One of the highlights of our time in Porto was a visit to the Graham’s 1890 Port Lodge. Port is a fortified wine that is only produced in the Douro Valley of Portugal. After production, the wine is brought from the vineyards down the Douro river by boat to one of the port lodges along the river bank in Vila Nova de Gaia. There it is aged, bottled, and laid to rest. Whether you like port wine or not, touring one of these port cellars will give you insight into the culture of Porto.
We chose Graham’s for a couple of reasons. First, they make some of the finest Port wine. Graham’s 2016 “The Stone Terraces” Vintage Port earned a 100 point rating from Wine Enthusiast. Second, the lodge is high up on the hill above the river, giving it a spectacular view over Porto and taking it off the beaten track of tourists along the Cais de Gaia (Pier of Gaia).
And third, Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar opened in the lodge in 2013 as part of a major renovation of the entire building. A tour of the lodge and a Port wine tasting, followed by lunch at Vinum made for a very special, memorable day.
Tour and tasting at The Graham’s 1890 Lodge
Graham’s 1890 Port Lodge sits high up on the hill above the Cais de Gaia. Instead of making the hike on foot, we ordered an Uber ride and got there in just a few minutes. Tours are by appointment only. When checking in at the reception desk, we had to choose among a selection of tastings (they had emailed these to us in advance). There are several different levels of tasting, depending on your budget and preference, ranging from €15 for the classic tasting up to €115 for the Symington Tasting of eight ports. If you really want to splurge, there are options in the €200 range with cheese and chocolates. Since there were two of us, we went with one Super Premium Tawny Tasting and one Super Premium Ruby Tasting (€45 each), and shared them between the two of us.
There were about a dozen people in our English speaking tour, which started with a presentation covering the history of the winery. Graham’s was founded by brothers William and John Graham in 1820. They started their own vineyard in the Douro Valley and built the cellars here in Vila Nova de Gaia in 1890. Graham’s was acquired by the Symington family in 1970 and today is run by five Symington cousins.
We also learned about the Douro valley and the mountainous vineyards where Graham’s grapes are grown on steep stone-terraced hills. Because of the challenging terrain, the grapes are harvested by hand. The wines are held in the Douro Valley over the winter and then brought to Vila Nova de Gaia for aging in the lodges.
In the barrel room, our very friendly and knowledgeable tour guide explained the differences between the types of port wine and was able to answer our many questions. The ruby ports are aged in huge oak vats that allow the wine to retain its fruity nature. The tawny ports, however, are aged in oak barrels for up to 40 years to acquire their characteristic caramel and nutty flavors.
In the Vintage Port bottle cellar, bottles of vintage ports from throughout the years are resting behind locked gates. We had fun searching out vintages from special years like anniversaries and birthdays.
The tour ended with a tasting. Those in the group that were having the classic and premium tastings stopped in the Main Tasting Room, which was a lovely, bright open space. By selecting the Super Premium tastings, we were guided into the Vintage Tasting Room. This room had more of a private club feel with dark wood bar, bookshelves, and arm chairs.
The size of each wine pour was plenty for us to share and still fully experience each wine. We tilted our glasses over the lights in the center of the table to examine the color of the wines while our guide led us through them with a description of each one.
The Super Premium Tawny Tasting: Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny, Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny, and Graham’s 1994 Single Harvest Tawny
The Super Premium Ruby Tasting: Graham’s 1983 Vintage Port, Graham’s 2000 Vintage Port, and Graham’s 2003 Vintage Port
We probably lingered in this room longer than we should have, but we were having fun. We sat at a table with a British couple that lives in Switzerland and shared tales of traveling. Across from us, there were two American couples from Virginia. One of them went to the same college as my husband and was actually in the same graduating class. You never know who you are going to meet in this small world!
We were about to be late for our 3:30 lunch reservation, which got us moving.
Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar
Vinum Restaurant is part of the Sagardi Group, a gastronomy group that we were well acquainted with in Spain. There is a wine bar and casual outdoor terrace with a spectacular view over the river and of Porto on the other side. There is a light menu of appetizers and small plates available to go with the extensive list of wines by the glass.
We had made a reservation in advance to take advantage of the more substantial food menu in the main dining room, which also has a bright atrium surrounded by large windows with that same gorgeous view.
We started with the steak tartare, which was fantastic. Chunks of dark red meat had great meaty texture and flavor. The waiter said that people come from all over Portugal just for this tartare and I’m inclined to believe him.
The octopus was incredibly tender, possibly the most tender that we’ve ever had. It was simply grilled and served with a creamy carrot puree.
We finished up with the Suckling Pig which had great flavor and a nice crispy skin. The underlying port sauce made from Graham’s 20 year tawny port was intense and delicious.
On any other day, we would have finished this lovely meal with a glass of Port. There are over 50 Ports available by the glass…a great opportunity if we hadn’t already had six glasses between the two of us before lunch. Instead, we picked up a bottle of the 30 year Tawny in the wine shop next to the restaurant as a sweet reminder of our day at Graham’s 1890 Port Lodge.
Rua do Agro 141, 4400-281 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal