Last week I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to celebrate the 225th birthday of when of the world's most recognisable drinks brands, Sandeman Port, and what an evening it turned out to be.
The event was held in the cellar of "The Sign of the Don" a restaurant and wine bar located right in the heart of the city, which up until the 20th century was used by Sandemans to store port wines and sherries imported from Portugal and Spain respectively.
The event was well attended by the great and the good from the drinks industry (and me...) and started with a cocktail reception featuring two lovely twists on traditional port drinks. Firstly I tried a white port and tonic that I likened to a fresh G'n'T, it had a nice acidic tang to it and reminded me of the charm of white port, a drink I have not experimented nearly enough with. After this I had a cocktail which featured Founders Reserve Port served with lemonade, slices of orange and raspberries. This was reminscient of a sangria-style drink and had a pleasing sweetness to it.
After a little mingling over cocktails, we were treated to a speech by George Sandeman, a seventh generation descendant from the original George Sandeman who founded the company in 1790 (hence 2015 being the company's 225th birthday!). Present-day George Sandeman, took us through a potted history of the Sandeman family and the company, and spoke with an obvious pride and passion at the achievements of his family. Sandeman, like so many drinks businesses today, is no longer entirely owned by the family that founded it, but it was very pleasing to see that a family member is still heavily involved in the running of the business.
After the speech we took part in a tasting of three wines from the Sandeman collection, all served with delicious accompanying morsels.
We started with a 2013 Sandeman Quinta do Seixo, which was served with Foie Gras and Pistachio Terrine on Brioche and Ravioli of Scottish Lobster, Basil and Asparagus. The wine features grapes from a special vineyard in the Cima Corgo sub-region within the Porto region. This was a very young wine and I was amazed by how expressive it already was. On the nose it had a sweet cherry aroma along with secondary notes of sandalwood. When tasted it was plummy and juicy with a very decent body. It was very smooth and had surprisingly gentle tannic profile. The finish was pronounced and characterised by a nice balance. This was a clever selection I thought, as it reminded us that port is not always something that you need to wait until it is 20 - 30 years old; it actually makes for a very pleasant drink in its infancy as well as its maturity.
Next up was the Sandemans 20 Years Old Tawny, which was served with Seared Escalopes of Venison and Fig Compote and Regstone Goats' Cheese and Vanilla Creme Brulee. I was surprised as the nose of this wine had an aroma that reminded me of an Olorosso sherry; as I let it sit in the glass for a bit this gradually subsided and was replaced by a damson flavour. It was served slightly chilled, which was an excellent idea; on tasting it was very fresh (helped by the slight chill) and had a profile of stewed plums. I like this wine, but must say that I preferred the 2013.
To finish we were treated to a very special wine, the Sandeman 2000 Vintage Port served from Jereboams (3L bottles - modelled by some handsome devil on the right...), which was accompanied by a birthday cake presented with great flourish by a man dressed up in a Hat and Cape (the very famous logo for the company). The wine was stunning; markedly more complex than the previous two, it had a deep, rich, heady aroma with cherry, chocolate and rose. On the palate it was more serious and grown-up, with a deep and expressive profile. It had more weight and body to it, with almost a burn to it. This wine is just entering its drinking window and I would be very keen to see how it developed over the next few years - particularly in the larger bottle formats which always age more slowly than smaller bottles.
This wine was part of a special series of Vintage Ports from 2000 released to celebrate the 225th birthday of Sandeman (see photo to the left). The six bottles are all named after aspects of the Sandeman brand and story, the bottle that we tried was called "The Hat and Cape". If you are looking for a present for that very special wine lover in your life than you can buy all six in a presentation case from Slurp for £499.
I must thank everyone involved in Sandeman and those who organised this wonderful evening - it was a wonderful celebration of the wines and history from a truly legendary company. Here's to the next 225 years!
Disclaimer: I was invited as a guest to this event and did not pay for my drinks or food. The opinions that are contained within this article are my own.