Sandeman Veil Very Old Tawny Port

Tawny Port: 13 new releases unveiled

Sandeman Veil Very Old Tawny Port; photo credit Sandeman Port

With apologies for the radio silence – technical hitches interrupted posts – here is my promised Tawny Port follow up to my review of fifteen 2019 Vintage Ports.  These Tawny Ports innovate (Poças’ The Coopers Limited Edition) and ‘retro-vate’ (drawing on Very Old Tawny port stocks and long-aged barrels).  On which note, watch out for a new category – 50-year-old Tawny & White Ports (which previously would have been categorised Very Old Tawny/White).  Very Old just got older!

Here are my notes on the wines, kicking off with one of my picks of a strong bunch, Sandeman’s elegant Veil Very Old Tawny Port.  The others?  Real Companhia Velha’s powerhouse 1927 Very Old Tawny and Graham’s youthful Single Harvest 1974.


Sandeman Veil Very Old Tawny Port

The olive-green rim denotes aged material (the Sandeman Veil blend components range between 79 to 104 years of age – an average of 90-years-old), yet this pale amber Very Old Tawny belies its age, with an almost sappy, cedary freshness, silken mouthfeel and spatial quality. I feel the hand of Luís Sottomayor in the precision and elegance of this finely honed composition.  Qualities which, together with the saline/ozone edge immediately put me in mind of Sandeman Cask 33 Very Old Tawny, which I tasted with him back in 2014 (my review here).  With exquisite mouthfeel and freshness, delicate orange and grapefruit peel and dried cinnamon speckled pear flavours are sheathed in silky caramel.  Creamy walnut lends timbre.  That delicacy continues on a sucking on barley sugar finish with not a jot of heaviness.  Truly delightful, this very limited edition release was conceived to honour Sandeman’s 230 years of history and the 90th anniversary of its iconic symbol – The Don.  Vista Alegre developed the crystal bottle and capsule; the striking case is made of rosewood.  20% alcohol, 140g/l residual sugar, 5.3g/l Total Acidity, 3.7 pH RRP £2,995.00 per bottle; imported into the UK by Liberty Wines.


Real Companhia Velha

Real Companhia Velha Very Old Tawny Port Collection; photo credit Real Companhia Velha

This limited edition box set of three – Real Companhia Velha Very Old Tawnies Port Collection – commemorates the company’s 265th anniversary. My tasting notes are preceded by Real Compania Velha’s vintage report.  All three are at the top end of the spectrum vis a vis alcohol (by volume), with quite high residual sugar too, but as you would expect from different years, quite singular.  You can imagine that a small amount would go a long way in a non-vintage 30 or 40-year-old blend.

Real Companhia Velha Cask 1927 Very Old Tawny Port (Porto)

A classic, one of the best vintages of the century, producing deep purple and highly concentrated Ports. The rain which fell at the end of September was extremely beneficial. The harvest was quite late, at the beginning of October, under very hot weather conditions, delivering grapes with perfect ripeness.  The most depth of colour/opacity of the trio, with a dense rump of dried fig and raisin fruit at the core and a silkier, animating thread of caramelised orange.  Multi-layered, this Tawny Port keeps giving, radiating all manner of nutty nuances (walnut, roast hazelnut, praline, amaretto), with layers of dried honey, cedar, cinnamon, cardamom, roast coffee grounds, Camp Coffee, chocolate, salt caramel, esteva, orange peel and cigar.  A veritable shopping list!  Unfurling, it maintains energy and composure throughout. Impressive length and strength (note the high residual sugar and total acidity).  Quite the mouthful!  22%,  Residual sugar 170g/l, Total Acidity 7.29 g/l, pH: 3.42    The RRP for the box set of three Ports (each in 200ml crystal decanter bottles) is £1,445; UK importer Alliance Wine.

Real Companhia Velha Cask 1908 Very Old Tawny Port (Porto)

Another great vintage benefiting from a cold winter, followed by quite a hot spring and an excellent summer, with high temperatures at harvest time which started in late September.  Pleasingly sweet and smooth entry with café crème, buttery macademia, toasted hazelnuts and milk chocolate.  Madeira honeycake and candied citrus flesh out the mid-palate.  Opening up, the spirit and dusty wood notes creep in. The least concentrated of the trio, with less carry and clarity of flavour. 21%, Residual sugar 138g/l, Total Acidity 6.15 g/l, pH: 3.32

Real Companhia Velha Cask 1900 Very Old Tawny Port (Porto)

A great year, very generous in quality as well as quantity. The harvest started late September and went through to early October with good weather after a few days of rain.  It produced delicate and harmonious wines despite having less colour and body than in the classic vintages.  The oldest Port has a mahogany hue, with ruddy glints and a green-olive rim.  Pronounced spiciness, vinagrinho and rancio nuances and the salty finish – a pungent intensity – similarly speak of age.  But there is also molasses, marzipan and dried apricot, with lingering cedar, cinnamon and nutmeg which, together with roast hazelnut and creamy praline, impart an attractive woody timbre (with no dustiness).  An intriguing undertow of liquorice and curry powder (a first) too.  Warming in spirit and spice, with lingering complexity to the retro-nasal finish.  22% Residual sugar 152g/l, Total Acidity 6.74 g/l, pH: 3.35


Graham’s 1974 Single Harvest Tawny; photo credit Graham’s

Graham’s The Cellar Master’s Trilogy Series pays homage to the Cellar Master, whose all-important custodianship and blending skills allows wood-aged Port to age gracefully.  My tasting notes are preceded by Graham’s vintage report.

Graham’s 1950 Single Harvest Tawny

The 1950 growing season in the Douro was generally moderate with none of the heat spikes recorded in recent years which slowed the pace of the growth cycle and resulted in a late starting harvest. In these conditions, maturations proceeded steadily, delivering grapes with an incredible balance of sugar and acidity. An entry in the Symington family harvest records, written by brothers Maurice and Ron Symington post-harvest notes: “conditions throughout were ideal, cool nights and never too hot during the daytime.” This generally cool profile of the growing cycle defined the elegance and extraordinary freshness which are hallmarks of the finest 1950 wines. A deep hue, with a saffron rim and relatively high-toned nose and palate (complexing, not at all distracting).  Spicy, rich, exceptionally smooth, with lovely depth and a salty edge to the candied citrus and dried fig palate.  Seamless layers of roast hazelnut, milk chocolate, orange peel and pith and bay leaf bring complexity and depth.  Lovely.  Alcohol: 20% vol.(20ºC) Total acidity: 5.6 g/L (tartaric acid) Baumé: 5.3 £1,300/bottle at The General Wine Company

Graham’s 1974 Single Harvest Tawny

Port producers faced that year’s harvest with some trepidation due to the volatile political, social and economic climate. Their fears were, however, largely unfounded as Michael Symington testified in his harvest notes, dated October 1974 ‘here all has been very peaceful and many report one of the happiest “vintage atmospheres” for many years.’ he also reported one of the finest vintages in recent years — ‘the overall 1974 Port wine vintage must prove to be one of the best for many years.’  It reveals caught marmalade to nose and palate.  Rich but, attractively tinged – exquisitely balanced – by a delicate bitterness/pithiness.  Orange bitters/oil bring lift.  A salty edge and delicious pithy orange and grapefruit acidity underpins the sustained finish.  Milk chocolate nuances speak of time in oak, but this Port has a remarkably youthful purity to it.  Alcohol: 20% vol (20ºC) Total acidity: 5.1 g/l tartaric acid Baumé: 4.8 pH: 3.35 Total sugars (glu+fru): 124g/l £276.33/bottle (but sold as a case of 4 bottles) at Corking Wines

Graham’s 1994 Single Harvest Tawny

Following a number of exceptionally dry years, the very wet winter of 1993/94 was greeted with great relief, replenishing much needed ground water reserves, which proved invaluable through the very hot summer. A cool and wet period in May affected flowering, considerably reducing the final crop. The summer was fine and dry and the second half of August was particularly hot, accelerating the grapes’ development. Fortunately, September was cooler and some refreshing rain during two days in the middle of the month proved crucial to the grapes’ final ripening. The grapes were in excellent condition displaying remarkably even quality throughout. The musts showed excellent deep colour and beautiful floral aromas. The wines from Malvedos and from Lages, where they were trodden in traditional lagares, showed enormous promise from the outset. A youthfully deep ruddy hue, with eucalyptus and orange blossom riffs to the nose and palate which, together with penetrating grapefruity acidity, balance the rich, honeyed palate with its spicy Speculaas biscuit, roasted hazelnut, macademia and orange peel flavours.  Alcohol: 20 % vol. Total acidity: 4.7 g/L (tartaric acid) Baumé: 4.3° £99/75cl (£545 for a Jeroboam) at The Vintage Wine & Port Company

C. Da Silva Dalva

C. Da Silva Dalva 1934 Colheita; photo credit C. Da Silva

C. Da Silva Dalva 1950 Colheita Tawny (cask sample)

From a mild year of cold nights and moderate daily temperatures. The brighter, ruddier hue of the two, with dried honey, rich smoky roasted hazelnut, dried fig, rum and raisin, apple tarte tatin and mature baked banana flavours.  Opening up, reveals spicy, lightly peppery woodland bosk (a complexing lifted, spicy, vegetal quality), cinnamon, sandalwood and cigar box.   A satisfying, relatively broad style. Alcohol 20 %, Residual sugar 129g/l, Total Acidity 5.5 g/l, pH: 3.77  RRP €495 at at Granvinho

C. Da Silva Dalva 1934 Colheita Tawny (cask sample)

From the year in which the “Dalva” brand was created (by shortening “da Silva”, the name of the company and its founder), the 1934 is the product of a year of unstable weather: a dry winter, wet spring, hot summer and a late harvest.  It is a deep amber/mahogany hue, with saffron/green-olive at the rim.  Intense and sweeter than the 1950, with silky caramel, apple tarte tatin, scorched, salty butterscotch and a dense core of dried fruits/spicy Madeira cake.  Builds to a savoury, spicy black cardamom-accented finish, with a woody timbre. Very good. Alcohol 20 %, Residual sugar 136 g/l, Total Acidity 6.5 g/l, pH: 3.94  RRP €850 at Granvinho 



Poças The Coopers Limited Edition; photo credit Poças

Poças has been having a playful time with the Douro DOC and Port portfolio in recent years.  This limited edition boxset of two compare-and-contrast Colheitas is a case in point.

Both Colheita Tawny Ports are from the same vintage and same source – 40 to 60 year old vines from the producer’s vineyards in Ervedosa do Douro in the Cima Corgo and Numão in the Douro Superior.

However, one aged in small 550l barrels and the other in large 15,000l “balseiros” (large wooden barrels).

Poças The Coopers Limited Edition Balseiro/Large Barrel Colheita 2006

Looks and taste so much younger, ruddy in hue, still with primary plummy fruit with an edge of dried herbs, dark chocolate and lashings of liquorice (fruit) spice, indeed spicy (and still touch astringent) tannins.  In a word, vinous.  Marked freshness and those tannins contribute to the drier-tasting profile (and it is in fact 11g/l drier in terms of the residual sugar analysis). 20%, 128g/l residual sugar. (500ml bottle)

Poças The Coopers Limited Edition Barrica/Samall Barrel Colheita 2006

With a smaller surface to volume ratio, greater oxygenation and evaporation has produced a wildly different tawny.  True to its name, it is indeed tawny, as opposed to its stablemate’s ruddy (reddish) hue.  It smells and tastes sweeter and nuttier, the fruits dried – tertiary – the texture more slippery.  Silky smooth, the barricas have rubbed the edges off the fruit tannins and introduced smoky, nutty oak – a fine spine, which structures this Port nicely. 20%, 139g/l Residual sugar. (500ml bottle)

Quinta da Côrte

In 2012, this Cima Corgo estate was acquired by healthcare entrepreneur Philippe Austruy, owner of Commanderie de Peyrassol (Côtes de Provence), Château Malescasse (Haut-Médoc) and Tenuta Casenuove (Chianti).  In the past, the quinta’s grapes and occasional batches of wine were sold to major Port producers such as Delaforce, Croft, Taylor’s and Ramos Pinto.  Austry is producing Douro DOC wines, now Ports under the Quinta da Côrte label.

Quinta da Côrte 10-Year-Old Tawny Port

Plush plum and date pudding nose and palate, with orange liqueur undertones, chocolate and sandalwood flavours.  Round and velvety in texture, with creamy praline and light mochaccino, it is a soft, rich, mellow style.  Easy-going, but concentrated with high end, contemporary packaging, it is priced at the top end of the price spectrum for this category.  20% £33 at The Wine Box

Quinta da Côrte 20-Year-Old Tawny Port

A deft touch of volatile acidity adds lift and complexity to nose and palate.  Attractive Christmas cake flavours, with candied orange peel, marzipan, dried fruits and orange liqueur undertones.  The longer stage in wood imparts cedar and nutty, sweet peanut brittle and Amaretto flavours to the finish. A speck of dustiness (barely there) is effortlessly overcome out by mellifluous honey.  Smooth, full-bodied.  Quite the house style in texture and mouthfeel.   20%

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