So you made it out to Porto and you want to taste some Port. But maybe you don’t have a day (or, better yet, a few days) to visit Douro, the stunning, terraced vineyard and river valley where Port is made.
While you should definitely add Douro to your bucket list for your next venture into Northern Portugal, Farah’s got the lowdown on Porto’s best cellars, bars and restaurants where you can learn about and taste great Port without even leaving the city.
The view from Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia’s Riverfront Cellars
We’ll start with the obvious - Vila Nova de Gaia’s riverfront cellars where, since the 1700s, Port was shipped (now it is trucked) to age from Douro. That’s right, counterintuitive to what the name suggests, Port is 1. produced 130 km inland from Porto, in Douro and 2. aged across Douro River from Porto in Gaia.
Port doesn’t actually make its way into Porto until it is bottled to distribute or drink in one of the city’s many wine shops, bars or restaurants (more on those later!)
History of Gaia's Port Cellars
Portgual’s 12th century King D Afonso III made the strategic decision to focus Port wine aging, bottling, selling and shipping in Gaia. This gave the crown and Port wine traders control of Port, rather than the Bishop and Catholic Church who reaped large tax benefits back then on any goods sold across the river in Porto.
Functionally-speaking, Gaia also has more mines to supply the Port cellars with water and is North facing with less sun and wind exposure providing ideal conditions for Port aging.
Tasting in Gaia Today
Over 40 Port merchants representing 200 Port brands occupy Gaia’s riverfront. While some of them have been there for nearly four centuries, it was until less than 40 years ago that they began to open their cellars to the public. Today (especially during the summer), Gaia’s riverfront teems with tourists antsy to taste Port, or wobbly after one too many tastes of Port.
Our writer Odile Bouchard checking out Port barrel aging
Beeline to Graham’s, an elegant choice further down the riverfront away from the crowds. This is one of Symmington Family Estates’ premium Port brands - finesse strings together their offer, from expert guides, specialty Port tastings, quality cheese pairings and a spacious tasting room overlooking Douro River. The sustainability-minded 5th generation of this historic Scottish Port merchant has acheived B Corp status and pilots ambitious initiatives to rewild Portugal and reduce their carbon footprint.
You really only need to visit one landmark Birtish Port merchant’s massive cobb-webbed-pipa-stacked aging cellars to get the full gist of Port’s history, production and styles. After Graham’s, check out one of the few Portuguese-owned Port brands’ more intimate tasting rooms like Vasques de Carvalho (with incredible stocks of Old Tawnies) or Poças (which also produces classic and avant-garde still wines).
World of Wine Museum
Alternatively, immerse yourself in many-a-thing indirectly related to Port, like cork, Portuguese fashion and the history of the city of Porto, at the World of Wine. Of course, you should enjoy a glass of Port and snack at Suspiro dessert café or one of this impressive museum complex’s many wine bars and restaurants.
An exhibit at the WOW Museum
Porto City Center Port Experiences
Good Port is to be found in Porto’s city center as well - we suggest you compare different Port styles and brands tasting with Sérgio at Portus Wine, or buy a special bottle to enjoy on-site with friends at Porto’s iconic wine-shop-turned-bar Universo Carmim - the staff at both these locations are so friendly and knowledgeable.
The famous French wine merchant André Simon said “Wine (so also Port) makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized”. Percy Croft (of the Croft Port merchants) might have said it better - “Any time not drinking Port is a waste of time”.
Restaurant Port Experiences
Indulge your Portlust and experience the full extent of Port and food pairings a restaurant with a good sommelier and by the glass options like Michelin-star Antiqvvm, hip Oficina and Semea, refined Almeja and ODE Wine House, or casual Apego. Head to Espaço Porto Cruz, the Royal Cocktail Club or Cave do Bom Vivant before or after for a Port cocktail aperitif or night cap.
Our writer Odile Bouchard at Cave do Bom Vivant in PortoIt’s easy to fall under Port’s infinitely intriguing, diverse and delicious spell and want to sneak a sip into every moment. When in Porto, go for it!