Sandeman Releases A Stunning 50 YO Tawny Port
Age-dated Tawny Ports currently come in decadal designations of 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, and 40 years. However, last year, the Douro and Port Wine Institute (IVDP) approved 50-year-old Tawny Port as its latest age-specific category. As a result, several Port houses have now released a 50-year-old Tawny Port. Most notably, Sandeman, one of Portugal’s oldest Port producers. Recently, I sat down with George Sandeman, an old friend, to talk (and taste) Sandeman’s 50-year-old Tawny Port.
The decadal designation of extra-old Tawny Ports is relatively new. The IVDP, the regulatory agency of the Port industry, only approved 30-year-old Tawny Ports as an official category in the 1990s and 40-year-old Tawny Ports about two decades ago.
Tawny Ports are Port wines that have been entirely matured in wood. Unlike vintage Ports, they are bottled when ready to drink. After bottling, they are not expected to change much, although they may vary a bit. These aged Tawny Ports are different from vintage ones, otherwise known as Colheitas, that show the specific year they were vinified.
This is not Sandeman’s first 50-year-old Tawny Port release. In 2015, to commemorate the 225th anniversary of its founding, Sandeman released Cask 33, a single barrel of 50-year-old Tawny Port selected from a lot of 40 casks by Sandeman’s head winemaker Luis Sottomayor. The cask had been maturing in Sandeman’s Largo Miguel Bombarda cellars in Villa Nova de Gaia for half a century.
This current expression, however, is the inaugural release of what will be a permanent edition to Sandeman’s Tawny Port core range.
JM: Tawny ports are typically bottled as 10, 20, 30, or 40-year-olds. What percentage of Tawny Ports are aged for more than 40 years?
GS: Tawny Ports aged more than 40 years are a small percentage, and at Sandeman, we have just enough to produce our current range of aged tawnies – including our new 50 YO – and some specialty or rare offerings.
JM: Tawny Ports are typically aged in neutral wood. What influences is the cask wood imparting to the Tawny Port?
GS: Sandeman Old Tawnies are well-adapted to aging in oak casks. Neutrality is crucial so the wood does not interfere with the aromatic component of the wines and provides a slow and harmonious oxidation process.
JM: Is there a practical limit to how long a Tawny Port can be aged? Over the years, I’ve tasted Tawny Ports that were over 100 years old. Are these the result of lucky barrels? What conditions are necessary to age a Tawny Port to such lengths?
GS: The base wine must show the necessary characteristics to age well in casks – good structure, acidity, and an aromatic profile with character and personality. However, it must be closely monitored both in terms of analysis and tastings, mainly the latter, to ensure these characteristics are kept and remain consistent with our standards.
Besides this, climate conditions in the cellars are fundamental – constant temperatures (~16°C, 61°F) and moderately high humidity are incredibly necessary. So, in a way, it’s a nice balance of luck and the art of aging Port – something Sandeman knows a lot about! It’s what makes our Port so spectacular.
JM: These days, Ports are more fruit-forward in style. Does this feature make it easier to age Tawny Ports for extended periods?
GS: Wines today are born with more color and structure, and they age better and more slowly than they did 30 or 40 years ago. A 20-Year-Old Tawny today might be more colorful, with more fruit and a more complex structure than previous ones from that time.
JM: How is it that this Tawny Port matured for 50 years? Was that always the intention? Did somebody misplace a few barrels, or was this a case that as long as the Port improved, it was left to age longer? Is there a reason it was bottled at 50 years instead of being allowed to age even longer?
GS: Aging is truly an art form, and at Sandeman, we’ve been working on perfecting it for over two decades, so producing an exquisite 50-Year-Old Aged Tawny was a challenge we were ready for, especially with the remarkable wines we have in our cellars.
In terms of aging, the wines used in the 50-Year-Old Tawny were sourced from a wide stock of wines that have been aging at the Sandeman Cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia since 1850. So it was really about blending the right wines to get the desired yield – a truly special 50-Year-Old Tawny.
JM: What’s the oldest tawny port maturing in Sandeman’s cellars? Will we see it anytime soon?
GS: In the Sandeman Cellars, we have a special place for our oldest Tawnies, where wines that have been aging for over 80 years are resting peacefully in our cellars. We invite Port drinkers everywhere to keep following along with our Sandeman story – we’re always looking for special wines, so anything is possible!
Sandeman, Old Tawny Porto, 50 YO, 20% ABV, 750 ml, $299.99
The Sandeman 50 YO Tawny Port is a blend of several Tawnies ranging in age from 50 YO to as much as 70 YO. The Port was blended by Sandeman’s chief winemaker Luis Sottomayor. He was the 2022 recipient of the Fortified Winemaker of the Year at the International Wine Challenge Awards in London and has been blending Port at Sandeman for over two decades. Sandeman plans to release 1,000-1,300 bottles of this top-tier, limited-edition Tawny Port each year.
Below are tasting notes from a small sample generously provided by Sandeman.
The color is light pink, with a pronounced orange cast. In a glass, it would be easily mistaken for a Provençal rosé.
On the nose, however, it is dense and concentrated. It’s an intensely rich, aromatic wine with pronounced aromas of dark raisin, fig date, and prune. In addition, there is a noticeable but well-integrated note of cigar box, some balsamic, and a hint of herbal aromas and pepper on the nose.
On the palate, it tastes initially dry, even though it has 125 grams of residual sugar per liter. As it opens up, a pronounced dried fruit sweetness emerges. It offers up notes of dried dark and stone fruit, particularly raisin, prunes, and fig; fresh plum and cooked cherries (think cherry cobbler); and candied orange zest, vanilla, roasted/baked walnuts, and cinnamon spice. It’s also slightly herbaceous, with a hint of dried tobacco leaf and a bit of anise.
The seasoned wood note is noticeable but well-integrated. The Port is smooth and silky on the palate, with a pronounced, mouthcoating palate weight and a brisk acidity (5.5 gm/lt) that nicely balances the dried fruit sweetness.
The finish is long and nuanced, with a lingering, sweet, dried fruit note, a touch of spice, and well-seasoned oak wood.
The wine should be served slightly chilled, between 12º C (54º F) to 16º C (61º F). It’s an ideal accompaniment to many desserts ranging from fresh or dried fruit to nuts to sweets. For example, try it with a crème brûlée or a plate of wild strawberries.
It is a perfect choice for toasting any 50th anniversary.
Taylor Fladgate and Maynard’s have also released other 50 YO expressions. Finally, Kopke, the oldest of the Port houses, has released a 50 YO Tawny and a 50 YO White Port.