Every fall, when the weather starts to get chilly– or as chilly as it can get in Georgia– I start to look for a good glass of ruby port. There’s something about the comforting warmth of a small glass of fortified wine that really sets the mood for the fall season for me. My husband Bill and I usually buy a bottle or two of Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto every year as the leaves start to turn and the air starts to get nippy. This particular port is especially nice as a nightcap right before bed.
What is port?
Port wine is a blended, Portuguese fortified wine that comes exclusively from the Douro Valley in the northern regions of Portugal. Although there are wines made in other countries in the style of port, under European guidelines, only wine that actually comes from Portugal can be called Port or Porto. Outside of Europe, it is possible to purchase wines labeled “port” that were made somewhere other than Portugal. These wines can come in ruby or tawny colors. They are often sweet or semi-sweet and served with a dessert.
I clearly remember the first time I heard of Sandeman Port. It was 1998 and I was waiting tables at a restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. One of my customers asked me if we had it. I had never heard of Sandeman at that time, so I had to go check with the bartender. My customer was very happy when I brought her a glass. Since then, I’ve discovered the brand’s charm myself.
Although Sandeman has a number of ports available, I usually buy the Founders Reserve variety. I picked up a bottle yesterday at a local supermarket; it was priced at $17.98, but I’ve seen it sell for as much as $20. The bottle is green and frosted, with a plastic capped cork. Inside, I could see the rich, red fortified wine which packs an alcoholic wallop of 20% by volume.
The thing to remember about port is that it’s wine that’s been fortified with a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente. This spirit is used in the port making process to stop the wine’s fermentation and boost its alcohol content. For that reason, it’s best served in a small glass and sipped at a leisurely pace.
Sandeman Founders Reserve is named after George Sandeman, who started shipping Sandeman ports all over the world in 1790. He was the founder of Sandeman ports; therefore, the reserve port that bears his name is supposedly made from the best lots of each vintage and aged for five years.
The makers of Sandeman Founders Reserve suggest serving this port with cheese, rich chocolate desserts or on its own. It can be serve chilled, on ice, or at room temperature. I prefer to drink my port at room temperature.
This port is a deep maroon color. Swishing it around in my glass, I see that it’s got a healthy amount of alcohol in it as legs form on the side of my glass.
Holding the glass of port under my nose, I immediately detect the sweet smell of raisins and candied plums. The aroma promises that the taste will be somewhat sweet and rich.
On the palate
As the wine crosses my lips, my taste buds detect a slight sweetness that finishes without being too cloying. I can taste raisins over the more subtle flavors of dark fruits like plums and blackberries. The port has a medium weight and my tongue stings slightly from the alcohol. My face flushes a bit and I feel slightly warmer as I enjoy this drink.
I don’t normally enjoy sweet wines, but this port never comes across as too sweet to me. It’s more what I would consider semi-sweet. It finishes remarkably cleanly, with no discernible aftertaste.
I usually drink Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto on its own, but I think it would go very nicely with a variety of fruits and cheeses. I’m not sure I’d want to drink this with a rich dessert, since they tend to be filling enough. I do think this port would go well with a lighter dessert made with fruit, or perhaps a few pieces of dark chocolate.
Storage and technical information
Sandeman Founders Reserve Porto has a shelf life of 12 to 18 months. It should be stored upright in a cool, dark place and not overly exposed to oxygen. Once the bottle is opened, the port should be consumed within four weeks for maximum freshness.
According to Sandeman’s official Web site, the Founders Reserve Port has an alcohol content of 20 percent, with a total acidity of 4.0 g/l (tartaric acid). Sugar content is 95.0 g/l, with a pH of 3.55. Aside from the alcohol content, these numbers don’t mean much to me, but I do know there are quite a few wine nerds out there who do care about them.
I like this port and usually buy at least one bottle every fall to enjoy when the weather is cooler. If you enjoy semi-sweet red wines with a bit of a kick, you might give any of Sandeman’s ports a try. Personally, I like the Founders Reserve and usually choose it as my port of choice.