On the Port Trail from Porto to the Douro Valley in Portugal
The other week we headed off to a sunny European holiday destination with a difference – visiting Porto and the port making area of the Douro valley. It is in fact the oldest area of Portugal and full of history – definitely worth visiting and easily accessible if you’re staying in Porto.
Just a couple of hours from Zurich by plane, Porto shares its time zone with the UK so we set our clocks back an hour on arrival. We began our journey at the lovely boutique Ribeiro House Hotel in the historic town centre.
A UNESCO world heritage site, Porto is a beautiful city full of charm, with wonderful winding streets leading down to the Douro river where the rabelo boats used to transport barrels of port wine from the Douro valley to the lodges or cellars on the Gaia side of town.
There are lots and lots of pavement cafés and restaurants all over Porto – and in the evening the city is buzzing. After a delicious dinner at the Rui Paula DOP Restaurant, the following morning began with a road trip as we were on a mission to learn about Port, the famous Portuguese tipple, produced with grapes from the slopes of the river Douro.
Emiliano from Graham’s Port was a fantastic host and explained to us everything you could imagine about the port making process as he took us round the key port places of note in the Douro Valley.
Graham’s 1890 Port Lodge Vila Nova de Gaia
First up we visited Graham’s 1890 Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, a working cellar which following renovation was inaugurated by the President of Portugal in 2013. A landmark for any port tasting experience it is here that they age over 2,000 oak casks and 40 tonels and large oak vats of Port wine, in addition to Vintage Port which is aged in bottles.
The Visitor Centre is full of interesting displays of historic photos, manuscripts, paintings, letters and other documents dating back hundreds of years.
After a talk about the history and the family involvement right up to the present day, it was down to the cellars to see the where the production of the port really takes place.
The whole visit was fascinating and certainly a “must-do activity” when you’re in Porto!
Making Port Wine
It is a complicated process to create port. As a a fortified wine which can only be made with grapes grown and processed in the Douro region of Portugal, the process is reliant on a number of factors, including a whole lot of time, to produce the final result. The grapes themselves are hand picked to ensure the highest quality.
After the wine is produced, it is fortified by a form of brandy and then stored and aged to create the final product. This short video explains just one aspect of the process, the flowering in the vineyards, with the background of the stunning Douro Valley.
The Symington family have over 27 estates in the region and for five generation have been producing some of the great names of quality port such as Graham’s.
The Tasting Room
We then went into a magnificent tasting room at Graham’s Port Lodge which resembled a wooden panelled library or a gentleman’s club, where we had a tutored sampling of port.
There was a selection of 6 port wines to taste, including a Graham’s Six Grapes Ruby Reserve, the 10, 20, 30 and 40 year old aged Tawny Ports which had much deeper, rounded flavour as well as an amazing 1972 Vintage.
Drink Your Port Slightly Chilled
One thing that surprised us all is that we were served the port slightly chilled, as back in the UK I have always been used to drinking port at Christmas at room temperature.
However, it’s amazing how much nicer the wine tastes a little colder! Another thing we learned is that port is a fantastic drink to pair with food – and can be drunk all year round. There’s definitely no reason for it being kept just for Christmas.
We rounded off our visit with a delicious lunch where the highlight was the superb “vaca velha” at the Vinum restaurant at the lodge, and of course, the wonderful Graham’s port.
Both the food and the port were wonderful but just as we thought we had finished, out came the chocolate!
Port Goes Brilliantly with Chocolate
We were joined at the table by Euan Mackay, Sales Director of the Symington Family Estates who also proved to us how well port goes with chocolate. Good to know for all you Swiss chocolate loving fans!
Seated at a table in Vinum Restaurant looking out over the river the view towards Porto was stupendous.
Watch out for our next and final instalment at we take you up the Douro Valley by boat to the award winning wine producing area of Quinta de Roriz and the beautiful Visitor Centre at Quinta do Bomfim.
Photos taken on Olympus OMD EM10
We were guests on this trip but all views are entirely our own.
For more information on Zurich and beyond feel free to see our What’s On Page or subscribe to our blog.