The Essential Wine Guide to exploring Porto and the Douro Valley

July 13, 2018

The Essential Wine Guide to exploring Porto and the Douro Valley

Porto is the ultimate city trip for anyone looking for a slightly more laid back experience of Iberian life, full of long, slow strolls and even longer lunches. Far from the bustling, vibrant crowds of Lisbon or the baking sunshine of the Algarve, Porto has always moved at its own speed, mirroring the lazy Douro River as it flows through the city and out into the Atlantic Ocean. There's so much to see and do here, from taking surfing lessons at Matosinhos beach to discovering the meandering old town, drinking in the medieval architecture and enjoying a long, slow dinner, washed down with plenty of delicious local wine. To see the whole city as it's best, energetic travelers brave the 222 steps up to the top of the Clerigos Tower to experience a panoramic view of Porto; a sea of terracotta tiled roofs sloping down towards the river, golden in the evening as the last rays of sunshine dapple its surface. With so many non-vinous activities, it's easy to remember the heartbeat of this Atlantic city; wine!

Porto can lay claim to housing some of the oldest family-ran wine businesses in the world, sat at the mouth of the Douro river so essential to their trade. Snaking inland from the city itself is the majestic Douro Valley, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and one of the first ever demarcated wine regions in the world. With a modern history dating back to 1756, it's hard to know what's more impressive; the hugely structured, long-lived Port wines or the breathtaking views of the valley itself. Historically these wines would be shipped down-river to Vila Nova de Gaia, a small town across the river from Porto, where they could begin their long ageing process before being transported around the world. Today, Porto is still home to many of these producers with vast cellars to be explored and wines to be tasted. The city is alive with food as well, from the famous, rustic Franchesinha sandwich to freshly barbecued seafood and fine dining experiences. Combine the two for the ultimate Porto experience and if you have the time, there are various wine trips to be made that will change your perception of Portugese wine forever! Whether you're a long time fan of Portugese wine or want to explore more, read on for our top tips on how to do so from the beauty of this wonderful city.

Port Wine

Wine Expeditions from Porto

Porto sits at the mouth of the Douro river, a mighty torrent of water that begins all the way in northern Spain and has forged its path through the Douro Valley over the millenia, on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Over the centuries, Port houses have established their vineyards and operations on these steep slopes and you could spend weeks just wandering up and down the valley, marveling at its natural beauty and visiting famous producers along the way. For an introduction to Port wine though, we can start closer to home and hop across the river to Vila Nova de Gaia to visit one of the most famous Port houses...

Make sure to read our guide on the Dos and Don't of visiting wineries here. Your Guide to Visiting Wineries

The Region – Vila Nova de Gaia


This cobbled, charming suburb across the river from Porto itself is the heartbeat of the wine trade in the city. Conveniently, it's also barely 10 minutes from Porto, making it one of the easiest wine visits you'll ever make! All along the waterfront, tall Port Lodges rise in steps up the hillside, housing millions of bottles worth of Port wine, all maturing slowly and steadily in this cooler, more humid environment. By law, all Port had to be shipped from Vila Nova de Gaia until as recently as 1986, which explains why every major Port house has operations here. Luckily for us wine lovers, that means a plethora of choice, most with centuries of history behind them. However, if we had to choose one, if would be...

The Winery – Taylor's

Taylor's is the only British company in Porto to have been handed down through the many generations of its history, without having being sold or taken over once, despite having been founded in 1692! Considered as something of an emblem for the region, even by their rivals, what better place to start your Port experience? Taylor's is an operating, functional business in Vila Nova de Gaia, with over 1,500 barrels of Port resting and ageing, but it's also a modern museum and a great way to discover what Port is all about before embarking into the Douro Valley itself. Make sure you take the self-guided, audio tour that explains the history and modern production of Port, how to best serve and enjoy Port and of course, concludes with a tasting.

The Wine – Taylor's Vintage Port


Like most Port houses, the flagship wine is their Vintage Port, only made in years where the harvest is of a good enough quality to be considered. Taylor's produce one of the most acclaimed vintage Ports on the market, with the majority of the grapes hailing from the iconic Quinta de Vargellas and Quinta da Terra Feita estates in the Douro Valley. Expect a hugely structured, powerful wine full of rich black fruits and licorice in youth, slowly unfolding over decades to reveal wonderful aromatic complexity. Certainly a wine for the long haul!

For more information and to contact Taylor's to book an experience, visit: Taylor's Port Visit

If you're still feeling thirsty afterwards, head up to the Yeatman Hotel above to enjoy a White Port and Tonic cocktail on their beautiful terrace.

Visiting Taylor's requires a trip across the Ponte Luis I bridge, with fantastic reviews of the river along the way, which can be walked across or you can take Line D of the metro to Jardim do Morro station, towards Santo Ovidio, just one stop from Sao Bento station. For more information on Porto's Metro System, check out this concise guide

Douro Valley Portugal

The Region – Douro Valley
The Douro Valley is the main reason why wine lovers from across the world make the trip to Porto, although a trip here leaves no-one unmoved. Demarcated for Port production since 1756, this valley has been forged by the relentless path of the Douro River over millions of years, long before man arrived to try and make a living here. Some of the hillsides are so steep that deep, long terraces are cut into the rock in order to create a flat space for vines to grow. Vibrant green in the summer and bonfire-orange in the Autumn, this may be the single most beautiful wine region in the world! Better yet, there are top quality producers located in corners all along the valley, most of whom are more than happy to accept adventurous visitors. If we had to visit a single one, though, it would be...

The Winery – Quinta Nova

Quinta Nova is a beautiful estate in the heart of the Douro Valley, with a history dating all the way back to 1725! Now in the capable hands of the Amorim Family for 4 generations, they focus strongly on improving their estate vineyards of which they own a remarkable 120ha; as a point of reference, many Port shippers produce their wine from purchased grapes as land is so difficult to acquire here. They still use the original winery, built in 1764 and completely modernised within, although there are still the traditional stone lagares for the very best Vintage Port: foot-treading is still a way of production in certain high quality estates in the Douro! Whilst it's a journey to arrive here, it's well worth it and you'll be rewarded beyond the views and the wine, as Quinta Nova also have an impressive restaurant and even a guest house, should you want to spend a night and enjoy yourself to the fullest.

The Wine – Quinta Nova 'Referencia' Grande Reserva


An interesting development in the Douro Valley is the increasing focus on non-fortified wines, produced from the same varieties but much lighter and more accessible than their grander, fortified cousins. Quinta Nova have embraced this fully and produce a whole portfolio of red and white wine from their estates along the Douro, with the flagship bottling being this delicious wine based on Tinta Roriz, also known as Tempranillo in Spain. Rich, dark fruits and violets compete with sweet oak components, with lovely soft tannins and a long, creamy finish. Delicious!

For more information and to contact Quinta Nova to book a visit to the winery: Visit Quinta Nova

*Visiting Quinta Nova requires a vehicle or private transportation as the winery is over 1 hour outside of Porto itself, in the Douro Valley.

Vinho Verde Alvarinho Grapes

The Region – Vinho Verde

For anyone who wants to go further afield, Vinho Verde is a remarkable wine region in northern Portugal, open to the elements and regularly whipped by the winds coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. By far the coolest, breeziest part of the country, hence the name 'Green wine', this is a place for adventurous travelers to discover the lighter, more acidic white wines produced from Alvarinho, Loureiro and Caíño blanco amongst other indigenous varieties. If you're going to travel this far north, it makes sense to pay a visit to the most iconic producer in the region...

The Winery – Quinta de Soalheiro

As with other regions, not all producers are created equal and Quinta de Soalheiro is one of the very best! Not only do they have some of the oldest Alvarinho vines in the entire country, planted in 1974, but ably led by João Antonio Cerdeira, they've pioneered a whole new style of Vinho Verde. The sweet, slightly sparkling commercial wines hold no weight here. Instead they focus on high quality, dry wines often from single vineyards or from single soil types, all from the specific sub-region of Melgaço. To really get to grips with what they're all about, we recommend you try...

The Wine – Alvarinho Soalheiro Granit

This 100% Alvarinho wine comes from selected plots of land, 200 metres above sea level in the Melgaço sub-region, all grown on granitic soils as the name implies. This remarkable wine is full of the citrus and sweet herb flavours you expect from Alvarinho, yet it also has a brilliant streak of minerality running through it, focusing the acidity and flavours to a fine point. If you want to get a feel for Alvarinho at its very best, this is the bottle for you!

For more information and to contact Quinta de Soalheiro to book a visit: Visit Soalheiro

*Visiting Quinta de Soalheiro requires a vehicle or private transportation as the winery is over 1 hour outside of Porto itself, to the north.

Porto Wine Shop and Bars

Wine Bars and Shops in Porto


Whilst you could probably spend an entire vacation exploring the Port Lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia alone, variety is very much the spice of life! Plus, there are plenty of niche wines to be discovered that you won't find in the cellars of Port producers, and delicious food to pair it with. From grand hotels to boutique wine shops, here's a small selection of some of our favourites:

Yeatman Hotel
Rua do Choupelo, 4400-088

The most luxurious hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia, this 5* hotel was built by the Taylor-Fladgate group as a wine-themed experience in the heart of their empire. Whilst this is a stunning, atmospheric place to stay with a Michelin-starred restaurant and enormous swimming pool, we're more interested in their wine bar and terrace, overlooking the Douro river. Nothing beats a White Port and Tonic cocktail on a hot summers day, the very drink that Port shippers drink to stave off the heat, whilst you're planning your next adventure. Needless to say, there's a very formidable wine list here and should you want to indulge yourself with fine dining or mature Port, this is the place to be! Yeatman Hotel

Wine Quay Bar
Cais da Estiva, 4050

A relative newcomer on the wine scene and how glad we are that they're here! Opened in 2012 by a husband and wife in an old cellar overlooking the Douro River, Wine Quay Bar has quickly become one of the city's hot-spots. With wines from all across Portugal, the concept here is simple; allow wine lovers to explore the entire country, pairing their wines with smoked cheeses, cured meats and delicious seafood, all whilst looking out over the beautiful river. They've just opened Quay Market next door as well, so if there's a wine you absolutely adore, you can buy it and take it home with you! Wine Quay Bar

Garrafeira do Carmo
R. do Carmo, 17

Garrafeira do Carmo is Porto's most impressive wine shop, nicknamed 'Porto's Wine Cathedral', and has been since it first opened in 1990. Needless to say, Port is a speciality here and their array of Vintage Port in particular is quite staggering; if you want to purchase vintages as far back as 1834, this is where you need to come! There's also a solid selection of wine from around the rest of Portugal and the personal service is second to none. It's impossible to pass through Porto without spending a good hour here, wandering around the charming store and poking into the dark corners, searching for hidden gems. Garrafeira do Carmo

Garage Wines
Av. Menéres 681

At the other end of the scale is Garage Wines, a small shop close to the beach in the Matosinhos district of Porto. In the wine industry, a 'Garage Wine' is one made in tiny productions, often in make-shift wineries and yes, even in garages! Needless to say, Garage Wines in Porto focuses on these tiny producers and gives them a platform to be discovered by anyone passing by. With over 500 different bottles that would be truly difficult to find elsewhere, this is the ideal spot for the more adventurous wine-drinkers, or for anyone who wants to discover niche producers that are very much under-the-radar. With a beautiful, temperature controlled space and excellent service, we urge you to visit! Garage Wines

Wine O'Clock
Rua de Sousa Aroso, 297

You've no doubt heard the expression that it's always wine o'clock somewhere, right? Well in this case, it's just around the corner from Garage Wines in Matosinhos! Opened in 2006 this is a sleek, innovative project with over 3,000 wines to choose from, 70% of which all hail from Portugal with a particular focus on the Douro and Alentejo. It's an ambitious set-up with 3 stores in Porto and constant tastings and education sessions, as well as a seriously impressive website (only in Portuguese as of now). Better yet, go pay them a visit and see for yourself! Wine O'Clock

Port Wine Guide

Port Wine Guide

Regardless of what you end up doing during your stay in Porto, you'll see Port wine everywhere you go. It's in the blood of the people here and if you've come on a wine visit, you'll consume quite a bit of it yourself! The problem is, as with so many European wines, that there's so much variety! Here's our quick guide to help you understand the major stylistic differences in the bottles of Port you encounter. Be aware that there are more than we're listing below, but these are the most likely styles you'll find:

Vintage Port
Vintage Port is the premium expression of a Port shipper, produced only in the best years, aged for 2-3 years in barrels and bottled without filtration. These wines are then usually aged for years in bottle, or even decades, in order to develop the complexity they're capable of. Expect full, rich, structured wines that can be too powerful to approach in youth!

Tawny Port
Tawny Port is so named after its lovely, orange-brown colour. The most basic examples are often Ruby Port mixed with White Port and then left to age for a short period of time, but there are age ranges from 3 years old all the way to 40. This is classic Tawny Port and the brown colour it has is from the long, ageing process. With 10-40 year old Tawny Port, expect wonderful caramelised, nutty flavours and mind-bending complexity from some of the better, older examples.

White Port
White Port is usually made from the Arinto, Gouveio, Malvasia and Viosinho grapes. White Port is intended to be drunk as an apertif and is best served when slightly chilled or mixed with tonic water or lemonade to create a Port shippers cocktail!

Ruby Port
The youngest and most fiery of the Ports, this is usually a blend of several harvests that has been aged for 1-3 years in barrel before release. Immediately accessible, this are often powerful, spicy wines.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
Late Bottled Vintage Port is a great value option, as they're made from a single harvest and then aged in oak for 4-6 years. Typically these wines don't have the sheer power and structure of a Vintage Port and can be drank far earlier. Just be careful as many of these wines are unfiltered like a Vintage Port and throw a heavy sediment; we recommend decanting just in case!

Colheita
A Colheita Port is essentially a Tawny Port made from a single harvest rather than a blend of different vintages. The label will state the vintage and the wines are aged for an extra minimum 7 years, although often for much longer. As with a Tawny Port, these wines will have a lovely faded colour and the same nutty, caramelised complexity.

As you can see, there's plenty of vinous based activities to do in and around Porto and we very much hope you enjoy your stay. Make sure to eat and drink well, explore the city and should you venture out to the vineyards, don't forget to bring back some wine with you! Saúde!

If you're planning to visit Lisbon, make sure you check out our wine guide for Portugal's capital city.

For more on our specially designed wine luggage and more detailed information on how to travel with alcohol, check out the links below:

 






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