Sandeman V20 Tasting: Eight Decades of Vintage Port

This is the second extensive Sandeman vintage Port tasting that I have undertaken in the last four years (see entry for 13th May 2011 for a more extensive tasting with the Port Forum).  This tasting focused on younger vintages  and was organized to demonstrate the re-birth of Sandeman as a serious vintage Port house following its aquisition by Sogrape in 2002 and bolstered by the appointment of Luis Sottomayor as chief wine maker in 2007.  Under family ownership in the mid- twentieth century, Sandeman made some of the greatest Ports  (a number of which were on show here) but then standards slipped dramatically in the 1970s. This seems to be is one of the reasons for the big gap here in the 1980s.   One of the remarkable features of this tasting is the number of idiosyncratic declarations made by Sandeman including 1944, 1967 and 1968, 1978 and 1999.    

I have quoted selectively from the Sandeman booklet that accompanied the tasting which included text from the company’s archives and background information from the IVDP. 

These wines are being sold for a limited period by the glass and by the bottle at The Sign of the Don, St Swithin's Lane, London.  

Sandeman 1944 ****

Pale tawny colour; fruit fading on the nose but with a vestige of gentle creamy-milk chocolate; soft, sweet and mellifluous, still retaining freshness and a vestige of tannic grip, lovely length, sweet summer fruit finish.  Very elegant though a little bit fragile now. Drink soon. 17

Sandeman 1955 ***/****

From a hot summer which produced musts with above average sugar content which shows in the rather jammy sweetness of this wine:  mid deep garnet red to amber rim; not giving away very much on the nose initially, some ripe, heady underlying depth; quite full, sweet, ripe, slightly jammy fruit (strawberry jam) with firm tannic grip rising towards the finish, quite sweet in style with sweetness lingering on the finish. 16.5 

Sandeman 1957 **

An uneven year which was predicted to mature early: much paler than the 1955, mid-pale pinkish tawny; quite light and delicate, both on the nose and palate, fruit cake, drying out mid-palate with a delicate finish. Quite elegant. Drink up. 14

Sandeman 1963 ****

‘Quite even weather conditions allowed for a very good harvest, which destined 1963 to be an exceptioal year’:  good colour though not especially deep for a 1963, brick red with a youthful pink rim; ripe and plummy on the nose with plenty still to give, full and still voluptuous in style with cassis and plain chocolate depth mid-palate, magnificently fresh with raspberryish acidity and strawberry fruit towards the finish. Seamless. Finishes beautifully. 18    

Sandeman 1966 ***/****

‘Grapes with a high sugar level, some of them burned’ according to IVDP records:   paler than the 1963, brick red with a pink rim; barley sugar nose, ripe with a touch of menthol; still quite solid with fresh, spicy fruit backed by firm tannins, minty ripeness,  hint of boiled sweets but quite impressive if a bit more foursquare than the 1963 16.5. 

Sandeman 1967****     

‘The  weather conditions were unstable but globally the wines were judged  to have more colour and quality than the 1966s’ which is born out by my note: deeper and more youthful is appearance than the ’66, mid-deep brick red, ripe berry fruit remaining on the nose, still youthful with god structure and intensity. Very focused with ripe peppery tannins and bitter-sweet length. An impressive wine for 1967. 17.5. 

Sandeman 1968 ***

Brick-red centre, tawny rim; slightly heady and overbalanced on the nose, ripe  sweet and mellifluous on the palate but slightly lacking in focus, still quite opulent with firm  integrated tannins  and a ripe finish. I haven’t tasted many 1968s and this wine is impressive for a generally undeclared year. 16   

Sandeman 1970 **/*** 

‘…the Sandeman 1970 has not in fact turned out to be quite the classic vintage that was expected….’: mid-pale brick red to tawny; rather hot, baked and heady on the nose, though stops short of being stewed, heat of the vintage very evident; soft and sweet, creamy fruit, slightly toasted, lacking the focus of the vintages from the 1960s. Standing up well though far from being one of my favourite 1970s. The wine showed much better last time.  14.5

Sandeman 1975 */**

‘Picking took place under ideal conditions. However 1975 turned out to be a light year…. not a wine to lay down.’  Made at the height of the Revolution in Portugal: now pale in colour; hollow on the nose with a pronounced roasted quality to the fruit both on the nose and palate, drying up but not that fragile, still retaining some sweetness on the finish. Some bottle variation here. 11 

Sandeman 1977 ***

More depth of colour than the ’75, as you would expect (but not that much); smells and tastes fresh though on the light side with seemingly rather dry, lean tannins mid palate which build onto the finish. Some lovely purity of fruit remaining on the finish .  Drink now and over the next ten years. 15 

Sandeman 1978

‘One pipe made for the birth of Christopher Sandeman (eighth generation)’… ‘a long hot summer resulted in some good wines’ according to the IVDP: so much deeper in colour than the 1977, deep and positively youthful; strangely unyielding on the nose with an underlying casky, mustiness (apparently a number of bottles were badly faulty); very fresh and peppery for a wine of this age, can this really be a 1978? This is still young and spicy with cherry fruit but rather over-extracted. An odd ball, thoroughly out of sync. No mark.   

Sandeman 1980 **

The late David Sandeman wrote ‘owing to its wealth of colour and fruit, together with its roundness in the mouth and its impressive finish, Sandeman 1980 promises to be a wine of considerable character when mature.’ This is the year that Sandeman was taken over by Seagram:  mid-deep and still youthful in hue; hollow on the nose, retaining some firm peppery fruit on the palate. Still quite fresh, balanced and youthful but without much grace or finesse.  Medium weight. Drink now and over the next decade. 14

Sandeman 1982 *

‘The Sandeman 1982 will be long remembered for its remarkable depth of colour and its concentrated grapey nose. This firm, robust wine is reminiscent of the 1966…’ according to the late David Sandeman. This wine does not quite live up to his billing:   quite pale in colour, washed out alongside its peers; ditto on the nose. Hollow. Simple and stewed on the palate, retaining some structure and depth but not much freshness.  Drink soon. 12.

Sandeman 1994 **/***

Mid-deep youthful colour; stewed fruit on the nose, a bit soupy, lacking freshness and focus; sweet and heady with ripe, tannic bitter chocolate intensity and depth, quite plump but a bit coarse and lacking in freshness and verve.  Drink now and over the next 15 years. 14.5

Sandeman 1997 ***

Very deep and youthful in colour; closed and dense on the nose with underlying depth and intensity; sweet and fleshy, still vigorous and youthful with tight-knit peppery intensity and a ripe, dense bitter-sweet minty finish. Shows promise. Better in 5 years.  16

Sandeman 1999 **/*** 

An idiosyncratic declaration: a good, deep youthful colour; closed and a bit pruney on the nose; ripe and dense with rather pruney fruit and dusty-spicy tannins. Still a bit unyielding and may yet settle down. Reserve judgement. 14.5+?

Sandeman 2000 ***/****

Deep and opaque; open, fragant violets and cassis on the nose, lovely and totally different in style form the 1999 and 1997; soft, sweet and opulent with minty ripeness and fine, sinewy tannins. I suspect this is not a long keeper. Lovely now and over the next ten – fifteen  years. 16.5

Sandeman 2003 ****

The first vintage deliberately made in a more ‘robust’ style: deep and opaque with the heat of the vintage evident on the nose, still has much more to give; ripe and voluptuous with a solid tannic backbone running all the way down the middle and a broad peacocks tail of a finish. This wine has tomates as the Portuguese would say and needs time to develop, I would give it another ten years in bottle at least! 17.5

Sandeman 2007 ****

Deep, dark and inky in colour; dense, closed in and giving very little away on the nose; big and ripe, especially for the 2007 vintage with broad ripe, dusty tannins, big and rich with a solid, tight knit finish. Atypical of the vintage but very impressive. 17 +? 

Sandeman 2011 ****

Very deep, dark and opaque; still open and raw, succulent, freshly crushed, ripe blueberry and blackcurrant fruit; big, bold and voluptuous with massive structure and powerful ripe spicy tannins. Quite macho yet still a mere babe which needs time to develop and come together but this should be very impressive in 20-30 years.  17+? 


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