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Graham’s Port Tour and Cellars, Porto

Look across Porto’s River Douro from the cobbles of the Ribeira and you’ll see layer upon layer of terracotta roof tiles. Nestling in the cool shadows beneath are the Port Cellars and lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia. We went Port tasting in Porto took the Graham’s Port tour to find out how port is made and for some port tastings.

River Douro, Porto
View of the Douro from Graham’s Terrace

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One of the top things to do in Porto is to visit a port cellar for a port tasting experience. You’ll find over 50 Port lodges, or caves, in Porto with some familiar British names gracing their hoardings; Taylor’s, Croft’s and Cockburn’s amongst them. We wanted to visit one of the lodges for a Port wine tasting but with so many Port cellars in Porto how would we choose?

Which Port Lodge for a port tasting in Porto?

The Port Cellars of Porto

Graham’s Port Lodge

Graham's Port Lodge and cellars
Graham’s Port Cellar, Porto

Fortunately, Mr Jones has a friend who knows Porto well and didn’t hesitate in recommending Graham’s Port Cellar for our port tasting. Unfortunately, as we picked out the names of the lodges from across the river, our ‘port of call’ appeared to be the farthest cellar away and at the top of a steep hill!

We set off on foot from Porto’s pretty Ribeira over the Dom Luis Bridge and over an hour later arrived at W&J Graham’s cool, white-painted lodge. We could, of course, have taken a cab or crossed the river by boat, but by walking we’d earned our port tasting in Porto!

Graham’s Port Lodge has a range of port tastings with pricing depending on the quality and age of the port. We went for the €40pp ‘Graham’s Premium Tasting’ but there are a wide range of tastings to suit every pocket and palate.

The History of W&J Graham’s Port

First up we were shown a short film about the heritage of the company. W & J Graham’s was founded in Porto, in 1820 by William and John Graham. Originally textile traders the brothers starting producing Port out of the Douro Valley after being given 27 barrels of port as payment of a debt.

In 1882 Andrew Symington came to work at Graham’s but eventually left to set up his own business. In 1970 Symington’s bought Graham’s and the business is still run by five Symington cousins today. 

Graham’s Port was one of the first companies to invest in its own vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley. In the same year, 1890, Graham’s port cellar was built in Vila Nova de Gaia on the opposite side of the river to Porto. Vila Nova de Gaia has the ideal climate for ageing port wine.

Stensils for the casks

The History of Port Wine

It’s said that two wine merchants exploring a remote part of the Douro Valley discovered an Abbot in a Lamego monastery who added grape spirit (brandy) to his wine early in the fermentation to preserve sweetness.

The merchants decided to use this ‘fortification’ method to preserve their own wines for the long sea voyage back to England. They liked the result and port was born.

Douro Valley Demarcation

douro-valley-vine-terrace
Douro Valley Vineyards

The grapes that are used to make Port must be grown in the mountainous Upper Douro region of Northern Portugal, the world’s first officially demarcated wine region in 1756. This protected region within the demarcation boundaries is the only place in the world that can produce authentic Port just like the Chianti region in Italy or Champagne in France.

Traditional Port Making

The company is still mindful of the original Graham family motto, ‘Do Not Forget’ and some vineyards still make a small percentage of Port using traditional methods alongside the modern.

Some of the grapes are still trodden by foot in stone ‘lagares’, vines are grown using natural weed-control and much of the picking and pruning is still done by hand.

Some very expensive Port inside these casks

Transporting the Port to Vila Nova de Gaia

Rabelo boats on the Douro

Until the 20th century Port was transported to the Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia for ageing by boat. These flat-bottomed boats, known as asbarcos rabelos can still be seen on the Douro today although they’re no longer used for transporting port.

The last boat carrying barrels of port was said to have travelled the dangerous Douro in 1961. Nowadays the boats are only used once a year in the Rabelos Regatta, a race held on the River Douro on 24 June for the feast of São João (St. John), the patron saint of Porto.

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A Tour of the Port Cellars

The cellar at Graham’s Port Lodge

After learning about the history of port we entered the cool, dark cellars for a look at the vats and barrels and to learn how the various types of Port are aged. The stone walls are half a metre thick and there’s sand on the floor to regulate the temperature.

The large vats are placed on white stones so it’s easy to spot if there’s a leak. We pass cages where the top Vintage Ports are locked safely away.

Book a Graham’s Port Tour

Port Wine Tasting

Graham’s Port Tasting – the main tasting room

As we’d opted for the ‘Graham’s Premium Tasting’ we bypassed the main tasting room and entered the Private Vintage Room, a gorgeously atmospheric library-like room with big leather armchairs, low lighting and dark wood furniture.  

Graham’s Port Tasting

A bottle each of Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve, 30 Years Old Tawny and Vintage 2003 were lined up with two glasses of each poured and ready. There was a lit panel in the table to stand the Port on so the colour could be seen clearly. A friendly member of Graham’s staff talked us through each Port.

The flavour of the Port is due to the way it has been aged and there are three ways to age it; in the bottle, in small oak cask or in a large vat. Seasoned casks are always used in this process.

Book a Graham’s Port Tour

Graham’s Port Tasting

Reserve Port

Reserves are a blend of young wines from different harvests which have been aged 4-7 years in barrels before being bottled. They are full and fruity with a rich red colour and slightly more refined than a Ruby Port.

Tawny Port

Contrastingly Tawny Ports, as they’re aged in oak barrels, come into contact with oxygen. The colour changes, from a deep purple-red of the newly barrelled wine to rich tawny autumnal shades. They taste more of nuts and dried fruits. The colour depends on the amount of time spent in the barrel which for higher quality aged Tawnies can be 30 years or over.

Book a Graham’s Port Tour

Vintage Port

Vintage Ports are made from the finest wines and only when a vintage year is declared by the Port producers. They are only aged for 2-3 years in wooden vats before they’re bottled where they’ll continue to mature for at least 15 years and some for over 30 years.

After this they have no further contact with the air and slow changes in the colour, structure, and character of the wine takes place.

Graham’s Reserve, Tawny and Vintage Port

The glasses were quite large so we took our time and spent about an hour in the tasting room, making sure that we finished every last drop! Each of the Ports we tried were quite different from each other and all were delicious. My favourite was the mellow Tawny.

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View of the River Douro and Dom Luis Bridge

We emerged, slightly fuzzy around the edges and smiling, from the Vintage Tasting Room where we made our way through the light-airy shop blinking at the change of light. But the Graham’s Port Cellar experience wasn’t quite over.

As we went to leave we emerged onto the terrace next to the Vinum Restaurant to be met by the most fantastic view over the cellar’s rooftops and down the River Douro to the Dom Luis Bridge. A fabulous finale to a very enjoyable Port Wine tasting.

River Douro, Porto
View of the Douro from Graham’s Terrace

Book a Graham’s Port Tour

Taylor’s Port

A funny thing happened on our flight home. A charming gentleman in our row started chatting about Porto, his home, and was interested to hear what we’d seen and done. We mentioned our visit to Graham’s Port Cellar and what a great experience we’d had. It turned out we were talking to the CEO of Taylor’s Port and we’d been gushing over the opposition.

He was fine about it and we actually returned the following year to stay at his hotel, the utterly fabulous Yeatman which overlooks the Douro towards the Ribeira. It’s a wine themed hotel as you can see from its decanter shaped swimming pool. Of course we did the Taylor’s Port Tasting while we were there. Be rude not too…

The Yeatman Hotel, Porto

Do you have a favourite port? Share in the comments below…

David

Saturday 19th of December 2020

Porto is a great city, with much to see. Be sure it include the “book store “ featured in the Harry Potter movies. While Graham’s is a nice tour and tasting, it’s very commercial. Seek the lesser known and out of the way places for equally fine wines and ports.

Suzanne Jones

Sunday 20th of December 2020

I agree, it's a fabulous city and you can read about other things to see and do there in another of my Porto articles. We visit two other port caves but Graham's was our favourite.

Carmen | Carmen's Luxury Travel

Saturday 18th of July 2015

What a beautiful view from the Vintage Tasting Room of the river and bridge. It's wonderful that they still keep the boats carrying barrels of port in the river and used them once a year in their race. It must be a fun event for the locals and tourist to attend.

Suzanne Jones

Sunday 19th of July 2015

The view was stunning from that terrace - the perfect spot for lunch :)

What to See and Do in Porto | The Travelbunny

Friday 17th of July 2015

[…] Ruby, Tawny, Reserve and Vintage. You can learn about how it’s made, aged and tastes in a Port Wine tasting at any one of the Port Lodges over the river. We chose Grahams as it was recommended by a friend […]

Lucy

Tuesday 30th of June 2015

Do love a glass of Port. I did the Taylor's tasting a couple of years ago and it was still €5 Richard – that's probably why the CEO was flying easyJet!

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 30th of June 2015

Ha ha! He was a really nice guy - if we see him again we'll recommend they put the price up!

Johanna Bradley

Saturday 27th of June 2015

I'd love to be there for the race on the 24th, Suze! And no doubt fireworks afterwards :) I love port in all it's shades, but I have to admit when I'm drinking it at my 'local' in Tavira, I have no idea which one it is.

Suzanne Jones

Sunday 28th of June 2015

Does it matter - so long as it tastes good!