When in Porto, there is one thing you can’t miss out on: their most famous drink Port wine. There are many port houses along the Douro river on the Vila Nova de Gaia side, which you can reach easily by taking the cable cart from the top of Ponte Luis I. We chose to visit Port house Graham’s, as that came recommended by a friend. Whilst I can’t compare it to the other port houses along the river, we had a lovely tour here, and I because Graham’s is a bit more up hill it has splendid views over the river and the bridge.
The entrance of the estate at the restaurant side is welcoming, colorful and … floral.
The reception area of the distillery (and museum) at the backside is quite modern and crisp.
There are various tours you can choose from: only the tour, a tour with a tasting, a tour with a more exclusive tasting in a private room; we chose the latter!
The tour starts with a film which explains the rich history of the Graham Estate; for almost 200 years it has been an independent, family owned business, established by the Scottish Graham brothers in 1820, and one of the first Port companies to invest in its own vineyard in the Douro valley in 1890.
In 1802, Scottish businessman Andrew James (AJ) Symington came to Porto to work for the company. In 1891 he married Beatrice de Leitão de Carvalhosa Atkinson, whose ancestors has been involved in the Port trade since the 17th century. AJ passed this passion onto his sons and so did they to theirs; the legacy of this family of wine-producers continues. (source: www.grahams-port.com).
The Graham estate consists of various smaller estates who each produces their own port. Some only made in very small quantities and hardly sold abroad, others more famous and sold worldwide. With a port making heritage that spans thirteen generations, it is no surprise that Graham’s produces award-winning Port.
In their own words: excellence requires experience. And experience they have.
The grapes for making port are grown in the Douro region of Northern Portugal. Like champaign can only be made from grapes grown in the Champagne region, Port can only be made from grapes grown and harvested in this region. The area is known for its steep mountains and deep valleys, creating microclimates and in turn, creating unique wines. Influenced by very cold winters and very hot summers, ideal circumstances for powerful wines are naturally present in the region.
Once harvested, the wine production is intentionally interrupted and ‘fortified’ by the addition of a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente, preserving a lot of the natural sugars, which gives port its distinctive sweet taste. The wine is then stored in barrels to let the ageing begin.
The lodge in Vila Nova the Gaia has been the place where the ageing process takes place ever since 1890.
Making and maintaining the barrels is an art in itself which is done by Graham’s own team of coopers. All barrels are carefully numbered to ensure they remain in the original order.
Obviously, the cellars on the estate are stocked with a great collection of their own port wines for private use, with wines going back as far as 1868.
After the tour, the most interesting part begins: tasting port in the atmospheric private tasting area, overlooked this distinguished gentleman.
Our tasting consisted of 3 port wines. We started with the Graham’s Reserve Port ‘Six Grapes’, followed by the 30-year-old tawny, followed by the Vintage port.
The Graham’s reserve port is bottled when still relatively young and is considered the ‘everyday wine for the vintage port drinker’ according to Graham’s.
The second one is a Tawny Port, which is gradually exposed to oxydation and evaporation, hence the more golden color.
The last one was a vintage port; this only spends 18 months in the barrel and has no further contact with air, and therefore, the ageing process is much slower with fewer changes in color. Spot the difference:
I’m a wine- and port lover, but not an expert, but to be surrounded by all this winemaking-knowledge was quite inspiring.
After our tour, we ended the day with a bite to eat at the estate; good food and wine always tastes better with views like this.