November 2011

Sandeman in the Mix

By: E. C. Gladstone

How many wine brands can you name with a history that dates back over 200 years of uninterrupted family leadership? Not many, probably. And of those, how many can you think of with a legacy of branding innovation and some of the most iconic marketing images of the 20th century? It’s a short list, and among the few is one special brand, Sandeman.

  Scotsman George Sandeman began exporting port and sherry from the Iberian Peninsula in 1790 from his base in London. Sandeman became one of the first companies to brand its casks, label its bottles and promote wines by trademarked name (rather than origin). That mark became even more unforgettable in 1928, when “The Don,” the enigmatic Spanish caballero figure, started gracing Sandeman’s bottles and ads.

Of course, none of the marketing and history would matter if the product behind the brand didn’t reflect a trans-generational dedication to quality. Today, Sandeman bottles several different styles of port, including the rich, ruby Founders Reserve, vanilla/dried fruit vintage Tawny , intense, plummy Vau Vintage and even floral, nutty white Porto Apitiv, a once popular style that deserves reconsideration for use as an aperitif.

Sandeman on the rocks with mint: simple, slightly-sweet cocktail perfection.

“As tastes and habits change, people are learning to experiment,” says the current Chairman of the House of Sandeman, also named George Sandeman (the seventh with that name). “Porto has great versatility,” he tells THE TASTING PANEL. “I particularly like Founders Reserve on the rocks.”

Shocking? While the thought of using port in a cocktail may seem radical, history—as students of mixology know—says different. The fact of the matter is, port was one of the very first spirits in the early bartender’s artillery. Such classics as the Smash, Cobbler and Sangaree were often made with port, even by legendary Professor Jerry Thomas himself, godfather of all mixologists. And why not? Port’s natural sweetness blends well with citrus and many bitters, making it possible to blend without losing the core profile.

“Sandeman has been working for a decade to revive port cocktails,” George tells us. “Many people had forgotten that they existed and some of the most classic ones had ceased to be made.”

But which Sandeman port to mix? “The younger, fuller flavored ones are favored,” the Chairman advises. “However, our 20 Year Old Tawny makes a great cocktail we call Sandeman Royale. Also, white ports are frequently served today as a long drink with ice and tonic water. Sometimes, simplicity works best.”

George Sandeman is not only unafraid of finding new approaches to his ports, he actively encourages it. Even straight, Sandeman ports should be sipped slightly chilled from a Bordeaux glass, he says. “The idea of drinking port out of a small glass is passé.”

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