I walked into W & J Graham’s and felt instantly comforted. The cavernous port lodge entry area was whitewashed wood and smelled old… but in a good way. Decor was sparse but clean but a massive iron “Grahams” ensured I knew where I was. We checked in to our tour reservation (reservations are a must) and chose the flights of port we’d like to try. It was suggested that since we were there are three couples, each half of the couple choose one flight and then we share. This worked out well for us and all the girls chose the ruby ports and the men the tawnys.
Awaiting our tour time, the girls and I lounged on plush leather chesterfield couches while the guys reviewed the small museum type displays they had of various Graham’s historic items. I’d like tot ell you what they have in the long glass covered display cases, but I honestly couldn’t be bothered to walk over there instead of chatting with Heather and Kaitlin and lounging on the comfy couches. The guys seemed interested though, so if you venture there, maybe take a look before you perch yourself on the comfy.
When it was our turn we joined two other English speakers for our tour. Our tour guide took us first to a small movie theater where they showed a film of the Douro Valley where Grahams, and the Symington family (the family that owns Grahams ports) have five properties, Quinta dos Malvedos, Quinta do Tua, Quinta das Lages, Quinta da Vila Velha and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas. We learned of the steep terrain of the Douro river valley and how the vineyards have to be terraced in order to grow them up the sides of the hills. We learned how they harvest the grapes and that the family is heavily involved in both the grape harvest and the production of the wines. (I also learned that there was a very cute farm doggo that traveled around the vines while they filmed and I wanted to pet him).
After our short film break our smiling tour guide met us outside the theater. We were lead down into the caverns of the port lodge where it no longer smelled of nice old and now smelled of well… pee…but not as bad as the “someone peed in this corner in the wet city” smell… it was just different. “It’s ammonia” Heather said to me and I nodded. I’m sure that it has something to do with the creation of wine because every port lodge we went into smelled the same. But because I’m not very smart when it comes to wine (other than I know when I like it and when I don’t), and because I get a little shy when it comes to question time, I couldn’t tell you why it smelled like that. But it didn’t really seem to bother anyone else.
But regardless, the cavern was clean and cold. It housed huge tankards of aging port, all labeled in chalk with the port line (for example Graham’s Six Grapes) and the year. These large vats are for the initial aging of port wine and wine can stay in these for two to six years. After two years, exceptional harvests are transferred to barrels in which they will age years, decades, sometimes even centuries. Examples of these barrels were piled three or four high around the vats in the cavern.
Before we went too far into the cavern, our guide showed us another video on the crushing of grapes. And while most of the grapes are harvested and crushed with machines now a days, Graham’s still employs some workers to crush grapes with their feet in the traditional way.
“How does one get their feet clean enough to crush grapes?” asked a concerned lady in our group. Brandy was the response of the tour guide. Since brandy is used to add to the aging wine to cease fermentation and maintain the high sugar content that is necessary in a port wine, the winery has much on hand. Turns out, brandy’s high alcohol content is good for killing yeast in the fermentation process AND cleaning things.Who knew.
Further on, we discovered the vaults in which decades of vintage ports are currently aging. Several shelves of bottles, denoted by their own chalkboard year line small bricked vaults. If your year isn’t here, that means it probably wasn’t a great year, our guide informed us. Of course… Tim’s birth year was there but mine wasn’t. hmmm. My birth year though was a Malvedos year which meant that, unlike the other vintages that Graham’s produces which consist of grapes from all five main vineyards, grapes from only the Quinta dos Malvedos vineyard were used.
After touring the aging vaults we were in for the best part of the tour, the tasting. A table with all six flights for our small group was set up just for us when we arrived in the tasting room, another classic, cavernous, wood paneled affair. Explanations of our flights were given and we broke out the dark chocolate we brought (also for sale there), and got to tasting. Now here is where I was truly astonished. EVERY SINGLE WINE I tasted at Graham’s (three rubys and three tawnys) was delicious. Not a fan of the tawnys at other port lodges, I didn’t expect to like any here either, but I was pleasantly surprised. IF you only taste port at one port lodge when you venture to Porto, make sure it’s Graham’s.
If you are feeling like splurging a little after your wine tasting, head to Vinum, Graham’s in house restaurant, for lunch. Reservations are suggested, but it wasn’t terribly busy on a Sunday when we were there and they were so lovely, they will likely do what they can do fit you in. The meal was pricey, but worth every penny. We had delicious food, excellent service and the most amazing views of the river, the city below, and my favorite, the neighboring farm’s lazy farm dogs.
All this reminiscing has made me desire some port. I think it’s time for a glass. Happy Friday all!