November 2011

Q & A With George Sandeman

By: E. C. Gladstone

In the November issue Editor-at-Large E.C. Gladstone sat down with George Sandeman to talk about the future of Port, as well as its past and present use in cocktails, and even what type of glassware suits certain Ports. See the November issue for the story, but read the interview below!

THE TASTING PANEL: Sandeman has a remarkable family legacy, but that legacy is one of being a forward-thinking trendsetter and market leader. How do you balance the tradition of the Sandeman name with a sense of the present and future, in terms of drinkers' interests.

GEORGE SANDEMAN: As always, Sandeman is attentive to the shifting tendencies of the market and the consumers´ preferences. One good example is the ongoing initiative of "Founders on the Rocks," which we are promoting in the USA. The objective is clearly to bring Sandeman Port to consumers in a way which fits their lifestyle. It's a new way of enjoying Founders for people who are not afraid to experiment.

TTP:Is the Sandeman of today the same product it was 100 years ago?

GS:Over the last 100 years, there have been many obvious improvements in the vineyard, winemaking and quality of the Sandeman wines.  Aside from this, the natural evolution of the Port category has created a quality matrix which is much clearer to the consumer under the certification of the Port Wine Institute (IVDP). However the sprit which drove Sandeman 100 years ago continues to be the same.

TTP:Sandeman Ports are available in 55 countries: Have you found the products are enjoyed in the same ways, and have the same levels of popularity in different countries? What are the differences, and have they been instructive at all?

GS:In reality, Sandeman Port is available in over 75 countries.  Although consumers in each country have personal preferences, we find that the great influences are between the "English" preference and the "French" preference. The "English" enjoy full bodied Ruby Ports after meals, and the "French" prefer lighter Tawny Ports before. Of course in the USA, we love the fact that Founders (a full-bodied Ruby) is enjoyed on the rocks as an aperitif, and our 20 Year Old Tawny chilled, after dinner!

TTP: Other than tradition, can you explain the merits of blending so many varietals in a typical Port? I've had Port styles from single grapes that were quite interesting in their own right.

GS:The art of Port developed over 300 years of experience, and key to this has been blending. The fact that the "ancients" planted a mix of varieties in their vineyards is a testament to their knowledge that in some years one or another variety might develop better. With this, the art of blending developed to get the most out of the wines. Even today, when block planting of selected varieties is common, we still believe that the sum is better than the parts.

TTP:Founders Reserve is, on average, a year older than most comparable Ruby Portos. Does one year make that much difference?

GS:Founders Reserve does not just have more age than an average Ruby, it is a selection of higher quality wines. These reserve quality wines allow for the consistent blending of a full-bodied, deep-colored reserve Ruby Port which have a touch of age to round them out and make them more complex and interesting.

TTP:Help me understand what distinguishes a Vau Vintage from a typical Porto-and is there an easy way to explain why one Port might age better than another?

GS:Vau Vintage is a certified Vintage Port, blended from the top quality wines of a single year. The wines are chosen for their intensity, color, fruit and structure. Vau Vintage has a structure of softer integrated tannins which highlight the fruit but provide and underlying structure. The principal variety in this wine is Touriga Franca.

TTP: White Port like Porto Apitiv was very popular style in the 70s that's now long out of vogue-perhaps long enough to come back?

GS: White Ports tend to be slightly dryer and therefore popular as aperitifs. Today they are frequently served as a long drink with ice and tonic water.

TTP: Cocktails made with Port are nothing new; in fact, they're some of the oldest cocktails around, but they've fallen out of favor. Would you like to see classic Port cocktails revived, or mixologists create new ones?

GS:Sandeman has been working for a decade to revive Port cocktails. Many people had forgotten that they existed, and some of the most classic ones had ceased to be made. As Port becomes more popular as a leading ingredient in cocktails, Sandeman has promoted the revival of the traditional ones and the creation of new cocktails (these can be found on our site (

TTP: Are there any particular styles of cocktail that you think show Sandeman the best? Any classic Port cocktails you're enamored of?

GS:We have many examples of cocktails, classic and new, but sometimes simplicity works best. For the uninitiated, Founders Reserve on the rocks with in a large glass, with a slice of orange and a sprig of mint is a perfect way into the world of Port cocktails.

TTP:Which of your bottlings do you think are particularly well suited for cocktails, and which do you particularly feel should only be enjoyed neat?

GS: Although we like to make cocktails with all the Sandeman Ports, the younger, fuller-flavored ones are favored. However, our 20 Year Old Tawny makes a great cocktail we call "Sandeman Royale" (20 Year Old, a splash of Chivas 12, seriously chilled and served with a twist of orange in a martini glass)

TTP:Your website notes that Porto is best served within 8 weeks of opening. Is this a common misconception, that Porto doesn't spoil?

GS:Not everyone knows that Port is a special wine and therefore subject to evolution after the bottle is opened. We recommend that it be served within a certain time frame so that it can be enjoyed in optimum condition.

TTP:You recommend larger glasses for some of your blends-is the traditional Port service out of date?

GS: Being a wine, Port benefits from being served slightly chilled, in large glasses. This is especially important for those who enjoy the aromatic nuances of the different Ports in the Sandeman Portfolio (full bodied Founders, or delightfully complex and aromatic 20 Year Old). The idea of drinking Port out of a small glass is passé.

TTP:You bottle a larger range of styles than I think most people would expect. Do you find many are surprised by the range?

GS:Over time, Sandeman has concentrated the number of styles to make a smaller range of very high quality wines. However, Port has a wide variety of types, which is a positive surprise for those you enjoy discovering new things.

TTP:One last question: Can I still get the Sandeman sample case delivered to my door for 15 shillings?

GS: Sandeman can still deliver a sample case…but not for 15 shillings!

Need some Port cocktail inspiration? Check out these recipes featuring Sandeman!

George Sandeman
Sandeman Founders Reserve
Slice of orange
Sprig of mint
Served on the rocks in a rocks/old fashioned glass

Sandeman Founders Reserve
Slice of Orange
Served on the rocks in a rocks/old fashioned glass

Sandeman Royale

Sandeman 20 year old Tawny
A "splash" of Chivas Regal 12 or 18 y.o.
Orange twist
"Seriously chilled" and served straight up in a martini glass

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