The Trip That Took Away A Secret (part 1)

A Special Report by Jan Beks, the Wining Dutchman

I grew up with ads about Sandeman. The silhouette of the guy with the cape and sombrero filled my teenage years: “The secret one shares with Sandeman” was the slogan I remember from the early 70s. But in my family there simply was no wine, let alone sherry culture, at all. At that time for me Saturdays meant to buy beer for my dad and my mother’s brothers so they could enjoy drinking beer while discussing matters like politics and sports. I didn’t even drink beer at that time.

Last winter during my first-ever trip to Porto, Portugal, the silhouette of Sandeman entered my life again and I wondered why it showed up here. Luckily the answer was not far away and I soon got to taste the port of the same company. And if it were not for the tour at the Sandeman cellars and the other ports I tasted during this trip, I never would have gotten rid of the Sandeman myth.

About 18 months ago, it was at a local wine bar in Utrecht, the Netherlands, where I discovered the sweet taste of port wines. Reminding me of the taste of Tokaji wines. Of course still far from as good as these ‘Wine of Kings, King of Wines’ wines, but from that day port has been a good and much cheaper alternative. Up to this trip, the most common brands of port I tasted included Kopke and Taylor. Often on sale at our favorite supermarket, it is hard to resist those “deals”.

In Porto my significant (travel) other and I accidentally started off with the tasting of a variety of different Kopke’s. This was a nice experience but we had no idea yet of how to rate these tastings regarding the dozens of other brands one is able to find at Vila Nova de Gaia in Porto and the Duoro Valley where the port grapes are grown on terraced slopes since the 17th century.

After touring and tasting at the Croft cellars, some more days of meandering through Porto, and taking the train ride through the Duoro Valley, we finally found the port store, GARRAFEIRA DO CARMO, which has great reviews at different websites. This cute little, squished in-between shop really made an impression at first visit. We were educated in the port culture by one of the very knowledgeable, friendly staff, while we were tasting just a few of the innumerable ports they carry, mostly selected regarding the best taste for value concept. I realized that I had gotten involved with the real world of port wines and I suddenly discovered that the brands you buy in the Netherlands are not the ones one gets familiar with here in the heart of the port producing country. I wish we could have tasted them all.

While my eyes had been scooping the store for bottles with the Sandeman label I was only able to find one and as I recall it was not even a port but a sherry. Nevertheless I still had my mind set to visiting the Sandeman cellars, I guess out of nostalgia. Visiting the Sandeman cellars was a disappointment. Not in the least because of its commercial approach. But above all, the knowledge that they use a machine to tramp on the grapes was the most appalling. As if a machine can produce the best quality port. So call me stupid when I still had to buy two of their ports as part of my youth and the Sandeman myth.

At least one of those is a 2011 late bottled vintage. One of the very best port grape years as I got aware of during our second visit to the port shop. This time Jorge was the person who helped us making decisions regarding the ports to buy and to have shipped to the Netherlands. We learned about colheitas, late bottle vintages, tawnies and rubies. All with their own character which we would like to share with you on our journey exploring the 18 bottles of port we are now stocked up with. According to Jorge, a good representation of good quality/value ports. For now, I can’t wait starting to taste, to compare and to rate them.

Your Wining Dutchman, Jan

P.S. We also bought some Duoro Valley red wines. More on them in Part 2 of this article.