The hardest decision in Porto is which port cave to go to first. There are over 30 caves in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town facing Porto just over the river. From Cockburn’s (pronounced Co-burns, sad times) to Sandemans to Crofts all the big names have set up their port distilleries there to take advantage of the close proximity to the vineyards and the warm sun, as well as the cold cellars housing the huge vats of port away from the heat.
Thanks to a €2 off voucher we were presented with as we crossed over the famous Dom Luis Bridge we chose to make Graham’s our first ‘port’ of call. On the way we called in to the Quevedo Port Wine Lodge as we had some free taster vouchers from using the Vila Nova de Gaia cable car the day before (a must do). This set us up nicely for mounting the hill up to Graham’s.
On that note, I don’t recommend this particular port cave for the lazy, can’t be arsed or walking impaired. It’s quite the hill when you’ve already been on the port for a few hours. The sun came out as we were making our way up, making us all the more desperate to try a new refreshing port.
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The view from Graham’s
Ten minutes later and we’d made it to the top. We were greeted by an incredible vista over the River Douro, Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto town. After cooling down a bit and inspecting the horizon we went in to check out what we could get for our vouchers.
The lovely people on the front desk informed us the next English tour would start in 30 minutes. Just enough time to sample what we were actually about to sample in the bar we’d seen through the conservatory as we arrived.
As soon as we entered we were sucked in by the incredible array of tapas. I’ve already said what a rubbish food blogger I am, I eat, then remember I should have snapped it, so there’s no photographic evidence I’m afraid. You’ll just have to visit Graham’s in Porto to try the mound of fresh crab on crusty bread, goats cheese on salad and anchovy and olives on cocktail sticks for yourself. At €2 a pop, it’d be rude not to. Although next time I visit Graham’s in Porto I’m going for the selection of cheeses – the whole performance by the Port sommelier looked incredible. We had some Altano wine to wash it all down; piquantly refreshing and the perfect accompaniment.
Time for the Grahams Tour
It started with a video projected on the big screen in the theatre room. Unfortunately four hours of Port drinking was taking its toll and we couldn’t pay attention. After 20 minutes we were taken down to the caves. Few facts I managed to remember:
- Queen’s port 1952 got an official letter
- A vintage doesn’t mean it’s vintage as in old – it means it’s only from one year, not a blend of other years
- The older it is, the more expensive
- The huge vats contain more than 100,000 bottles worth
- The 2010s are shaping up to be a great decade for port
- The Symington Family own most of the big port houses, 7 in fact
- The taste of port is observed closely. All of ‘Graham’s’ output must taste exactly as they say it does every time. It’s closely monitored and an official tastes it every day to make sure it tastes the same.
- They have over 3,500 casks of Port as well as many large oak tunnels, vats and an extensive Vintage Port cellar.
- The maritime climate is perfect for the slow ageing of Port.
- Graham’s is one of the very few working lodges still operational after 100 years.
We were then taken round the Symington’s private collection of ports from years gone by. There were thousands of bottles. I fancied buying one from 1955 to celebrate mum’s year of birth, but at over £1000 it was just too much. Turns out port is a real collector’s item.
Finally, it was time for the tasting. We went into their newly built room and sat at then bench where three glasses of ports had already been poured to greet us.
In order of deliciousness…
- 10-Year Tawny
- Late Bottle Port
- Six Grapes
We chatted to our friendly guide Robert more and he told us about the big parties they have up in the vineyards.
“You should come back in season to tread grapes,” he said.
There was a video playing on the flatscreen on the wall of the workers holding onto each other like Russians dancing, but with purple legs. Our guide told us the purple colour lasts for months after.
I don’t know if it was a reward for our keen interest in port production, or he treated everyone, but out came the 20-year Tawny. It was actually enlightening to try them all one after the other and to taste the difference of the grapes.
After a quick debate about whether we should buy some, which soon escalated to a close call in nearly buying 100 bottles of Altano at discount rate, we decided to just buy the one from the gift shop and get going.
Without a doubt, the best €3 I’ve ever spent.