Sandeman Vertical (1873 – 1997)

As soon as I stepped from Piccadilly into the lobby of the RAF Club I smelt the quality of the Port. This tasting of 26 wines spanning over a century was put together by members of the Port Forum who had been decanting the wines all afternoon. The most striking aspect of the tasting is the strong family resemblance of the wines through most of the twentieth century, at least up to 1970. George Sandeman, who attended the tasting, attributes this to the company buying in wines from the same farmers in the Rio Torto up until the end of the 1960s when they dismissed a large number of long-term growers. These wines impress with their restraint, elegance, gentleness and purity (words that appear regularly in my tasting notes) rather than their size and power. From 1970 onwards there is a sea-change in the style and character of the wines in common with a number of Port shippers belonging to multi-national companies at the time. It certainly illustrates the power of the accountant who took control of so many Port houses in the 1970s and 1980s. Sandeman, like Croft, Cockburn and Delaforce, lost their reputation for Vintage Port during this period and from this tasting it is easy to see why. Thereafter Sandeman had a quirky declaration policy with a wine called Vau vintage. Named after their principal estate (but not all from it) this was a vintage Port made to drink young and up to ten years in age. Sandeman’s vintage Ports have really only come back to classic form with the 2007 vintage (see relevant notes on this website). 

I am very grateful to the members of the Port Forum, especially to Axel Probst and Alex Bridgeman, for inviting me to this outstanding tasting of Sandeman Vintage Ports. The Ports are presented in the order they were tasted as follows:  

Sandeman 1873 *****

Lovely pale amber tawny colour; gentle, scented, still fresh, with more fruit coming out with time in the glass, still quite rich and aromatic, caramelised oranges; creamy intensity, sweet, soft rich and smooth with the merest vestige of tannin remaining. Lovely length, in no way dry, with a tawny marmalade character on the finish. An amazing wine made at the height of phylloxera when yields must have been very low. Difficult to score but it deserves 19  

Sandeman 1904 

Pinkish brick-red colour, still looking quite fresh but badly corked. Not tasted. No mark.

Sandeman 1911 ***

Very pale amber colour, quite brown on the rim; lifted, high-toned with an unusual autumnal scent of decaying flowers (jasmine), not without charm; very sweet, almost unctuous, intense sweetness and not much else, showing a dusting of tannin on the finish. Unbalanced. 16

Sandeman 1927 ****

Mid amber-tawny; not all that attractive on the nose, slightly dusty (not a bad sign) but stewed (unusual for a 1927) but still quite rich, sweet with some stuffing and a hint of dark chocolate concentration, lovely firm spicy length, not the finest 1927 but still very good. 17.5

Sandeman 1934 ****

Mid-deep centre, browning rim; not giving away a great deal on the nose, slightly dusty (a good sign) with a touch of rancio; firm, quite tight knit with lovely rich spicy-peppery focus and some fine pure berry fruit on the finish. 18

Sandeman 1935 *****

Lovely colour, still very youthful in appearance, garnet centre, thin browning rim; beautiful aroma, tight-knit scented fruit, still amazingly youthful, lovely, probably with more to give; rich, dark chocolate and liquorice flavours, good purity of fruit, fine, ripe broad tannins and a long broad finish Very fine indeed. My second favourite wine of the tasting. 19

Sandeman 1943 *** / ****

Pale amber-tawny; dry, dusty nose; slightly hollow after the 35, touch of burnt sugar; again quite rich in style, perhaps more so on the palate than on the nose, lovely bitter-sweet depth and concentration, well developed wine from an unusual declaration. 16.5

Sandeman 1945 **** / *****

Quite light in colour retaining a youthful hue with a broad, browning rim; 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. To drink now but with some way still to go. 18.5

Sandeman 1947 ****

Very good colour, deeper than the ’45; attractive restrained aromas with lovely berry fruit underlying; rich, sweet and quite full, bitter-sweet berry fruit, still fresh and youthful with purity on the finish 17.5 

Sandeman 1948 *****

Another wine with a good youthful hue; lovely pure, tight-knit fruit on the nose and palate, firm bitter-sweet flavours, still quite powerful, more so than the ’47 with grip and a long fresh, firm finish. Very impressive. This was voted the favourite wine of the evening by members of the Port Forum although I put it n third place after the 1935 and 1955. 19

Sandeman 1950 **** / *****

Still very youthful in appearance, mid-deep garnet with a thin pink-brown rim; lovely, fresh scented aromas, seemingly with more still to give, bitter chocolate fruit underlying; rich, bitter-sweet, youthful cherry fruit, fine and intense, long and lovely. 18.5

Sandeman 1955 *****

Still very youthful, amazingly so, mid-deep ruby just turning on the rim; lovely pure, fresh berry fruit aromas, elegant, quite restrained but intense; rich and focused on the palate, quite big for Sandeman, tight knit with dark chocolate depth, long full and very fine, amazingly fresh for a wine that is 56 years old! This was my favourite wine in the entire tasting and was voted number two by members of the Port Forum. 19.5  

Sandeman 1958 ** / ***

Mid-deep colour, browning on the rim; rather flat and oxidised on the nose, showing its age; soft, sweet and rather lacking in freshness with some grip and depth underlying but lacking in vivacity and focus with a slightly soupy finish. Possibly a poor example. 14.5

Sandeman 1960  ***

Still youthful in hue but rather cloudy; soft, loose-knit and rather soupy on the nose; still quite fresh but lacking focus, some minty fruit remaining with tannic grip rising on the finish which redeems it.  15.5

Sandeman 1963 ****

Not very deep but with a good bright, youthful colour; not giving away all that much on the nose, still young and restrained with underlying dark chocolate fruit; firm, quite dry in style and tight-knit on the palate, bitter sweet with now characteristic purity of fruit, long and fresh with plenty of life remaining. This was voted the third favourite wine of the tasting. 18  

Sandeman 1965 ****

Still quite youthful in colour, browning on the rim, lovely rich, open aromas soft and fleshy initially, full still quite youthful with firm tannic grip rising in the mouth, well defined, with firm, fresh, grippy finish. A rare example of a 1965. 17

Sandeman 1966 **** / *****

Good youthful ruby-pink hue; still closed, underlying tight-knit fruit, firm, foursquare but developing very well, lovely gentle, firm berry fruit, still amazingly young and fresh, very elegant, long and lovely. This wine will last for a lifetime or more. 18.5    

Sandeman 1967 ****

Even deeper and more youthful in appearance than the ’66; still closed on the nose with more to give; lovely richness and depth, quite fleshy and mouth-filling, big and broad, a lovely wine and almost certainly the best 1967 that I have tasted. 18

Sandeman 1970 ***

Quite pale for a 1970, broad browning rim; hollow on the nose, not very expressive and lacking underlying power; sweet, quite soft but lacking the power and depth characteristic of the 1970s, some lovely pure berry fruit, elegant mid-palate but lean and pinched on the finish. Just a three star wine in the context of this great vintage. 15.5

Sandeman 1975 ***

Pale pink-red, just turning on the rim; hollow on the nose, correct but attenuated; soft, fully mature, retaining fresh fruit and grip, dryish quite good for the vintage so deserves some credit. 15  

Sandeman 1977

Mid-pale colour, slightly muddy with a thin pink rim; musty on the nose, corky?, some fresh fruit underlying, corked on the palate but some grip evident. Huge declaration: 10,000 cases. No mark for this wine but it has shown much better in the past..

Sandeman 1980 **

Good colour, slightly youthful, mid-deep with a pink rim; ugly nose, woolly, touch of wet dog, unlikely at this stage to be just a phase in its development; sweet, still sappy and quite fresh on the palate, firm but rather lean and one dimensional on the finish. Weak. Drink soon. 13.5

Sandeman 1982 * / **

Quite pale, brick red, broad, browning rim; Hollow on the nose, soft sweet and simple, now smooth, one dimensional, some dry tannic grip towards the finish but flat and drying out. Drink soon. 12.5

Sandeman 1985 *

Mid-deep ruby colour, browning rim; again hollow but lifted (VA), slightly roasted; light on the palate, distinctly edgy, some fruit evident but disjointed and short. Going nowhere. 11

Sandeman 1994 ***? 

Good, deep opaque colour, thin purple rim; rich, ripe, quite hot on the nose, stewed fruit, soft, broad but in an ungainly phase. Gritty tannins. May come round.  15

Sandeman 1997 *** +?

Very deep opaque colour, crimson rim; closed, tight-knit with lovely pure fruit underlying, soft, ripe and minty, still raw but has potential. Jammy finish. 16 

Location: RAF Club, London SW1

Scoring

19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)

17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)

15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)

13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)

10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)

8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)

Below 8 Faulty