines, but you will almost certainly recognise the cloaked and hatted figure of the Sandeman Don.
The cloak is like those worn by Portuguese students and the hat is Spanish, representing the two sides of the firm’s business, port and sherry.
The house was founded in the 18th century by George Sandeman of Perth. Sandeman became friends with Wellington when the Iron Duke was fighting the Peninsular War, and did much to popularise vintage port as a style.
The firm was in family hands until 1979 when it was bought by Canadian drink giant, Seagram. Nevertheless, a Sandeman remained on the board – David Sandeman. Today, his son George Sandeman is chairman.
In 2001, the company was bought by Sogrape, a Portuguese firm that also owns port house Ferreira. The company has done much to raise quality (which had declined somewhat when owned by Seagram) under the watchful eye of winemaker Luís Sottomayor.
One thing that Sandeman has always been noted for, however, is its tawny ports. This is the style that is appreciated more by the Portuguese than the British.
To make a wine like this, top quality ports are aged for many years in 650-litre casks where they gently oxidise, taking on flavours of tobacco, orange peel and walnuts.
These wines are usually then blended and sold by age statement. A 20-year-old tawny will contain wines of great age, as well as some younger ones to provide freshness. You sometimes see tawnies released from a single year known as Colheitas. In recent years, firms have realised the money-making potential of these wines.
Whereas a vintage port needs keeping for years and decanting, tawnies offer a ready-aged alternative. Just chill lightly, open and pour, and with the Sandeman 20-year-old, you will be rewarded with one of the best experiences wine has to offer.
The first taste is of intensely sweet red fruit before a wave of tobacco, walnuts and dried fruit hits you. Despite its richness and sweetness, the acidity keeps it all fresh and lively.
So complex that it’s worth trying on its own rather as you might have single malt whisky or cognac. Also excellent with mature, salty cheeses like gruyère.
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