You can’t visit Porto without trying port, and you can’t try port without visiting Graham’s Port Lodge. The well-known lodge gives you a wonderful introduction to port wine, it’s history and the production process. If you haven’t tried port wine, it’s highly recommended to do so in Porto. If you don’t try Port wine in Porto, it’s the equivalent of not getting a cheesesteak in Philadelphia…you just don’t do it.
The Douro Valley sits right outside of Porto. The Valley is a sprawling region that mass produces Port for global consumption. What makes Port so potent and amazingly delicious? Keep reading for a brief overview!
What Is Port Wine?
Most people are familiar with red or white wine, but port takes wine to a whole other level. Port wine is a blend of several different types of grapes produced throughout different regions and in different climates in Portugal. While the wine you probably drink goes through a complete fermentation, Port wine is different. It’s not fully fermented thanks to the addition of brandy which stops the process and gives port wine it’s “fortified” well-known sweetness. It can only be called port wine if made in the Douro Valley, similar to only calling sparkling wine “Champagne” if it’s produced in the French Champagne region.
Graham's Port Lodge: Port Wine Beginnings
Graham’s Port was originally started in 1820 by William and John Graham as a textile trading company. After they were given a debt payment of Port, the two brothers set off to perfect the Port wine taste in the Douro Valley, hence Graham’s Port Wine was born. Another man by the name of Andrew Symington, came to work for the company but later went on to establish his own port business. Decades later, in a full circle moment in 1970, the Symington family returned acquired the W&J Graham & Co. To this day, they are a family run operation responsible for a collection of ‘quintas’ (wine-producing countryside estates in the Douro Valley), visitor-friendly lodges, international production and the overall Graham’s Port wine brand.
Graham's Port Lodge Property
Graham’s Port Lodge is situated on the Vila Novo de Gaia side of the Douro River. This area is known in particular for its many Port wineries. You can book a tour at Graham’s Port Lodge by inputting your information and the date/time you would like. You will receive a reply confirming the reservation soon after. It is possible to communicate in English via email and the front desk staff speak English.
On the website, you have two tasting location options: The Main Tasting room and the Vintage room. Within each tasting room, you have 4 Ruby Port or Tawny Port options to choose from. The Vintage room is a more private experience and offers a more variety of rare ports.
While the port lodge entrance can be tricky to find if you are driving, a quick call to the front desk will direct you where to park. [Tip: Arrive 15 minutes early to factor in parking. If you drive down the hill towards the pier, you’ve gone too far.] On your way to the lobby entrance, you walk under a beautiful pergola with grape vines magically entangled amongst it. When you arrive inside the lodge lobby to check in, you choose your tasting option and pay.
Being completely new to port wine, we decided to book one Premium Port Tasting and one Premium Tawny tasting to allow us the chance to sample 3 of each type of Port. We paid a total of 44 euros. (22 euros each).
The Graham’s Port Lodge property is absolutely beautiful. The tour starts with a video presentation of the history of Graham’s Port Lodge. It’s truly fascinating to watch how it came to be one of the largest producers of Port. You can read about the Symington history here.
Graham's Port Lodge Tour
I did the tour in English and our guide spoke wonderful English. She did a thorough job of conducting the tour and answering any and all questions. After the video presentation, we were whisked down the stairs into the cellar where the majestic wine casks are held.
We learned everything from process to production. We learned the reason for white rocks serving as the ground under the casks (to spot leaks), and got to see some Graham’s oldest wine casks. We walked into an area where we were able to see the official wine ledger with dates dating back to the early 1900s. The handwriting was classic cursive writing that made you imagine someone in the 1940’s writing in this ledger.
Our tour guide took us to see the area where they stored their most premium port wines by year. In this room was the best performing port wine bottles from different years dating back to the early 1900s.
The tour guide explained the types of grapes (very specific) that are used in port wine production and how how different climates dictate overall taste. We learned what makes a port wine “premium” and the effects of aging on the overall port wine taste.
Graham’s Port Wine Lodge was truly an interactive and informational experience. It is highly recommended to stop here for a wonderful Port wine experience.
At the end of the tour, we walked into the stunning, light-filled tasting room where we sat in front of 6 port wine glasses. There was a beautifully presented placard under the glasses to explain the names of the different ports and their unique tastes. The main tasting room overlooks the Douro River and gives a beautiful view of the Porto side.
In the tasting room, you can separately purchase small accompaniments like chocolate, cheese or the local Pastel de Nata. Our tour guide suggested chocolate to accompany the tawny ports. The combination did not disappoint!
After you’re slightly buzzed from the tasting, you walk through the lodge shop where you can purchase a variety of traditional wines and Port wines. On your way out, you also get a small glance of the beautiful Vinum restaurant attached to the Port lodge.
Graham’s Port Lodge is a must visit in Porto. From the well-informed staff to the tasting experience, it’s one you will want to do again and again! Fear not, because there are a number of wineries you can visit to broaden your Port wine knowledge and tastes!