It had been seven years since my last visit to Quinta do Seixo and I could not get over the monumental metamorphosis the property had undergone. Not only were the vineyards upgraded with lots of new plantings to complement some of the older parcels, but the winery and visitor center had been fully renovated in 2007. The modernization of the facilities was so dramatic that it was difficult to recognize that I’d visited this property with my wife and daughter back in 2003.
Sogrape, the current owner of Sandeman, has invested heavily in Seixo which is one of the real showcase properties in the Douro. The state-of-the-art conference room area is impressive and later on we would partake in a stellar tasting overlooking the vineyards. There’s a lot of flexibility built into the new operation and in addition to the new production and storage facilities, a restaurant is slated for construction in the very near future.
Quinta do Seixo is one of the Douro’s treasures, situated on the South bank of the river with phenomenal exposition to the sun and several microclimates. The views of the river and vineyards are stunning and the impeccably maintained terraces situated in a bowl-like layout, provide the “wow factor.” The property has a natural beauty that must be seen to be believed. There are 100 hectares of which 65 are planted in blocks with specific varieties, like Touriga Nacional, Sousao and Amarela.
Sandeman has been around since 1790 and the family has been involved for seven consecutive generations. George Sandeman is one of the truly great guys in the Port trade. He is devoted to his family’s Port business, but the Sandeman name is also known for Sherry production in Jerez and even Madeira. George Sandeman is first and foremost an ambassador for Port wine and the Douro.
His love for Port wine as well as the viticulture and viniculture in the Douro is infectious and anybody who has the opportunity to spend time with this affable gentleman knows that he has a very wry sense of humor, but when serious, he enjoys spreading the wealth of information he has gleaned over the decades he’s been in the business. His longtime associate, Ligia Marques who now works for Sogrape but still focuses on Sandeman’s portfolio, is one of the most genuine and brilliant minds in the Port trade. I’ve known Ligia for many years and have learned a ton about Port and Douro wines from her as well as the history of the Sogrape enterprise and a lot about the Douro’s past from this delightful gal.
Robotics are employed within Seixo’s twelve lagares; eight of which hold fifteen metric tons while the other four hold eight metric tons apiece. This is no small operation and the brand new gravity fed winery is an impressive modern marvel. Given the fact that Port sales have been stagnant, if not in decline since around 2000, it continues to baffle me how many companies have invested great fortunes and upgraded if not fully revamped their operations in the Douro.
We enjoyed a great tour of the property, walking through the vineyards while George and Ligia, along with Francisco Ferreira taught us about the various cultivars planted in the parcels and explained some of the finer nuances about the schistous soil in Seixo’s vineyards. But our lesson plan spanned far more than wine and Port and we learned all about the Sandeman posters, which are known throughout the world and especially the early works by Jean-Paul “D’Ylen” Beguin, who masterfully created his wine posters in Paris in the first third of the 20th century. These posters made Sandeman one of the most recognizable Port brands throughout the world and one of the earliest logos of any wine company too.
After a thorough tour of the production facilities and barrel storage rooms, we stopped for lunch and had a most delicious meal in which we sampled a pair of Sogrape’s Douro wines, of which there are many. We also had a Sandeman 10 year old Tawny for dessert.
2009 Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro White wine – Extremely chilled initially, it presented as a light and fruity wine that put on weight in the glass as it warmed up. Fine notes of lemon and honeysuckle and citrus fruit. The creamy texture was pleasing and this is not only a fine food friendly white, but its cellar worthy too. Drink now through 2018. 89+ points - 5/19/10
2007 Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Red wine – Red fruited fragrances of plum and red currants with a great mouthfeel and significant balance, I found this to be quite harmonious. It paired perfectly with the duck and rice main course we enjoyed at Seixo. Dark wild berry flavors and cedar prevailed on the palate along with a fine aftertaste. Consume over the next decade or so. 90+ points - 5/19/10
We then entered the well appointed class-room like tasting/conference room which adjoins the well-stocked gift shop. George led us through an array of Tawny and Vintage Ports which showed the great depth and history of the Sandeman Ports. The tasting room’s seats face floor-to-ceiling windows with the vineyards across the river providing a magnificent backdrop. It is rather spectacular sitting and sipping Ports with a panoramic view like that, still being indoors. A great atmosphere for a tasting!
Sandeman 10 Year Old Tawny Port – I’ve always felt that Tawny Port was one of Sandeman’s significant strengths, although they sell well, I don’t think they get enough credit for their consistency and high quality, Medium ruby at the core with an amber-tawny colored edge. Medium bodied and drying nuttiness with a citrus component that adds complexity in the mid-section. A gently warming hazelnut finish of great length. I consider this one of the top half dozen 10 year old Tawny Ports produced. 92 points - 5/19/10
Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny Port – bottled in 2009. This has always been one of my personal favorite 20 year old tawnies as it provides a richness in texture and shows greater evolution than most other 20 year olds. This sample didn’t disappoint and again proved why I enjoy this Port so much. Very developed toasty praline and mandarin orange nuances and gobs of acidity showcase the excellence within the bottle. The middle and dry finish are stacked with a mint and caramel quality that round out the package. I was not alone in my praise for this tawny as our group really seemed enthused when drinking this one; not a lot of spitting was going on. 93 points - 5/19/10
Sandeman 30 Year Old Tawny Port – 2008 bottling. George did not include this in our original lineup and I asked him if he’d be willing to add it in. I had no recent reference points or tasting notes on the 30 year old and really wanted to see how this fit into the overall lineup. He was happy to include a freshly opened bottle. I was pretty much blown away by the gorgeous nature and showing of this particular Sandeman tawny. Amber in color, it shows extraordinary class and complexity from the very first sip and dazzles from entry to finish. Viscous and rich with a seductive texture that is a standout, supported by piercing acidity. The flavors range from a dry pecan to apricot preserve profile and were dazzling. The finish was sublime and the aftertaste simply amazing for its depth and length. Our guests talked about this particular bottling in loving terms and many bottles were purchased before the end of our visit. 95 points - 5/19/10
Sandeman 40 Year Old Tawny Port – 2008 bottling. If you’ve never tasted this 40 year old, you owe it to yourself to do so. I’ve tasted the entire gamut of “40’s” out there and the Sandeman remains amongst my top four personal favorites. It is not only one of the sexiest in the mouth, but the aged development and overall symmetry make this one a classic! Marmalade and crème caramel infused Port flavors linger long and have just enough acidity to carry the sweetness, but the story here is the complex waves of flavor that continuously crush the palate. For those that enjoy cigars, this makes for an amazing pairing but dried apricot and butterscotch on the harmoniously balanced aftertaste provide the final flair that is unforgettable. For serious Tawny aficionados this should be in the cellar for when you want to share something special with friends or a loved one … or just simply sip something amazing by yourself. 95 points - 5/19/10
Having tasted our way through Sandeman’s full range of Tawny Ports we then embarked on an exploration of some of the best of their Vintage Ports. This would prove to be extremely educational as many questions were asked during our tasting and George took the time to answer them all. The following Vintage Ports were decanted five hours prior to the beginning of our tasting which was very much appreciated by our guests. George delved into the history books to find out some events which had taken place during the specific vintages we were about to taste. It is a lot of fun having that type of perspective when tasting Vintage Ports. We began with the oldest first.
1963 Sandeman Vintage Port – At the time of the harvest (a month before Kennedy’s assassination) Sandeman felt this was their best Vintage Port since 1945. It is also the VP that first got me hooked on Port back in the early 1980s, as it was served by the glass at The Water Club (NYC), where I worked for half a decade. Every time a new bottle of it was opened, I was privileged to sample it … directly from cheesecloth. At 2 decades of age this was a most impressive young Port. Now in its maturity, best bottles can deliver at a very high level, while those not stored well can underwhelm. Orange amber color with a clear rim. A nose of cinnamon and pumpkin pie spices, rich and immediately elegant. What a great beginning to the mini-vertical and this bottle really dazzled our guests, many of whom had never tried it before. Compared to some of the bottles I’ve had in the past decade, this was a great showing and the crisp acidity provided vigor and added to the complexity of this Sandeman. From stem to stern this delivered all the goods and is a classy classic VP and the long sweet caramel finish provided the exclamation point. Consume over the next decade but although on a plateau, this is fully mature and delicious right now. 94 points - 5/19/10
1967 Sandeman Vintage Port – A dry and modestly warm growing season created a late beginning to the harvest (Oct. 2nd) in a year that saw the release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s in the UK and the musical “Hair” in the USA. Except for Taylor’s, all other Port shippers had finished their picking by the time Sandeman began theirs. Sandeman felt that their 1967 showed greater color extraction and quality than their 1966 VP and “considerably more body.” Just a slight bit more ruby-centric than the coloration of the 1963 we just finished. A wildly intricate profile of mocha, strawberry and espresso beans aromatically. Deeply concentrated and great weight in the mouth with a bit of spirit. Sumptuously textured and vibrant acidity with slightly less oomph in the middle than the 1963. Medium length to the aftertaste and some protruding minty spirit, although quite elegant and a worthy VP, it fell short of the profundity of its older brother. Drink soon and by 2018. 89 points - 5/19/10
1970 Sandeman Vintage Port – As George pointed out, this was the year that Janis Joplin, Charles DeGaulle and Jimmy Hendricks all died. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big fan of the 1970 Sandeman. Others in the group seemed to like this considerably more than I did and I was not influenced by my prior experience and solely focused on what was in front of me. Medium ruby in color with slight bricking on the meniscus. Vitamin pill-medicinal note with a roasted characteristic. The palate was not much better, eliciting a noticeable oxidized nature, toffee, quite spirity/hot, and a roasted nut flavor. Rich and viscous in the mouth, I could not get past the off putting oxidative quality. Medium long finish. If this bottle was representative of the vintage, I’d recommend drinking this Port very soon. 82 points - 5/19/10
1977 Sandeman Vintage Port – Elvis died right before the harvest began (he should have known better!) and the Concorde was launched in Paris, London & NYC. Sandeman feels that this VP will be viewed with the same high regard as 1963 and 1945 and I usually find their 1977 very solid, if not underrated. This bottle was not the best showing of the 1977 which came from a near-perfect harvest for Sandeman. Scents of tobacco leaf, caramelized sugar and walnuts prevailed. Lots of acidity here but there was a hot and angular nature to this ’77 and whereas I normally find it to be quite concentrated, here it appeared rather thin and somewhat simple. The upside was that there was an amazing nose that continued to evolve and although a bit hot, the finish was as long as any of the Sandeman Vintage Ports we tried, showing a rich chocolaty flavor on the aftertaste. I’ve had better bottles and typically like this considerably more. Drink now to 2022. 86 points - 5/19/10
1980 Sandeman Vintage Port – Historically this was quite a year, with Mount Saint Helens erupting in Washington State, while in the UK Margaret Thatcher became the first woman Prime Minister and Alfred Hitchcock passed away. Eliciting a medium-dark garnet color with pink edge. I am a big fan of the vintage and it was a lot of fun to try this Port which showed secondary nuances, but far from what I’d call a mature Vintage Port. Spicy scents of red licorice and black raspberry with a hint of eucalyptus and herbal notes. Good weight and rich to roll around the tongue. I found the structure, especially the prevalent round tannins to suggest further upside potential here. Well-balanced and with a solid finish, this is a generously fruited and tasty Port today. Drink over the next 15-20 years. 90+ points - 5/19/10
2007 Sandeman Vintage Port – Noted film director Ingmar Bergman dies and Sandeman produces its greatest Port in decades, one of the finest of the 2007 vintage and a great find for those seeking to add depth to their cellars. Fragrant and fresh with violets and distinctive black pepper notes. Massively fruited with brambly dark raspberry and plum flavors and so dense that it leaves an impression that our guests won’t soon forget. The tannins are every bit as powerful as the fruit and the 2007 will deliver drinking greatness over the next half century if not longer, and I’d venture this will ultimately drink beautifully for at least six or seven decades … although delicious right now. There was quite a buzz amongst our guests who seemed to have diverse opinions about this VP. Some had never tasted a young Port with tannins like this. 96+ points - 5/19/10
We leisurely conversed about our tasting and were enjoying the great Ports and warm day. Serry Osmena, (pictured above left) a food and beverage specialist from California who had joined us on the 2008 Fortification Tour, was in the Douro and met up with us for lunch and the tasting. What a nice surprise! It was great to be back at Quinta do Seixo after all these years and it is always a great pleasure to be in the company of George and Ligia. Sadly, it was time for us to leave the Douro and head back to Porto. We thanked our hosts for the wonderful tour, lunch and extraordinary tasting. It was our last night in Northern Portugal, as the following day we were heading off to Madeira.