Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A trip to the cellars at Sandemans

Last year I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the 225th birthday of Sandeman Port house in the cellar of 'The Sign of the Don' restaurant in London which used to be where they stored their barrels of ports and sherries up until the 20th century. It proved to be an extremely entertaining evening with some memorable wines - in particular trying their special edition 2000 vintage port from magnum (you can read more about this event by following this link).

You can imagine then that when I travelled to Porto last weekend (whose name lends itself to the famous Port wine) for a trip with some friends of mine who are very keen on their wine, that I was very keen for us to visit Sandeman's legendary Visitors' Centre. We were determined to use the opportunity to learn more about this wonderful wine and, of course, try a glass or two!

The Tour

The Visitors' Centre is perched resplendently on the banks of the river Douro and features a picturesque terrace area on the river front where you can sample their finest wares along side some delicious food (something we would do later). We were greeted by our host for the evening, the extremely amiable Inês, who would take us on our tour through the museum. The museum is situated in the building that the original George Sandeman bought in 1811 in order to allow him to store and age barrels of Port wine that had come down from his winery in the Duoro Valley and needed a waterfront location so that they could be easily loaded, once ready, to be shipped off to Sandeman's customers; at first England, later, the world. Nowadays the building does not have sufficient size to hold all of Sandeman's barrels of port and a lot are stored in a location in the hinterland (where presumably land prices are a lot cheaper!)

As we walked around the museum the knowledgeable Inês gave us a fascinating potted history of the Sandeman Port house. For instance, the legendary "Don" bedecked in his black hat and cloak, who is still used today to advertise their products, was the very first registered trademark. One of our group was even able to try to emulate the Don's legendary look - I'm not sure he looked quite so mysterious, however!

Sandeman produces quite a range of different Ports, something that may be a surprise to the uninitiated; their "classic range" features white ports, tawny ports and ruby ports; they produce two "reserve" ports, their Founders' Reserve and their Imperial Reserve; they have a number of aged Tawny ports (ranging from 10 years' ageing upto 40 years'; and, in the very best of years, the holy grail of Port - the Vintage Ports. It really was interesting to learn about the history of this world famous brand stood in its cellars surrounded by barrels of their products.

The Tasting

You can probably imagine that after all the talking about these delicious wines we were very keen to get into trying them out!

We started with a glass of Mateus Rosé (which is owned by the Portuguese Sogrape wine company, who also own Sandemans). A touch of bubbles sat beside the river was just what we were after. The wine featured light strawberry notes and a subtle pétillance. It is not really the most complex of wines, but was a welcome aperitif.

Next up we tried a glass of 2015 "Planalto" from Casa Ferreirinha (Douro, Portugal), which is another wine from the Sogrape portfolio. The wine features a blend of local grapes such as Malvasia, Viosinho and Codega and had a nicely aromatic nose on it that reminded me of apricot and elderflower. We had this with some local mackerel - which went down a treat.

Time for some Port now, but not how you would expect it! We tried a cocktail of theirs which featured their Founders' Reserve port and lemonade, a drink that I'd actually tried before at the aforementioned birthday party. This was like a slightly deeper and richer Sangria, but light enough that it could be sipped in the sun by a river - which was fortunate because that was exactly what we did!

For our last drink we went to the good stuff, trying a glass of Sandeman's Twenty Years Old Tawny Port. This wine was more complex with a pleasing sweetness to it and notably more tackiness in the mouth from the fortification. A lovey way to finish our tour and tasting.


As I hope you can tell from the write up, this was another lovely wine tasting and learning experience. I must say that it was really helped by Inês who was incredibly amiable and made sure that we had a great time. Thank you to her and her team for all their hospitality!

If you find yourself in Porto, I would heartily recommend arranging a tour with Sandeman - they offer a range starting from 6 Euros, depending on the quality of the wines that you want to try. Details can be found by following this link.

Disclaimer: I did not pay for this tour and visited as a guest of Sogrape. Nonetheless the opinions contained within this article are my own.


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