Port wine tasting in Porto
Somethingyousaid.com visits sunny Portugal to get our wine on:
Porto, Portugal, is a city hemmed by the glittering seam of the Rio Douro. From Porto’s riverfront area, the names of famous port wine producers can be seen in bold letters on the rooftops of the port wine caves that populate the opposite side of the river, the city of Gaia.
It’s just a short stroll across the footbridge from one riverside to another to visit these port wine caves. The port wine caves heave with barrels of the fortified wine, which takes its name from this northern city. As well as take a peek at cellars chock full of barrels, and lay eyes upon a bottle of port that was corked in the year you were squeezed into the world, the port wine cellars do the obligatory tastings, which as good a reason as any to cross the river.
Ask anyone in the tourism industry, and you’ll be told the joint English/Portuguese venture, W&J Graham’s, is the ‘best’ of the lot. The Graham’s lodge is one of the furthest from the riverside, a winding walk along the riverfront along narrow cobblestone paths, where cars routinely fly around blind corners. But if you arrive in one piece, the view alone is worth the journey. Stand on the Lodge restaurant’s verandah and look out across blooming gardens to the bridged river, chugging boats, and the quaint rows of buildings that line Porto’s riverfront.
You’ll need to book ahead to secure a spot on a guided tour (they run in English, Portuguese, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Russian and Polish). The cost of the tour depend on whichever port wine tasting you choose to finish with.
All tastings include three quite generous glasses (for port wine), with the priciest standard tasting including a selection of both rose and tawny port in the private tasting room. Most of the tasting options will have you choose between rose and tawny ports. On our trip, we spent most of the guided tour ruing the decision to stick with the Premium Port Tasting, which only includes rose port, but were pleasantly surprised to learn we could add the 20 Years Old Tawny for five Euro a glass. You could spend the good part of a day working your way through the menu – an opportunity to sample exceptional vintages or decades-aged tawnies you’d perhaps never otherwise try.
With the Premium Port Tasting, our tasting glasses and bottles were neatly displayed in the Lodge’s tasting room at the end of our cellar tour. The Premium selection included Graham’s Six Grapes, Crusted Port, and finally Quinta dos Malvedos. Six Grapes is a rose style port with an intense blackcurrant flavour. Our guide tells us it’s best served after a dinner party, as it doesn’t keep for up to six months like the tawny does. The Crusted Port is made from sediment or ‘left overs’ and so has the concentrated flavour you’d imagine. It’s the Vegemite of wine (in the best way possible). Our guide creates the kind of aura around the final bottle reserved for the Virgin Mary in Portugal. It’s a vintage port from one vineyard, Quinta dos Malvedos, in the famed Douro Valley (quinta means ‘vineyard’). Unlike the other intense rose-style wines, this one’s elegant and not so strong. We also add in a 20 Years Old Tawny. At this age, our guide explains, the taste is less sweet like honey (10 Years Old Tawny) but caramelised and more complex. At 30 years aged, the port takes on a tobacco flavour and is more bitter, favoured by whiskey drinkers.
We hold back from trying the Diamond Jubilee port, bottled to commemorate the Queen’s 60th anniversary from a harvest in 1952 and decide our Euros are better spent on chicken figurines, Porto’s famed franchescina sandwich (Portgal’s answer to the Rueben and then doused in a hot beer and cheese sauce), and in the gift store.
It’s a shame the store doesn’t ship their bottles of port to Australia, but we’re roadtripping down to Lisbon in a couple of days anyway and we’ve heard the city of Óbidos is famed for its cherry liqueur served in chocolate shot glasses, which is more than enough to look forward to.
When to visit
The lodge is open from April to October, every day from 9:30 AM to 6PM (last visit 5:30PM). From November to March, the lodge’s opening hours are: every day from 9:30 AM to 5:30PM (last visit 4:30PM). Except December 25th, January 1st and 2nd.
Words and pictures by Alyssa Smith