A Lesson in Port (wine of course!)

April 8th, 2015

On our second day in Porto, we set out to explore the port wine industry side of the Douro River city and sample some of the regions finest offerings while receiving a little edumacation on the port making process. After a hearty lunch to soak up all the port we would soon be imbibing, we strolled down toward the colorful Ribeira waterfront and across the Dom Luis I bridge toward the uphill station of the Teleferico de Gaia cable cars that offer an elevated view of Porto and the Vila Nova de Gaia waterfront on the way down to the riverside port wine lodges.

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We had a cellar tour and tasting booked at Graham’s port wine lodge for the afternoon and after disembarking from our cable car we made our way up to the renovated 1890 Graham’s Lodge. Still a working cellar, the building houses over 2000 oak casks and 40 large oak vats of aging port wine along with an extensive cellar of bottle aging vintage port.  The cellar is one of the only producers in the region to still employ coopers to build and maintain the old oak casks. The maritime climate along with thick granite walls allow the cellar to maintain an ideal constant cool temperature in which to age the port.

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Vintage port aged in bottle since 1868!

Graham’s is owned by the Symington family who have been port producers in the Douro Valley for well over a 100 years. One of their smaller vineyards is used to still produce port wine in the old fashioned method of stomping the grapes in large stone lagares (think of that famous comical scene from I Love Lucy), however, it is a physically demanding and lengthy process so modern mechanical processes have since been employed at the other vineyards.

Dan and I really enjoyed seeing the cellar and learning more in depth about port production. Graham’s website states that the origins of port wine can be credited to two alleged wine merchants exploring Portugal’s Douro valley in the 17th century who discovered the Abbot of a Lamego monastery (why is always the religious folks in history that seem to give us our greatest sins?) adding alcohol to his wine early on in its fermentation to preserve its characteristic sweetness. Port is still produced in this way today and as the world’s first demarcated wine region the protected mountainous Upper Douro vineyards have been the only place in the world since 1756 that can yield the grapes needed to produce authentic port.

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After a knowledge and port tasting filled afternoon we ended our short time in Porto with an evening ride west to Porto’s beach suburbs on a 1920’s vintage tram. As we trundled down to Foz in our port wine stupor, we passed along the Douro River and after disembarking the tram we explored the shops and park space that line the beach along the Atlantic Ocean. I imagine that come mid-summer this place is a crowded center of activity but on this chilly early April evening we practically had the place to ourselves. All the better for taking selfies without capturing random strangers doing odd things in the background!

Porto was an amazingly colorful and delightful city rich with history and a thriving port wine industry. Tomorrow we board the morning train to Lisbon to continue our Portugal discoveries!

*Check out my handy printable travel guide here to plan your own Porto getaway! 

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