Sunday, March 6, 2011

Portugal Part 4: A Visit to Sandeman & Vini Portugal

I thought Port was a sweet fortified wine you drank after dinner. Port was Port. But boy, was I wrong. It turns out there are many kinds of port—Ruby, Tawny, Vintage and the Special Vintage Reserve. There’s Pink and White and LBV and Colheita and Crusted and Single Quinta Vintages. Also 10, 20, 30, and 40 year vintages. But not all aged Port is from the same year, it can be any combination of years that add up to 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. It’s like the sudoku of winemaking.

Port seems way more complicated than needs be, so forget trying to sort it all out in the beginning and just start tasting. But don’t be surprised if after trying many styles, you become intrigued and desire more in-depth information. Then Oporto (aka Porto) is the place to go. Actually, Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river, is the place. All the major Port caves and cellars are here including Calem, Kopke, Cockburn, Offley, Croft, Rozes, Taylors, Graham and of course Sandeman.


Even if you don’t know Sandeman Port you certainly have seen their branding with the iconic image of the caped man. Throughout our tour of the cellars we were shadowed by a woman in the hat and cape, a living logo that added to the drama of the tasting.

But by far the most dramatic moment of the Sandeman tour came in the Sandeman cellar when one of the Hollywood TV hosts from our group asked the winemaker to pour a barrel sample from the thief, directly into her mouth, creating an improvised Port shower. Well, Sandeman is a classy place, so you can imagine the gaping jaws when this occurred. Highly unusual behavior in such a hallowed and august Port house. Yes indeedy it was quite the scene…I only wish I had some pictures to share!! (Um hello @aneeshb or @terencecarter ... please send photos. I will post and link to your page.) Not something you see everyday, or ever for that matter.
UPDATE: This just in! Here is a photo!

After the cellar tour we were served two types of Port cocktails. The Sandeman Founder on the Rocks made with Founders Reserve Porto over ice and the Sandeman Royal prepared with Sandeman’s 20 Years Tawny Porto and Scotch Whisky. It was the first of many Port cocktails I would have in Portugal and they became an evening ritual for the remainder of the trip.

At dinner I was seated at George Sandeman’s table and I later heard that George personally chose who would sit at his table after looking at everyone’s blog. So that was nice to hear. I guess he took a peek at my blog on a good week!
The dinner was exceptional, especially the Sea Bass entree that was baked encrusted in salt, and arrived on a platter looking like it was ready for a Saveur photo shoot . The sea bass paired perfectly with the 2009 Quinta de Azvedo Vinho Verde. We also enjoyed the Sandeman 20 year Tawny with an apple and roqufort salad; the 2000 Sandeman Vau Vintage Porto with chocolate mousse; and with coffee, the Sandeman 40 year old Tawny. I loved the richness of the 40 year tawny.

George proved to be a witty conversationalist and it was a pleasure to be seated at his table. He also gave us a quick lesson in the nuance of Port, when the 20 year Port was served. We all tasted it and then George declared it was not exactly as it should be, that it was "flat"--immediately all the glasses were removed and a new bottle poured. I honestly don't know what he detected in the first bottle, but I did notice a difference in the second pour. It definitely tasted more lively, the flavors more pronounced and defined than the first.

It’s always great to be able to experience something like that even if it is not intentional. I learned a lot from that episode and was able to tune in to the differences in Port much better after that accidental object lesson. Like I said at the beginning, there is a lot more to Port than you might think, and spending time learning all about it from the experts is the best way to move from being a Port drinker to Port lover.

Vini Portugal
Of course there is more than Port in Porto and if you want to learn more about all the incredible table wines being produced in Portugal head over to Vini Portugal. Vini Portugal is a trade organization promoting wine production and producers in Portugal. You can learn about the different regions and try the wines of the day in their stylish tasting room in the historic stock exchange building near the river.
Miguel Nora, Sr. Manager for Vini Portugal hosted us afterwards at Restaurante O Comercial located in the Palácio da Bolsa - the stock exchange building in Oporto. I almost foolishly missed out on this event because I was feeling under the weather, but I'm glad I attended.

A stylish version of traditional bacalhau

It was a great opportunity to drink some wonderful Portuguese wines paired with traditional Portugese cuisine. And I got to check out the world’s most trippy writstwatch on Miguel’s wrist. I was convinced he could control the thermostat of his home or office and launch small missiles with it, it but he insisted it only told the time, albeit in a very stylish manner.

View from guest room at the Yeatman Hotel

We stayed at the magnificent Yeatman Hotel the night we visited Sandeman, and after a full day of touring three Quintas in the Minho, I was a bit exhausted by the time we got there. But it was such a brief visit I went back after the blogger trip to experience it again. I'll tell you more about The Yeatman in a separate post. But for now, here's a quick room tour featuring another drive-thru window!

Visiting the Port cellars without a trip to the growing region in the Douro, would be like visiting a museum of flight and aeronautics, but never flying in an airplane. You miss a huge part of the experience if you don’t go to the Douro. I’ll show you why in the next posts.


  1. You can view a photo of the famous Hollywood happening on the Wine Pleasures Flickr page at

  2. WInePleasures--Great photo! Thanks. I've added the link above.

  3. What an incredible day Marcy! Especially the dinner with Sandeman! Thank you for sharing it with us with words and images! And I agree after visiting Portugal in 2009--there is so much more to Port than most Americans can imagine. (And next time I get to Portugal, I am going to the Douro for sure!)

  4. WinePreadator-- Thanks Gwen! The Douro is a must. It was a great trip. I know these posts are kinda of long, but so much to cover and I still have four more posts to go to cover it all. But I really did become a Port aficionado after 21 days in Portugal!



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