Porto and Amarante


Port Production

Port is produced from grapes grown and processed in the demarcated Douro region. The wine produced is then fortified by the addition of a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente in order to stop the fermentation, leaving residual sugar in the wine, and to boost the alcohol content. The fortification spirit is sometimes referred to as brandy but it bears little resemblance to commercial brandies.

The wine is then stored and aged, often in barrels stored in a Lodge (meaning "cellar") as is the case in Vila Nova de Gaia, before being bottled. The wine received its name, "port", in the later half of the 17th century from the seaport city of Porto at the mouth of the Douro River, where much of the product was brought to market or for export to other countries in Europe.

The Douro valley where port wine is produced was defined and established as a protected region, and the name Douro thus an official appellation, in 1756. The reaches of the valley of the Douro River in northern Portugal have a microclimate that is optimal for cultivation of olives, almonds, and especially grapes important for making port wine. The region around Pinhão and São João da Pesqueira is considered to be the centre of port production, and is known for its picturesque quintas – estates clinging on to almost vertical slopes dropping down to the river.

Grahams Port Lodge

The restaurant and the Grahams Lodge are all part of the same building, though you can take in either independently - you can do one without the other. We did the tour first, and had booked lunch after the tour. It worked well, and we brought a couple of glasses of port from the tour tasting with us to lunch The restaurant is in a sort of greenhouse affair tacked onto the front of the Lodge. Lunch at 25€ was very good value - though to produce food at this price, they cannot offer gourmet food, but it is good food. Apart from its convenience to the Port Tour, the other plus is the view from the windows, out across the river to Porto beyond

W & J Graham’s magnificent 1890 Lodge is situated on a commanding ridge in Vila Nova de Gaia across the Douro River from Porto. It affords views of Porto’s historic city centre and the iconic two-tier bridge that connects the two cities of Oporto and Gaia. The entire Lodge has been recently renovated by the Symington family and all its original features restored. Graham’s is still a working cellar.

The building currently houses over 2,000 pipes (oak casks) and 40 tonels and balseiros (large oak vats) of ageing Port wine, as well as extensive cellars of Vintage Port, ageing in bottle. The granite walls, over half a metre thick, combined with the maritime climate ensure a constant, cool temperature, ideal for the slow ageing of Port. The high ceiling is still supported by the original Riga Pine beams and the beautiful nineteenth century exterior remains intact.

After the film and a tour of the cellars we chose a vertical tasting of Tawny Port

A tasting of Graham’s Tawny , 10 Years Old, 20 Years Old, 30 Years Old Tawny, 40 Years Old Tawny and Single Harvest 1994. For me it was very interesting to see the differences across the range. I found appreciable differences up to 30 years old, but would not have paid the premium for the 40 year old. I preferred the Churchill 20 year old that we had tasted earlier in the morning, I think because Churchill produce a drier port.

After the tasting, pausing only to buy a couple of bottles of port in their shop, we walked the few steps to the Vinum Restaurant

Graham’s run Vinum Restaurant & Wine Bar, in partnership with the Sagardi Group. Vinum opened its doors in February 2013 and forms an integral part of the renovated 1890 Lodge. With only a glass screen separating the restaurant from the working Lodge, it provides an atmospheric setting in which to enjoy food with some good wines. The glass atrium has one of the very best views of any restaurant in Gaia and Porto: spectacular both during the day and the night. It was a bit of a grey day when we had our lunch there, but one could still appreciate the view. The food was good, without being gourmet

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Churchill's Port Lodge

Churchill's was smaller and more "amateur" then Grahams, but in a nice sort of way. Visitor numbers were smaller and you were not "processed" as in the slicker production at Grahams

After selling the family company, Graham's, to the Symington family in the 1970s, John Graham established this new port house in 1981, the first British Port company to be established in 50 years. Named after his wife's family, they may only have a history stretching back thirty five years, albeit with centuries of family experience in the trade, but they have rapidly become known for their high quality wines.

After the sale of Grahams, John Graham worked at Cockburn from 1973–1981, becoming a director in 1980 at the age of 28. It was during this time that he met a grower family who were to prove significant: Borges de Sousa. In 1981, he formed his own Port company, Churchill Graham Lda (Churchill is his wife’s name), and the Borges de Sousa family gave him first pick of the grapes from their properties. These were to form the basis of the Churchill Ports for 20 years. However, by 1999 Borges de Sousa had died and his grandchildren had started to get involved in making wine (Quinta do Fojo is an example), so there was a conflict of interest in sourcing the best grapes. ‘We decided the time had come to secure a supply for our own Ports,’ recalls Graham. ‘We went looking for properties. It is not easy to break in and buy your own vineyards, but we had a short list.’

‘In 1999 we were able to buy Gricha, a 100 hectare property next door to Roriz in the Cima Corgo.’ It’s five miles up-river of Pinhão, with a relatively cool northerly exposure, yielding wines with high acid, purity of fruit and freshness. As of the 2000 vintage, Gricha is in the Churchill blend. Some 250 cases of Quinta de Gricha Port are also made each declared year.

Then in 2007 Churchill introduced a Douro Superior wine to the blend for the first time. ‘I always feel that like St Estephe in Bordeaux, the Douro Superior makes more muscular, rustic style of Port. It doesn’t have the finesse of the Cima Corgo.

‘Vintage Port matures at 35 years,’ says Graham. ‘There are no short cuts: you need time.’

You need to book here, which I had done,because it is small and they do not have many places. Actually the film and the warehouse tour are not necessary, you could well leave them out, and go straight to the tasting. The film acoustics are really bad and it is difficult to hear, and the warehouse tour really does not add anything. But their port tasting really is excellent .

We opted for their older tawnies tasting. Churchill's 20 year old tawny is better than most 20 year old tawnies Plus their premium wine tasting had an exceptionally good Grande Reserva, which deserved the price of 50€ a bottle, but was outside my price range The guide was knowledgeable and spoke very good English . You can combine a visit to Churchill's with a visit to Grahams which is only a few hundred meters away

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The town about 50km from Porto where were stayed

A very old town, which scenically sits on the banks of the river. A bit grotted up by modern building higher up the hillside, but the old town itself is well preserved. The locals seem to have a penchant for cakes and pastries.

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The Douro Valley

'Twas on a grey and wet November day that we drove the Douro Valley. The weather was in the end better than we had expected, but not as good as we might have hoped.

The Douro is one of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, flowing from its source near Duruelo de la Sierra in Soria Province across northern-central Spain and Portugal to its outlet at Porto. The valley is where the grapes for both Port and for good Portuguese wines are grown on the hillside terraces crowding in on the river

The Douro Wine Region Valley, up to Barca de Alva, is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world. First, the river carved the deep valleys out of the land and then Man transformed the schist mountains into soil and walls and planted the vines, green in summer, flame-coloured in autumn. With knowledge handed down from generation to generation, he inclined the terraces to expose the vines to the rays of the sun which give the grapes the warmth that the wine craves. It was from the fruits of the land and Man’s labour that this unique wine and landscape were made.

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The original barges


Casa da Calcada Relais & Chateaux

We enjoyed a three night stay in this hotel

Our bedroom had a wonderful balcony overlooking the river, was large and well decorated. The criticism I would have is that the lighting at night is bad. I would recommend that the manager from the hotel tries a few of the rooms after dark

The buffet breakfast is fine, though we were surprised not to be offered anything cooked on any of the 3 mornings we had breakfast. And to get fresh brewed coffee you need to ask for an Espresso, otherwise coffee that was brewed hours ago is served in a pot. The Manager needs to check breakfasts.

The Michelin restaurant is excellent, albeit expensive, but never the less good value for money

We had a problem with their other restaurant, The Michelin Restaurant is closed 2 days a week, which included the first two nights of our stay. So we ate in their other restaurant. They had a group of 10 eating on a table that did not fit the space available - we had to ask to move table as waiters bashed us very time they tried to squeeze through the inadequate gap between our table and the group

And the oddest thing to me about the restaurant was that there was a giant TV screen filling one corner, which nobody was watching but was distracting. The facile explanation given by waiting staff and reception, that the TV was there previously, ignored the point I made that they did not have to switch it on

I should also add that car parking is difficult. A narrow, very steep path leads up to the front door. Here you have to park as well as you can. They really need to sort out the front garden to allow for easier parking

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Our trip to Portugal 2018