Port wine considered champagne of Porto

May 4, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 2.01.11 PMOn top of the hill Vila de Nova Gaia, Graham’s Lodge overlooks the Douro River in Porto, Portugal. The
renowned winery encompasses centuries of port wine tradition.

Considered the champagne of Portugal, port wine is celebrated along the Douro River with almost
a dozen shining signs advertising tastings, tours and souvenirs of lodges ranging from family-owned
operations to internationally recognized corporations—or a combination of both.

Spanning four generations, Graham’s Lodge has a tradition of keeping things in the family. According to
Graham’s, the founding fathers of the now multinational port shippers came to Porto in the early 19th
century and established their port tradition with the acquisition of Quinta dos Malvedos, one of the
biggest quintas, or port estates, in the world.

In the 1970’s the family partnered with the Symington’s, a well-established port family, and the
company has grown ever since.

Out of the 1.5 million liters of port wine produced a year, Graham’s currently exports 90 percent.
The biggest quantity of standard quality port goes to France and other European countries, while the
premium quality port is sent to the United States and the United Kingdom.

Pedro Machado, a Graham’s Lodge guide, said that Graham’s sends port to over 80 countries but that
the home country is not as receptive to their premium quality.

“Every family has a port bottle at home for special occasions,” Machado said. “You won’t see Graham’s
as much in local stores in Portugal.”

In recent years, Graham’s has been a leading force in reviving port for the Portuguese people. Raul
Valle, a Graham’s guide, said that most people think of it as an old drink, one that grandparents sip after
dinner, but that Graham’s has been trying to make it more modern. He said the economy has colored
local perceptions about the drink, but Graham’s is seeking to dispel rumors.

“Some people say it is a luxury item, but it is not,” Valle said. “We are teaching people a new way of
thinking about port.”

Four distinct types of fortified wine grace the port-lover’s palate: white, ruby, tawny and vintage.

According to Machado, the varieties all start off the same, excluding white port, which is made from
white grapes, and are transformed by the aging and fermentation process.

The non-traditional white ports are not aged, and Magalhães said that Graham’s produces very little of
these, and mainly focuses on rubies, tawnies and vintages.

The rubies, named for their red color, are the most common type of port produced and require the least
amount of aging time. At Graham’s, they are aged in 72,500 liter wooden vats for two to six years.

“The aging process preserves the character of the port,” Machado said. “They have very little contact
with oxygen, so they are darker and more fruity.”

Rubies are known for their fresh, fruity taste that pairs well with strong cheeses and dark chocolates.

Screen Shot 2013-05-24 at 2.01.29 PMTawnies are aged anywhere from three to hundreds of years, and the aging process gives them their
golden brown color. They are aged in smaller casks, usually of oak. Because of the longer aging process,
Magalhães said that tawnies can last up to six months after opening, and their nutty flavor pairs well
with dried fruits or traditional Portuguese pastries.

The vintages are “king of port wine,” according to Machado, and it is not all in the aging.

“They are the best years with the best grapes,” he said.

The vintages only make up two percent of the total port produced. After fermenting in vats, the vintages
are aged in the bottle to preserve their integrity.

“They are living things…they continue maturing, aging,” Machado said.

Graham’s also produces single quinta vintages in non-traditional vintage years. These wines come from
the best grapes from one quinta and offer an alternative to more expensive vintages.

Graham’s Lodge offer tours of their port museum and tastings almost every day of the week.