Holiday Feature

A Dessert Wine

by Fred McMillin

Dessert Wine

In 1800 you conducted your London business in a coffee house if you couldn't afford an office. One table had a budding insurance business. Dunno how it did. It's name was Lloyd's.

Meanwhile, over at Tom's Coffee House on Birchin Lane, young George Sandeman had borrowed 300 pounds sterling from dad, which he used to rent a Port wine storage vault. Ten years later he was virtually master of the Port trade. A frequent visitor at "Iron Duke" Wellington's home, one evening he mentioned the 1797 vintage in his vaults was the finest he had ever known. Wellington's General Calvert bought the equivlent of 1,400 bottles on the spot!

My wine dealer has had a little difficulty getting me the 1797. However, the Sandeman 20-years-in-oak Tawny Port is available, and my hunch is that George would be mighty proud of it, too. (In the London vaults it was served to me with Silton cheese, semi-sweet crackers and lightly- salted nuts.)

The Wine

Sandeman 20-Year-Old Tawny Port
Name—The more common modern name of this type of wine is Oporto; however the historical name, Port, is our choice. Oporto also is the major city at the mouth of the Douro River, which is Port country.
Tawny—As Port ages it turns from purple to dark tan. The first writer to apply the term "tawny" in literature to old Port was none other than Charles Dickens in 1844.
Wood Used to Age Port—Oak
Importer to U.S.A.—Pernod-Ricard, U.S.A., White Plains, New York
Contact—Paul Rogers, Balzac Communications, Napa, CA, Ph. (707) 255-7667.


Oh yes. That 1797 Port that General Calvert bought. Was it really as good as claimed? Well, General Calvert's son discovered 200 dusty bottles of it 80 years later. London wine merchants tasted a sample and immediately bought all the son would sell. Case closed.

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. He also writes a monthly column, On Wine.


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This page created December 2003 and modified 2009