A couple of weeks back I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the 2011 Vintage of Sandeman Porto. Vintage Port is only declared in years that each house considers an exceptional representation of their style. In the case of Sandeman specifically they most recently declared the 2007. To celebrate the launch of the newly declared 2011 we tasted it as well as one representing each of the previous six decades. George Sandeman was on hand at Del Posto in NYC to lead us through this tasting which featured the 1955, 1963, 1977, 1980, 1997, 2007 and of course 2011 Vintages. In addition to thoughts on the specific wines George provided some historical context for each vintage as well as his outlook about the styles and variations. Here are my feelings on the new release as well as a three of my favorites from the older selections we sampled that evening. The Sandeman 2011 Vintage Porto was produced using a blend of Touriga Franca (40%), Touriga Nacional (40%), Tinta Roriz (10%), Tinta Cão (5%), and Sousão (5%). The fruit is of course all from the Douro. Grapes were partially de-stemmed and gently crushed. Maceration and fermentation followed in a temperature controlled environment. Addition of the aguardente (neutral spirit) followed. The following spring the wine was transported to Sandeman Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia for maturation. After maturation and numerous tasting trials the final blend was achieved and the 2011 Vintage Porto was bottled in April of 2013. It was released in October of this year and is Sandeman’s first declared vintage Porto since the 2007. The 2011 Vintage Porto will sell for around $75 at most retailers. The color of this Port is deep, dark and dense. The nose is absolutely loaded with a stunning array of spice aromas which include fruitcake spices and a gentle wisp of anise. Tons of dark, complex layered fruits are on display throughout the gorgeous palate. Cherries and blackberries are of particular note. Dark, dusty baker’s chocolate and continued spices are part of a long, lusty and prodigious finish. This is a powerful and muscular port with firm tannins, fine acidity and excellent structure. It’s really just a baby now, but one with killer promise for future greatness. It has the hallmarks of what should become a classic, long lived vintage of Sandeman Porto. It’s a potent and fruit forward Port which is delicious now. This is particularly true if it’s paired with rich chocolate desserts or strong cheeses. However if you’re patient enough to lay a bottle or case of this wine down for a couple of decades (or more) you will be richly rewarded with a classic experience.
Each of the older Ports we tasted had something special to offer. While there was a general continuity of House style, there was lots of interesting variation based on Vintage and of course time in the bottle as well. Here’s a look at a couple of my very favorites.
Sandeman 1955 Vintage Porto – This was the oldest of the Ports we sampled and it was a real treat. The hue here was light and coppery in nature. At almost 60 years old this Port now looks in the glass closer in color to a Tawny than a Vintage Porto, which is quite natural. Apricot aromas emerge from the nose. Bits of caramel and secondary characteristics are part of the gentle palate. The finish still has nice length and character.
Sandeman 1963 Vintage Porto – Much like it’s older brother the color is coppery though a hint darker. The nose of this 50 year old Port is just a touch reticent but the subtleness is made up for by a lovely and delicate potpourri of gentle secondary aromas such as truffle and spice. The palate shows off mushrooms, subtle red fruits and a bit of leafiness. Spices such as black pepper emerge on the finish. This one is really delicious and interesting now.
Sandeman 1980 Vintage Porto – The color here is still red and fairly dark. Fairly bold red fruits fill the palate with cherry and strawberry leading the way. Spices and leather characteristics mark the finish which has good length. This is a gorgeous and impeccably balanced Port that is just delicious all by itself.
The bottom line is that Sandeman has been making top shelf Vintage Porto for a long, long time. The oldest vintages illustrate the ability of truly great Port whose aging is counted in decades not years. The newest vintages, especially the 2011 showcase the continued production of impressive Porto. It also displays the shifting of style to a wine that still has loads of finesse and grace but also features a bit more power and wow factor.