Sandeman Vintage Port 1945, Douro Valley, Portugal
a legend because…
With its brilliantly memorable logo of a don in a wide-brimmed hat and cape, Sandeman has long been one of the drinks industry’s most recognised brands. Quality has not always matched the dashing image, yet there were some magnificent wines produced in the first half of the 20th century. Sandeman certainly triumphed in 1945. Well-stored bottles remain vibrant and drinkable to this day.
Shipping its wines to Britain since 1790, Sandeman was family-owned until 1980 when it was acquired by Seagram, and since 2001 it has been owned by Portugal’s Sogrape. The 1960s to 1980s were a tricky period, probably because of excessive production and a loss of contracts with some exceptional quintas. However, in the 1940s and as recently as 1963 some exceptional wines were produced. Recent vintages such as 2011 and 2016 show a welcome return to form. Earlier this year George Sandeman recalled: ‘The 1945 vintage has a special place in my heart. It was the vintage my father contributed to the Factory House when he joined.’
The growing season was outstanding, and although the second half of August was cool and wet, hot weather returned in time for harvest, which Sandeman began on 10 September. The grapes were small and thick-skinned. The second week of September was torrid, and Sandeman recorded slow fermentations, delivering deeply coloured and rich wines of very high quality and immense concentration.
As with most vintage Ports, the grapes are sourced from company-owned vineyards as well as other quintas with which the firm has long-term contracts. Sandeman generally acquires fruit from vineyards around Pinhão and in the Rio Torto area.
The just-picked bunches were foot-trodden in traditional lagares (shallow stone troughs), ensuring a thorough and relatively swift extraction of colour, tannin and flavour. The fermenting must was run off the skins and fortified with grape spirit, to arrest the fermentation. The wine then rested for a month or so before being racked into storage tanks and subsequently transported to Oporto for ageing in casks, known as pipes, for up to two years – vintage Port is intended to be aged in bottle. As was common at that time, some of the wines were bottled in Oporto, while others were shipped in cask to British importers to be bottled in their cellars. There is usually no significant difference in quality between the two sources.
In 1990 James Suckling exclaimed: ‘It can’t get much more enjoyable than this... Full-bodied, with very focused, sweet fruit flavours, great concentration and a silky mouthfeel.’ In 2000, Michael Broadbent commented on an Oportobottled example: ‘Protruding cork and level into neck: fairly pale but lovely colour; sweet and equally lovely bouquet and flavour.’ In 2002, Serena Sutcliffe wrote: ‘A real smell of smoky roses. Amazing power and punch on the middle palate and finish, great fruit and impact. So frank and foursquare. The greatest Sandeman with the heavenly 1912.’
Richard Mayson described the wine in 2011 as: ‘Ripe yet restrained and gentle on the nose, touch of dark chocolate; rich, ripe, tight-knit, bitter-sweet fruit, very fine, firm and still very fresh with lovely length and depth.’ And Austrian wine critic Peter Moser tasted the wine in 2014: ‘Very restrained in aroma and still needs a lot of time to reveal itself. Subtle red-berry nuances... immense sweetness on the palate, which has liquorice and spice notes and hints of dried orangepeel. Fine and well-handled length.’