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Drink like the distinguished with Sandeman Founders Reserve Port

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Back in 1998, I accepted a job transfer that took me - a young 20-something (somewhat) naive girl - away from my small rural Mayberry-esque hometown in Tennessee. There was a six-month stint in Stamford, CT before the job ultimately landed me in Charlotte, NC where I now call home.

The time in CT was a chance for me to experience life in the Big City, what with NYC being just a short train ride away and my illusions of grandeur did not disappoint - those six months are still categorized as one of the best times in my life. I dealt with upper management, worked on mahogany row, had dinners with first- and second-tier officers of the company. I was amongst the upper crust and I wanted to make a good impression and not portray the Ellie Mae Clampett stereotype that some of my new acquaintances had already dubbed me.

Our work group was out one evening and the good food and fine wine flowed. We discussed important business matters, we socialized. I felt dignified, classy, like one of them. I was making my mark as an up-and-coming upper cruster. It was my time to shine. Several of us branched off after dinner and ended up at a swanky, expensive restaurant called Telluride (which, sadly, is now out of business.) It was dark and cozy, a little noisy (maybe there was a band? I don't remember) and just the type of place that made me feel like I was somebody. My coworker Henry and I were sitting at the bar together - Henry was a very distinguished gentleman, a bit older than me and he had plans to retire to his cabin in Maine with his lady friend and feast on lobsters every day. Henry had a strong New England dialect that was sometimes hard for my Southern brain to decipher quickly in conversation.

As we chatted, Henry ordered a fruit and cheese platter for the two of us to share and just as the waitress sat it down in front of us, Henry leaned over and asked me (what I thought was), "Would you like a fork?" I replied in my sweet Southern drawl, "Awww no thanks. I'll just use my fingers." Because that's what people do with a cheese and fruit platter no matter how refined they are, right? Am I right??

No sooner had the words left my mouth did Henry look at me like I had just sprouted a second head on my shoulders. Such a quizzical look he had! There was an awkward silence. Crickets chirped. I could sense the crumbs from my upper crust persona falling away and every ounce of my faux refinement evaporating. In reality what he asked me was, "Would you like a Port?" Because that's what refined people do with a fruit and cheese platter. I was mortified at my naivety and my inability to comprehend. I wanted to crawl under the bar and forget that I had just exhibited total Ellie Mae behavior.

Nearly 15 years later, anytime I see a bottle of Port I still get a good chuckle over that story. It has become one of those legendary self-deprecating stories that I tell about myself and it came to my mind recently when I opened this bottle of Founders Reserve Sandeman Port. I've come to realize in my later years that it's much better to act and be who you truly are, no matter how simplistic you may see yourself as compared to others. What truly matters is depth. That theory is much like a bottle of fine Port itself - simplistic in appearance, characteristics and taste but refined and complex all at the same time.

Port wine is a rich, fortified Portuguese wine. Traditionally thought of as a sweet wine, it is also available as a dry or semi-dry variety. It is very aromatic and typically served as an aperitif or dessert complement to fine cheeses, chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Wines labelled "port" in the United States can hail from anywhere in the world but those called "Dão", "Oporto", "Porto", and "Vinho do Porto" are recognized as originating only from Portugal. In 1790, George Sandeman founded a wine business in London and purchased a cellar in Portugal nearly twenty years later. He was a pioneer in quality, labelling and distribution who wanted to give his customers the assurance of quality, so in 1805 his company was the first to brand a cask. The Sandeman brand was trademarked in 1877, making it the oldest in the world. In 1880, they became the first Porto house to export bottled and labelled wines and by 1914, the brand was being sold all around the world. The label features "The Don" and became the very first iconic logo for wine.

Sandemans' dark, ruby red Port begins with an aroma that reminds me of the gallons of sweet, fruity Welch's grape juice that I consumed as a kid. A "furry" sensation, which is created by the tannins, is notably present and it has a nice long finish.

If you have one of those CO2 carbonators (like Sodastream), you can enjoy a light and refreshing Founders Fizz cocktail. I decided not to get too complicated with my Sandeman Founders Reserve Port, instead enjoying it paired simply with a rich and creamy sea salt caramel gelato while I enjoyed a lovely quiet evening on my patio, reflecting on how far I've come from that once naive, small town girl I once was. No matter who you are, Sandemans Port will make you feel distinguished, classy, and dignified.

Visit their website for interesting stories about the Sandeman brand as well as for cocktail recipes and ways to pair their products. May we also suggest this poached pears in port recipe - an easy and elegant finish for any summertime meal.

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