Porto, Portugal’s second city, is known for its beautiful cityscape, charming public squares and, above all, its deliciously sweet dessert wine, Port.
The famed digestif is made by fortifying wine with spirits, it has a rich history and connoisseurs flock to Porto to taste Port at its source.
Only wines made from grapes grown in the hot and arid Douro valley can, truly, be considered Port — every local has their favourite brand, vintage and variety.
When in Porto, you can’t go wrong staying on the Ribeira or riverside. The Ribeira has a plethora of restaurants located in charming squares, on both sides.
It is here where the wine-tasting begins, the wineries will give you a tour with ample time for tasting, often a light lunch is included. Taylor’s cellars are more than 300 years old and include a museum that helps explain the Port wine process.
Port wine, like all wines, comes in several different varieties. Tawny and ruby are the darker varieties that most will have had at home but there are also white Ports and a newer rosé style.
Tawny is barrel-aged and sweet while ruby has more of a fruity flavour. They will be served slightly cold, with after-dinner treats — various cheeses and chocolates. The lighter varieties are served ice-cold.
After 10 or so tastings you may be feeling a bit woozy, remember Port is around 20 per cent alcohol, so head down to the Ribeira for lunch. From here there are traditional boats that will take you on river cruises to see Porto from the water, and, you guessed it, a few tastings are included.
If you have more time in the city, which is highly recommended, take a day trip to the wine-producing region of Pinhao. Trains leave regularly from the central station, and if you sit on the right side of the train, you will have uninterrupted views of the vineyards hugging the Douro River.
Once in Pinhao, it’s time for Port, Port and more Port. Head straight for the largest Vineyard in town Quinta do Bomfin. This estate has been owned by the Symington family for generations, they will be happy to show you around. They produce some of the biggest names in Port, including Graham’s and Dow’s.
This particular estate grows the grapes for Dow’s, their Tawny vintages are exquisite as is their Vineyard and the views of the river Douro. The Dow’s Tawny 30-year vintage is slightly better than the 40, it loses some complexity in the last 10 years — try both for yourself and decide.
From here you can stumble up the hill to Quinta da Rodea, the home of Croft. The Vineyard has the most spectacular views of the valley and is well worth the walk.
Highly recommended is their Croft sampling board which includes a glass of each of their Port varieties paired with a cheeseboard.
Back in the village Quinta do Noval has a tasting shop which offers the complex black Port, a super-dark ruby that is worth a try. At this point, you may want to book a hotel in Pinhao for the night — there are some very good luxury hotels on the riverside.
Although Porto offers history, culture, top-class restaurants and so much more, a good place to start exploring the region is through its most famous export, Port.