Taste of Portugal: Sampling Vintage Port in San Francisco
Our adventure began with a handful of port aficionados, gathered around a boardroom table at San Francisco’s luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Our mission was to taste through a half century of vintage porto. Our host, Sandeman, makers of vintage port for more than 200 years, shared with us some of its rare vintages beginning with 1955.
Comparing the color and aroma of seven vintage ports side by side was a rare treat. The 1955 port was characterized by a tawny color and a rich, deep finish. As we tasted through the 1963, we noted the pepper and truffle notes and the tawny color. The 1977 had an orangey color and red nuances tasting of cherry, nuts, and pepper. The 1980 was a deeper shade of red, tasting of red fruit, cinnamon, and other spices.
The 1997 was ruby colored with notes of wood, cacao, and black fruit. The 2007 was also ruby in color and tasted of red fruit, vanilla, and licorice. Had I tasted the 2011 first I might have thought it was ready to drink, but compared to the more mature vintages it has yet to come into its own and develop the complexity and balance that distinguishes vintage port.
After our rigorous tasting, we enjoyed a dinner of Dungeness crab cake, complemented by G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge bubbly, and chargrilled Angus beef tenderloin with winter vegetables, accompanied by Sandeman 2011 Vintage Port. It was the chocolate molten cake, however, that was a heavenly combination.
Port isn’t limited to an after-dinner drink any longer, as we discovered during our meal. The richness of the port held up well to the savory beef. Before our meal, we enjoyed port cocktails featuring an orange twist and mint garnish served on the rocks.
Port comes from Portugal’s Douro Region and is typically aged for a minimum of three years before it is ready for market. Port has been produced here since 1756. Rainy winters and long, dry, hot summers characterize the region.
Sandeman was founded by George Sandeman in 1790 and is today run by the seventh-generation of the Sandeman family. They were the first to brand their barrels of port and to advertise long before luxury brands embraced marketing. The iconic image of the Don in cape and hat sporting a glass of ruby porto, created in 1928, still adorns the bottles. In addition to the Sandeman Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal, the winery also operates a Porto Wine Museum. While you may want to go to Portugal to sample Sandeman vintage port, it can also be found at fine establishments in Europe and the United States.