There are few more iconic images in the world of wine than the 'Don', the logo created for the Sandeman family in 1928 by George Massiot Brown. The cape was modelled on the attire worn by university students in Porto, while the wide-brimmed hat was a nod to the family's presence in Jerez.
Today, the wines are becoming every bit as famous as the image of the Don. This hasn't always been the case, but since the Guedes family bought Sandeman from Seagram in 2002, the major investment that has taken place in the vineyards and the winemaking has seen them rise to the top of the tree in Port. The production of Port – especially Tawny – requires patience and a long-term vision, something which explains why families like the Guedes and the Symingtons are the major players in the Port business today.
The Sandeman winery, built in 2007 with significant investment from the Guedes family, is based at the breathtakingly beautiful Quinta do Seixo, situated on the south bank of the Douro at Cima-Corgo. The winery is perched on top of the hill that is garlanded by terrace after terrace of vineyard. Quinta do Seixo covers 42 hectares, planted primarily with Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional. The wines reflect this sustained investment and the skill of winemaker Luís Sottomayor, who joined the company in 1989 and took responsibility for winemaking in the Douro in 2003. Gradually and modestly, he has transformed the fortunes of Sandeman and Casa Ferreirinha.
We judge a house on the quality of its Late Bottled Vintage, a test Sandeman passes with flying colours. Their 2014 LBV was fermented at Seixo, partly foot-trodden in open lagars and partly in stainless steel. In the spring of 2014, it was shipped to Sandeman's cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, where it was aged for four years prior to being bottled unfiltered. A blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional, it is one of the best LBVs on the market. While ready to drink now, it will also age well for at least another five years.
In Portugal, a Port house is judged on its Tawny Ports, an area in which Sandeman excels, largely as it has always held some of the highest levels of stock of aged Ports of any of the major houses. All are fermented in the Douro and then transported to Vila Nova de Gaia in the spring following the harvest. They are aged in the cellars' serried ranks of old oak casks. The 10 Year Old Tawny, a blend of wines between nine and 12 years old, has lovely freshness and a hint of nuts and liquorice on the nose that gives way to rich, mellow fruit on the palate. The 20 Year Old is a blend of wines between 15 and 40 years old. It is more garnet in colour, with greater complexity and rich, supple fruit on the palate, finishing dry. It is wonderful for sipping, with cheese, chocolate or on its own. Moving up the scale towards ever greater complexity, the 30 Year Old is made from a blend of wines between 25 and 40 years old. The colour is more amber, the intensity remarkable and its sprightliness amazing given how long it has spent ageing in Sandeman's cellars. All the Tawny Ports are best served chilled, between 12 and 16˚C, in proper wine glasses – the Riedel Sangiovese glass is ideal.