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Last Minute Wine Gift Ideas

Last Minute Wine Gift Ideas

The Holidays aren’t almost here, they’re here, NOW! And if you’re like most people there are a handful of loved ones that you still need to buy a gift for. The good news is there’s still time to get them a nice bottle of wine. Just because it’s last minute, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put thought into it.

The Bird is Thirsty! 9 Wines for Thanksgiving That Provide Value

The Bird is Thirsty! 9 Wines for Thanksgiving That Provide Value

Thanksgiving, with its myriad of flavors and overload of food is mere days away. And while some look at wine pairing for so many flavors and textures as a challenge, I think it’s a whole lot of fun. Drink what you like and see what it works with and what it doesn’t work with.  The bottom line is that you should have fun and enjoy the holiday. 

Quinta Do Vallado Has Your Thanksgiving Needs Covered

Quinta Do Vallado Tawny 20 Year - with corkPortugal’s Quinta Do Vallado has a history that dates back to the 18th century. It’s now in its sixth and seventh generations of stewardship by the Ferreira Family. Their portfolio focuses on dry wines, but as they sit in the Douro, naturally they also make several ports. I recently tasted through much of their current portfolio, as well as some older vintages. I was struck by the quality, drinkability and age-worthiness of their wines as a whole. In addition, I also found that it would be easy to select all the wines for my Thanksgiving table from their offerings. So with Thanksgiving just about a month away, here’s a look at four wines that offer perfect holiday sipping from the moment your guests arrive through the final bite of dessert. Head over to to read the rest.

Sandeman - 2011 Vintage Porto - Launch Dinner and Older Vintage Tasting

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.

The Versatility of Sandeman Founders Reserve Port

foundersA couple of years ago I was in Portugal and it’s fair to say I encountered a great surprise. There was no question that there would be excellent Port to sample in both Oporto and the Douro. What I didn’t expect was the flexibility of some Ports as a blending component in cocktails. Towards that end I took place in a class with a Mixologist and was pleasantly surprised with the results. I tend to think of Port more in the winter months and with the weather getting nippy it’s high time to drink more Port. With that in mind I tried my hand making a couple of drinks using Sandeman Founders Reserve Port. The first drink is from Sandemans own recipe.

Sandeman Harvest Sour

3/4 parts raspberry syrup*

3/4 parts fresh lemon juice

1 1/2 parts Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto

1/2 part apple brandy

Top with 2-3 parts dry apple cider

Pour all ingredients in a shaker, except cider. Shake quickly and strain into a Collins glass. Top with cider, garnish with raspberries and dust with nutmeg.

*In a medium saucepan combine 4 cups sugar and 1 quart water. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. In another saucepan, muddle a small container of raspberries (about 6 ounces), and combine the syrup and raspberries. Let rest for a day, then strain.

I really enjoyed this drink and all of the diverse ingredients come together to make a well balanced cocktail that has sweet, fruity elements, solid acid characteristics to keep it from going over the top and a nice wallop.

Sometimes I want to throw some ingredients together quickly and a very simple two ingredient cocktail is in order. I found that mixing Sandeman Founders Reserve with Sparkling Wine worked really well. I played with the proportions a lot as a slight change makes a pretty significant difference when you’re only dealing with two ingredients. In the end I settled on 2 parts of Sparkling Wine to one part Port. I used a dry Sparkling Rosé which helped lend to a brilliant color.

1 part Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto

2 parts Sparkling Rosé*

Pour the Port into a Champagne flute first and top with the Sparkling Wine.

* I’m a sucker for dry Rosé whether they’re sparkling or still and this worked really well for me. However a dry white Sparkling wine will certainly get the job done here.

These are just a couple of ideas. Grab a bottle of Sandeman Founders Reserve and play around with your own drink recipes; who knows you may create a new favorite. Founders Reserve most often sells for around $15 in most US markets. It’s also a delicious entry level Port that can certainly be enjoyed on its own, where it can be dessert all by itself.

V. Sattui Winery - 1998 Vintage Port

V. Sattui Winery in Napa Valley is a producer who sells all of their wine direct to consumer. Some of it through their website and the rest right through their hugely popular tasting room just south of St. Helena in the heart of Napa. In addition to tasting wine when you visit, of which they have a plethora, an array of foods are available. Their cheese selection in particular is quite varied. Picnic grounds are on hand and for a lot of folks this is a great lunch stop. Today I’ll take a look at current release of one of their numerous dessert wines. The V. Sattui Winery 1998 Vintage Port was produced using some of the same classic varietals used in Portugal: Tinto Cão, Souzão, and Touriga Nacional. Neutral spirits were added to the wine partway through fermentation to halt it. After that the wine was aged in small French oak barrels for 8 years. It was then bottle aged for several more years prior to being released. Less than 1,000 cases of this wine were produced and it sells directly through the winery for $46.

Boysenberry, plum and burnt sugar aromas lead the welcoming nose of this 1998 Vintage Port from V. Sattui Winery. Clove, nutmeg and cardamom spices light up the palate and support the abundant dark fruits such as black mission fig and plum. Bits of rum raisin, plum pudding spice, and a hint of sweet balsamic vinegar emerge on the finish which has fine length and persistence. This Port is delicious on it’s own but it works fantastically with strong, pungent cheeses.

What I enjoyed most about this selection is that it balances sweetness with a an inherent lightness of palate that keeps it from bogging down your senses. Some Ports and Dessert wines go over the top with either sweetness or overall weight and heft. The 1998 Vintage Port from V. Sattui Winery does neither of those. Instead it’s a well proportioned wine that makes a fantastic ending to a meal.

Sandeman - 2000 Vau Vintage Port

A couple of years ago I visited Sandeman Cellars and had the opportunity to taste many of their wines with George Sandeman himself. This was a terrific experience that shed light on them as a producer and allowed me to learn a great deal about their wines. So when the opportunity to attend a virtual tasting with George came up, I leapt at the chance. Last week in cooperation with Snooth that tasting took place. While each of the four wines I sampled was terrific in its own right, it was the 2000 Vau Vintage that really knocked me out. So here's a look at that wine and what makes it special. The Sandeman 2000 Vau Vintage is made in the same manner as a traditional Vintage Port. The varietals utilized are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franca. The Vau Vintage is made in a style intended to enjoy in its youth. This wine most often sells for around $35. Aromas of Cherry, plums, and spice fill the nose of this Port. Black and red cherry flavors dominate the palate with bits of chocolate present as well. Plum pudding and fruitcake spices are in strong evidence throughout and add depth to the impressive and layered nature of this wine. Kirsch liqueur and bits of espresso emerge on the long and lusty finish of this wine. Whether you drink this wine alongside decadent dishes or make it dessert all by itself you’re sure to be impressed by this wonderful expression of Port.

The 2000 Vau Vintage is a remarkably good value. It’s drinking phenomenally right now and while it is intended for youthful drinking it does have the structure to improve and drink well for quite awhile. The 2000 Vau Vintage from Sandeman Cellars will evolve and be an enjoyable wine to drink for the next 10 to 15 years. That said it’s hard to resist now, particularly when it’s paired with rich chocolaty dishes. So let the declared vintages rest comfortably in your cellar while you enjoy Sandeman's Vau Vintage.

Gabe's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide

The 2011 Holiday Season is here and with it comes shopping and gift giving. There are all sorts of gifts to consider but I think wines and spirits are excellent gifts for those that appreciate such things. With that in mind I decided to compile a list of some items in that category. To make my list the items below had to meet some particular criteria: 1) it has to be something I heartily recommend. 2) It needs to be a good value. 3) It should be relatively easy to locate. 4) The list should take into account peoples various budget sizes. With that in mind here are 8 offerings that the wine and spirits lovers on your gift list will be happy to receive. The Lamberti Prosecco Veneto D.O.C. was made from fruit sourced at hillside vineyards throughout Treviso. This sparkling wine was produced utilizing the Charmat Method. This wine is widely available and has a suggested retail price of $13.99. This Prosecco has an effusive nose that shows off spice and fruits. Stone and citrus fruit flavors star through the palate along with loads of tingly spices. Brioche and hints of crumbled biscotti emerge on the finish which has good length. This wine shows off hints of sweetness and is a very appealing wine. It’ll work well on its own or paired with food. It would be a particularly nice choice for a Brunch. Sparkling wine generally makes people happy. Here’s a tasty choice that makes a perfect, modestly priced gift.

The Apaltagua 2009 Envero Carménère was produced from fruit sourced in the Apalta section of Chile’s Colchagua Valley. This is an estate vineyard 60 hectares in size. The 2009 vintage is a blend of Carménère (93%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (7%). Barrel aging took place over 12 months; an additional 6 months of bottle aging followed prior to release. This wine has a suggested retail price of $16.00. This Carménère has a fresh and lively nose. It shows off red and black fruit aromas as well as hints of eucalyptus. Juicy black currant and cherry flavors lead the palate as well a host of spices. This Carménère has a solid finish that lingers with sour black fruits and continued spices. Yielding tannins and firm acidity mark the structure and make this a terrific food wine. Carménère has been making inroads with US wine lovers over the last few years. This is a grape with lots of appeal to a wide array of folks. It’s ready to please fruits, as well as the fact that it’s still a discovery grape for some make this a particularly excellent gift for the newer wine lovers on your list.

The Sandeman Founder’s Reserve Port was produced from fruit sourced in the Douro Region of Portugal. Fermentation of this wine was stopped with the addition of chilled Brandy. This Port is aged for at least 5 years prior to release. It has a suggested retail price of $19. The Founder’s reserve has a deep red color, looking most like a young Vintage Port. The aromas it gives off lean towards red fruits laced with copious spices. Cherry flavors drive the palate and lead to a wonderful compote of dark, brooding berry flavors which are joined by plum pudding spices. Warming red fruits and loads of sweet dark chocolate mark the finish, which has tremendous length for the price point. The Founder’s Reserve is a great choice to drink while your Vintage Ports are aging. For its reasonable price tag it makes an affordable gift that offers lots of flavor and quality. This is an adaptable Port that’s delicious on its own, paired with desserts or used as the base of an inventive cocktail. It’s also currently available in decorative tins, perfect for gift giving.

The Biltmore Estate 2007 Blanc de Blancs Brut was produced using méthode champenoise. This offering is 100% Chardonnay, produced from fruit sourced in the Russian River Valley. After temperature controlled fermentation at cold conditions this wine underwent a secondary fermentation in bottle and aged for approximately 24 months prior to disgorging. This wine has a suggested retail price of $24.99. Lemon Zest and hints of brioche fill the nose of this 2007 Sparkling Wine. Apple, citrus and Bartlett pear flavors are all on display throughout the palate. Hints of ginger and flaky biscuits emerge on the finish which has nice length. This is a perfectly dry wine which is particularly well suited to pair with dinner. It’s fine on it’s own but excels when matched with the right dish. This is highly recommended for those who are open to New World Sparkling Wines.

The Frescobaldi 2006 Montesodi Riserva Chianti Rufina DOCG was produced from fruit sourced at the Castello di Nipozzano Pelago home estate. This vineyard sits roughly 1,300 feet above sea level. The vines have an average age of 16 years on them. This wine is 100% Sangiovese. Fermentation took place in temperature controlled stainless steel vats over 10 days. Aging took place in Barriques over 24 months; 6 months of bottle aging followed.  The Montesodi Riserva Chianti is only made in select vintages. This wine has a suggested retail price of $52. Violet, rose petal, and dried red fruit aromas fill the nose of this Chianti Riserva. Dried fruit flavors, cherry and blueberry in particular, star throughout the palate which has impressive depth and complexity. Layers of spice emerge and lead to the finish which shows off black tea, and hints of dusty chocolate. This wine has tremendous length, awesome acidity and terrific overall structure. This is everything you would want in top shelf Chianti. It’ll drink well for at least a decade, if it’s being consumed in the short term it should be decanted for a couple of hours for best results. This is a tremendous gift for the Gourmand in your life who likes to slave over a great meal and pair it with a fabulous wine.

The Rodney Strong 2008 Alexander’s Crown Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced in a single vineyard. It was from this vineyard in 1971 that Sonoma County’s first single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was produced. This offering is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aging took place over 22 months in all French oak; 47% of the barrels were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $75. Deep, dark berry aromas, toast and vanilla fill the bold nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. The palate here is simply overrun with blackberry, black plum, raspberry and cherry flavors. Black pepper and clove spices also make their presence known. Roast espresso, sweet dark chocolate and additional spices emerge on the finish which has excellent length and remarkable depth. This is a big, bold, brash, spicy mouthful of Cabernet Sauvignon that does a tremendous job of showing off its Alexander Valley roots. While Alexander’s Crown is delicious now it’ll benefit from time in the bottle. Those with the patience to lay this down for a decade will be justly rewarded. If someone on your holiday gift list loves California Cabernet Sauvignon, you’ll have a hard time finding a more appropriate gift than this wine which is a jewel in the Rodney Strong Portfolio.

The Sandeman 30 Year old Tawny Port was aged in wooden casks. Over a period of time the fortified wine receives slow exposure to air which ages it and changes the color to the beautiful caramel typical of Tawny Ports Throughout their life the wines utilized are racked from time to time. As the name indicates the average age of the wines used to assemble this Tawny Port is 30. This Port has a suggested retail price of $99.99. Stone fruit in the form of Apricot underpinned by yellow peach lead the nose of this Port along with fruitcake spice and. Apricot flavors continue through the palate where they are dominant. Honey, hazelnut and almond characteristic are present along with white pepper spice. The impressively long finish shows off chamomile tea as well as a bit of caramel and continued spices and stone fruit flavors. This Port can certainly act as dessert all by itself. That said it works extremely well paired with food. A cheese course would be my top pick to match it with. In any case if there’s a Port lover in your life this would be a wonderful gift they will be sure to treasure.

It’s not often that I stray from the wine world here. However sometimes the mood or occasion calls for a beverage not made from grapes. Single Malt Scotch is one of the spirits that often has crossover appeal to those who like to sit and philosophize over their wines. So With that in mind here’s a look at a Single Malt that has really hit the spot for me on a number of occasions.

The Balvenie 12 Year DoubleWood is a Single Malt Scotch. During the aging process it’s moved from a traditional oak cask to a European Sherry cask. This Scotch sells for about $49.99. This Scotch has a great big nose that really develops over 15 or so minutes in the glass. Vanilla and hints of apricot are present. From the very first sip this Scotch distinguished itself by presenting lots of depth and a range of flavors. It is simultaneously fruity and spicy with a nice overall bite. The finish is above average in length and has rich, honeyed flavors and a bit of warmth in the final note. It’s apparent that the use of two types of wood for varying lengths of time really added to the complexity and finesse of this Scotch. If someone on your list is into Single Malt’s this offering from Balvenie is an excellent choice. It’s a distinct expression that stands apart from many of the 12 years Single Malts in its price range.

The selections above provide some excellent choices for gift giving this Holiday Season. I happily stand squarely behind them as good values in their respective categories as well as really tasty products that I enjoy a great deal. Happy Shopping.

Churchill's - 10 Year Tawny Port

One of the things that make Port so engaging as a topic within a topic in the wine world is the long and storied history it has. Most Port Houses have centuries of back story to look back on. However every so often a new player emerges that makes a mark. Churchill’s has been around for 30 years now and that’s actually pretty new in the world of Oporto. They have however built an impressive track record in their youth. Today I’ll look at one of their current releases. The Churchill’s 10 Year Tawny Port was produced using fruit sourced at some of their prime vineyards. The average age of the wines used is of course 10 Years as the name and style indicates. This wine which is available in 500 ml bottles has a suggested retail price of $33.

The nose of this Tawny Port combines aromas of both fresh and dried fruits such as apricots along with a fruitcake spices. The palate is absolutely strewn with apricot, nectarine, roasted hazelnut and chestnut flavors as well as continued fruitcake spice characteristics. Hints of caramel and toffee emerge on the finish which has prodigious length and depth. Pair this Tawny Port with all sorts of sweet deserts or even better a cheese course.

There are several things that most impress me about this wine. The complexity and layers of flavor from the first sip to the end of the finish are one. Another is the overall balance of this wine which is simply perfect; it’s sweet to be sure but just the right amount. Along those lines this Tawny Port has good weight but is practically lithe in the manner it dances across your tongue and gently clings to the back of your throat. This is a knockout of a Tawny Port that I highly recommend for anyone with any level of interest in this style of wine. With the Holiday Season fast approaching this wine would be a tremendous choice to serve as an impressive crescendo at the end of fabulous meal with Family and Friends.

Fonseca - 10 Year Old Tawny Port

There are many basic styles of Port. Tawny Port is one of the most accessible; both in terms of easy drinkability and range of price points. Within that I find 10 years Tawny’s are often a sweet spot in terms of quality and value they deliver. This of course varies from producer to producer. Today I’ll look at the 10 Year Tawny from legendary producer Fonseca. The Fonseca 10 Year Tawny Port was produced using fruit sourced in the classic Douro region of Portugal. This wine is assembled from various vintages and has an average age of 10 years. The aging of these wines took places in Casks prior to assembly. This wine has a suggested retail price of $39 and is currently on sale at Wine Chateau for $25.99.

The first thing that is distinct about the Fonseca 10 Year Tawny Port is its color; this wine has deeper, darker hue than is common. Aromas of toffee, toasted hazelnut and nutmeg all emerge from the nose of this wine. Mission Fig jam flavors lead the palate which shows additional nut characteristics and fruitcake spices in abundance. Vanilla crème brulee and dried raisin flavors round out the finish which has very good length and persistence.

This wine from Fonseca is a fine example of 10 Year Old Tawny Port. As noted above I find that the 10 Year Tawny’s are often where price, quality and overall value often intersect. That is definitely the case with this particular wine. If you’re a Tawny Port fan this is nice selection, if you’re new to the style this is a great jumping off point.

Visiting The House of Sandeman in Portugal

One of the many highlights of my recent trip to Portugal was visiting Sandeman Cellars in Porto. Tasting a producers wine is one thing, you can conceivably do that anywhere. But the experience is always heightened for me when I get to do it in the winery itself. When you consider that Sandeman has a history dating all the way back to 1790 it’s immediately obvious that a visit there is at least, partially a step back in time. By the same token the upkeep on the facility is staggeringly on point. The sections that could and should be modernized are, the portions that are best as they were, remain intact with care. Being in close proximity to the water and walking into Sandeman Cellars was breathtaking. The history contained in the city and even in that single facility is stunning. There’s something impressive and regal about Sandeman Cellars as an edifice even as you approach it. Perhaps it’s the Sandeman Don looking down on you, or it’s the stucco and stone work that has weathered beautifully over time. In any case it’s hard not to be swept up in the times gone by. But then you have to consider that this is very much a working facility. In earlier days the Port was vinified on site. Now it’s made elsewhere, up in the Douro, and stored in casks and barrels of varying size in Porto. Walking through the cellar I felt as if the wine angels and ghosts of Ports past were walking alongside me. I practically felt them over my shoulder when I tasted some of the wines too.

George Sandeman, who is a descendent of the founder, guided us through the facility on my visit and he was a wealth of information. The tour included a look at lots of historical Sandeman artifacts encompassing documents, classic artwork and even older bottle styles. Looking at pictures of these sorts of things is one thing, to see them inches away a whole other experience. The all-inclusive tour includes a short film that serves to fill visitors in on the history of Sandeman and their production of Port. Again watching it is one thing but doing it a few feet away from barrels full of port, a very different experience. The same can be said for tasting Port not only in Sandeman, but in the very heart and soul of Porto. This is the mother of fortified wines and to taste it in its true birthplace and natural home felt as right as enjoying a glass of wine can.

The coup de grace for me was something that admittedly not every visitor will get to experience. I want to mention it however as it left a deep impression. The group I was travelling with had the good fortune to enjoy dinner in the Sandeman boardroom. We were graciously hosted by George Sandeman and several other terrific folks who work in a variety of capacities for Sandeman. In addition to the great food, the kicker was tasting several of the ports as well as other Portuguese wines alongside dinner. I’m a firm believe that wine is really an important part of a meal, so that’s my preferred method of enjoying it. Tasting Sandeman Ports alongside Portuguese cuisine is even more effective because you get to taste the wines precisely as the winemaker might when they’re putting together blends and making decisions on what works and what doesn’t.

While I was in Porto I took the time to scope out a number of Port producers. As you’d expect there are a lot of them, many of them well worth your time. However if you only have the time to visit one producer in Porto, I believe Sandeman Cellars is a perfect choice. They have the history that will wow you, the consistency of quality that will keep you coming back vintage after vintage, and the stylistic variety to appease most every palate. Once you sample the Sanedman Ports you’ll want to procure them again back home. So it’s also important to note the wide availability of the lion’s share of their different port wines. If you like Port wine and haven’t had a Sandeman, I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. If you’re new to Port the wide berth of styles and price points available under the umbrella that is their portfolio makes them a natural place to start.

The Mixology and Adaptability of Sandeman Ports

Last Week I had the opportunity to travel to Portugal for the first time. In a handful of days I felt fully engrossed in the food, wine and culture of the country. Over the next few weeks I’ll take an occasional, and in-depth, look at a number of the experiences I had while visiting this charming and beautiful country. The wines, the food, the scenery and the people were each beautiful and welcoming in their own way. So please sit back and enjoy. When it comes to Portugal, naturally the first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, is Port. These legendary wines can last more than a generation in great vintages. But of course there are so many other iterations which are distinct from Vintage Port. From Ruby Port, to Tawny and Late Bottled Vintage the styles and variations are many. While visiting Portugal I spent a significant amount of time at Sandeman Cellars. This is one of the classic Port Houses. I'll speak more about some of the specific wines in another story. This time I want to talk about something that was a reasonably fresh idea to me; that is the use of Port Wine for cocktails. The idea wasn't entirely new to me but I hadn't spent more than a little time thinking about it before this trip. Left to my own devices wine of one style or another is usually my alcoholic beverage of choice. So the idea of cocktails that include tasty ports appeals to me greatly.

Throughout last weekend I had the chance to not only spend time thinking about it and tasting cocktails made with numerous styles of Sandeman Port, I got to do some mixing myself. In a sense it was full immersion into Port based cocktails. From lunch on my very first day in Portugal right through pre-dinner cocktails on my last night I sampled more cocktails based on Port than I had ever imagined existed, let alone tasted.

The highlight of the Port based cocktail experience, for me, occurred several hours before dinner on Saturday. Along with the other folks I was travelling with, Sandeman Cellars treated us to a couple of hours with a Mixologist. This took place in a classroom/laboratory like setting within the Sandeman facility in Porto. Our teacher so to speak was an engaging fellow named Kiko. He took us through the basics of making cocktails using three classic methods. Along the way he showed us some recipes that incorporated Port of course. And then the real fun began. Our group was broken up into teams of two. Each team was given 45 minutes to come up with an original cocktail. The only rule was that it should contain one of the Sandeman Ports at our disposal. After an initial recipe my teammate and I attempted, flopped miserably, we raced the clock with only 10 minutes left. At that point my teammate James and I decided to base ours on 10 Year Old Tawny Port. To this we added simple syrup, muddled in some nectarine and topped it with Champagne. For garnish we added a strawberry and nectarine slices. Considering our original failed experiment and the minimal time we had, I think we did OK. The judges seemed to agree as we took 2nd place for what we dubbed The Sandeman Metro.

What was most incredible to see and taste is how many divergent flavors one can get from a handful of simple ingredients. Kiko impressed upon us that most of the things in our kitchens should be considered fair game for making a drink. After having this experience I for one feel a bit invigorated. My intent is to experiment further on my own and make cocktails with Port for friends and family going forward. Additionally I feel empowered, encouraged and most of all excited to share this experience with others. I've been drinking many styles of Port for most of my Adult life, but never seriously considered the adaptability of it as a cocktail base. And as a wine lover I'm enchanted by the idea of having wine parties at my home where I served port based cocktails. In a sense it'll be a way to have the best of both worlds.

The range of possibilities is staggering, if you think about it. Port can be mixed with Fruit, spices, sodas, vegetables, hard liquor, and Champagne to name but a few. The Sandeman webpage has recipes for quite a few cocktail tailored specifically to the nuances of their Ports. Not every Ten Year Tawny or Late Bottled Vintage is created equally, so keep that in mind when trying these cocktails at home. Most of all though, after trying some of these recipes, make them your own. Twist and turn them with your own nuances, or start from scratch and come up with some that are uniquely yours. If you come up with a winner, please e-mail it to me, I'd love to try something new. One of my personal favorites is the Sandeman Royal. This blend of 20 Year Old Tawny and 12 year old Scotch epitomizes how simple some of the drinks are to make. Whether you enjoy it on its own or make a cocktail with it, drink more Port. For me Ports are amongst the greatest wines in the world, I'd love to see more folks discover them and then enjoying them regularly.

Sandeman - 20 Year Tawny Port

Tawny Port is amongst the categories of dessert wines that I reach for most often. When they’re done right, the combination of flavor and quality in an often very reasonable price point is hard to resist. Throw in the general availability of a great number of standard bearer Tawny Ports and it's easy to see why a lot of folks look towards them for their after dinner wine needs. All Tawny Ports aren’t created equally of course so I find sampling them a fascinating exercise. Today I’m going to look at an example from long time Port House Sandeman. The Sandeman 20 Year of Tawny Port was aged in wooden casks. As the name indicates the average age of the wines blended is at least 20 years. The suggested retail price for this Port is $51.99

Fruitcake spice and stone fruit aromas lead the nose of this 20 Year Tawny Port. Apricot and yellow cling peach flavors are apparent on the palate along with honey and various nut characteristics. The finish of this wine is long and lingering with tea notes leading the charge; they’re joined by vanilla and continuing spice. This Sandeman Port is delicious on its own and many may consider this to be dessert in and of itself. I sampled it that way and personally I most often drink Tawny Port on its own. However I tasted it with sweet cranberry-walnut bread topped with a triple crème cheese and found that to be an outstanding match as well.

Two things stood out to me most about this Port. First is the mid-palate of the wine which is simultaneously rich and layered with flavors but yet gentle and even keeled. The finish is also impressive in length. Just when you think it’s going to end, the flavors linger a bit longer. This Sandeman Tawny Port is an excellent entry in the 20 Year category. In its class it offers excellent quality and solid value.

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Niepoort - 2007 Vintage Port

image002Port is one of the categories of wine that seems to bewilder a lot of folks who are curious, but not particularly familiar with it. The various designations have names such as Tawny, Late Bottled, Ruby and Vintage Port to name a few. It would much more than one post to get into the variations so I’ll focus on one for today, Vintage Port. One of the things that add to the mystique of Vintage Port is that there are quite a few years without one. For a Vintage Port to exist a Port House needs to feel the quality is sufficient and declare it to be a vintage year. Beyond that, barrel and bottle aging minimums and maximums are part of the equation in what makes up a Vintage port. Today I’ll look at one that is soon to be released from Niepoort. The 2007 Niepoort Vintage Port will be released in October of 2009. Niepoort is located in the Douro region of Portugal. Varietals used in the blend of this port are Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Amarela, Sausão, Touriga Nacional and more. The vines the fruit came from have an average age between 60 and 100 years old. Aging was accomplished over a two year period in large old vats. The suggested retail price for this wine upon release will be $75.

A couple of months back I had a chance to taste wine with the Douro Boys. Dirk Niepoort is one of the Douro Boys and I found him to be to be an incredibly engaging speaker. That said I believe he's an even better winemaker. So with that in mind I was eager to taste his new Vintage Port to see how it stacked up to the previous ones I’d had the opportunity to try.

Plum and cherry notes in the nose of this Port are joined by copious spice characteristics, notably plum pudding, as well as fruitcake spice. From the very first sip continued cherry flavors are dominant. Both red and black cherry notes resonate throughout the palate of this wine along with cassis and blackberry. Midway through dark chocolate flavors kick in and carry through the finish which is significant in length, persistence and structure.

This Port is terrific now but it needs time to reach its full potential as the classic it’s destined to slowly evolve into. The 2007 Niepoort Vintage Port is an absolutely tremendous wine at the earliest stages of its life-cycle. If you’re going to drink it soon, and by soon I mean over the next 20 years or so, I strongly recommend and advocate decanting this wine for 3 or four hours. By all means check on it every hour or so to see how it’s developing, but patience will be rewarded. If you have the time and the patience this wine will improve and age gracefully over the long haul. This release is a blockbuster in terms of quality and age worthiness. Here’s hoping Dirk Niepoort keeps on releasing wines of this magnitude for a long time to come.

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Brutocao Cellars - 2006 Zinfandel Port & Their Wine Club

The 2006 Zinfandel Port closes out the week on releases from Brutucao Cellars I'm covering at this time. However, considering how impressed I am with the wines from this producer, I expect I'll cover other releases from them in the future. They're also on my short list of wineries to visit on my next trip to California. Before I get to the Zinfandel Port though I thought I'd mention a couple of things about their wine club. Every wine club has it's perks and benefits. Brutocao Cellars has one that seems unique. With a small membership fee when you join they give you a 3 liter bottle of wine. It's worth noting that age-worthy wines tend to do even better in large format bottles. Of course their wine club also includes the normal discounts and free tastings most clubs feature too. Tours at the winery are also free to members. It's my understanding that they have a pretty large and active Zin Portmembership that's growing all the time. Their wines are already reasonably priced in my opinion, add a wine club discount on top of that and you're looking at some real bargains. Check the wine-club specifics out at their web-page, which is very well laid out and informative.

The 2006 Brutocao Cellars Zinfandel Port leads with a nose full of berry and mocha notes. The moment this Port hits your lips you get sweet candied black cherry that carries on all the way through the finish. The mid palate features more berry and cherry fruit as well as some spice. The finish, which carries on for a nice long while features fruitcake notes and lingering mocha characteristics. This Zinfandel Port is smooth and silky and doesn't drink hot at all as some Zin Ports have a tendency to.

I found this wine to be a perfect match for chocolate covered cherries. But it would also go well with dark chocolate, plum pudding or a host of other desserts. The other alternative is to make this Port the dessert and let it shine on it's own. 540 cases were made and it's available in both 375 ml and 750 ml bottles at $20 or $34 respectively. A 375 ml bottle is the perfect size to share with a couple of other people.

As I've stated throughout this week, Brutocao Cellars is making well balanced, food friendly wines. This is definitely a producer whose wines I'd urge my readers to seek out.

 Coming up this week: Releases from Edna Valley Vineyards as well as Mollydooker. 

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