If you read this blog even semi-regularly, you’ve probably noticed that I like wine. Specifically, I like to drink wine. And, I don’t discriminate – red, white or bubbly, I enjoy them all. Whether it was drinking Chardonnays in Napa Valley, Pinot Noirs in Burgundy, bubbly in Champagne or Pinotages in Stellenbosch, I’ve enjoyed each and every unique experience.
If there is a wine region near my next travel destination, I try my best to weave the experience into my itinerary. So, when I headed to Portugal, it was only natural to add a day in the famed port wine city of Porto… even though I’ve never been a huge port wine fan.
Before I launch into this experience, I should preface this by saying that I am in no way a wine expert. I AM an expert at drinking it and enjoying it, but if you’re waiting for me to critique the points of a specific bottle or launch into a detailed discussion pertaining to the tannins or legs of my favorite aged Rioja, you’re reading the wrong blog. I am far from a wine snob. As much as I relish a glass of Moet, I’m not above sipping some “Two-buck chuck” or wine that comes from a box… (Don’t judge. I was a broke law student and probably would not have survived the three year ordeal without cheap wine).
But, I digress… back to Porto (or Oporto as it’s sometimes called), just a short train ride or (very short) flight from Lisbon. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal, but has a “small city” feel. Generally speaking, I prefer smaller cities to large over-toured capitals. I feel that the people are typically more kind and welcoming in small cities. I also love having the option of exploring a city on foot. For me, Porto had all these characteristics of a small city… but then again, I very well could have gotten Porto all wrong. (After all, I did spend the entire day, almost exclusively, drinking port wine).
I’m certain there are tourist attractions, museums, and places of historical significance in Porto, but I can’t comment on them because I didn’t see any of those things. Our time in Lisbon heavily focused on sight-seeing, so while in Porto, we relaxed, strolled the charming city, enjoyed the lovely spring weather, and of course, drank port wine. A day like this was necessary given the speed and voraciousness at which we had been traveling. On this particular trip, we covered Madrid, Barcelona, Lisbon, Sintra, Porto… and Krakow, Poland (random, I know), in something like 12 days. Not ideal, but at this point in time, I was a brand new baby attorney, meaning I had very limited vacation time (but, I still suffered from unlimited wanderlust). So, to break up the warp speed sightseeing, sleepless nights due to staying out entirely too late, and dullness of spending way too much time in airports, we typically schedule a destination into our itinerary where we force ourselves to slow down. On this particular adventure, Porto was that place.
Porto is a lovely city situated on the Douro River. The historical city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and from what I recall from wandering through, the city center was exceptionally lovely). But, if you head past the city center and cross over the river to the Gala hillside you will find over 50 port wine cellars. Not all of them are open to the public for tours and tasting, but plenty of them are.
What NOT To Do in Porto, Portugal
We started our port wine adventure at Taylor’s, which is arguably the most well-known and prestigious port wine producer. This said, the cellars and tasting room didn’t feel stuffy at all. We had our first tasting sitting around port wine barrels in an open air tasting room with peacocks wandering about.
But, Taylor’s did seem to attract a certain “type” of customer… I learned this in a rather awkward fashion when I asked a famous “rock star” to take a picture of my girlfriend and I. You see, for this leg of our trip, it was just the two of us – meaning that (since we do not use the “selfie-stick”), the majority of our pictures either had just her or just me in them. Seeing the rare opportunity to get a picture with both of us in it, I asked the grungish looking gentleman next to me to take our photo. There was an uncomfortable exchange and some confused looks before he hastily snapped a (terribly uncentered and dark) picture of us with with my camera. After the man left, I learned from the sommelier that the group of men sitting next to us were actually the band, The National, who happened to be playing a concert that evening (and were wildly popular at the time in Europe). This explained his confusion (and attitude) when I asked him to take a picture of us, rather than with us…
So, he was a rockstar? Whatever. He still could have least tried to take a nice picture for us.
Famous bands aside, the great thing about a visit to Taylor’s is that they also have an exceptional restaurant on their grounds. Our lunch wasn’t cheap, about $50 USD per person (although, we did order filet mignon with our wine), but it was delicious and totally worth it.
At Taylor’s we learned the basics of port as I struggled through (in my opinion) the overly sweet tastings. And by basics, I mean that I now know there is ruby port (“red” that is aged between 3-5 years) and tawny port (“white” which is aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 7 years). Much like scotch, ports are generally more valuable the longer that they are aged, and the price of a particular bottle heavily depends upon whether it is aged 10, 20, 30, or more than 40 years.
To my dismay, the cellars only served port. I was hoping to intermix my port tastings with other (less sweet) Portugese wine, but this wasn’t possible. Apparently, port cellars only make port. So, I did my best to embrace the experience and went along with the port tastings.
Maybe port didn’t taste all that bad after all? After popping into a few more cellars and partaking in several more tastings, I actually began to think to myself that the ports were “growing” on me. (Although, my change of heart was likely due to the sheer quantity of port consumed by this time). The alcohol (and sugar) buzz I had likely also played a heavy role into my decision to purchase a glass of aged tawny port from a 110 euro bottle at Cave Vasconcellos… Clearly, a poor decision for a girl who (a) doesn’t fully appreciate port, and (b) doesn’t really actually even like port all that much.
After Cave Vasconcellos, we headed to Calem for a cellar tour, before heading to famous Sandeman for a private tasting.
So, what did I learn from my day of overindulgence in Porto?
Drinking too much port is akin to eating entirely too much cotton candy. You will have a terribly upset stomach for the next 36 hours or so (to the point that eating and sleeping will be difficult).
What you need to know before you go?
If you’re simply a casual port drinker – not much.
I had no advance reservations and no particular plan for the day. We started by targeting a couple of the port houses that my guidebook recommended and then continued to wander from there. The large majority of the cellars and tasting rooms are located near each other and it was extremely easy to stroll from cellar to cellar.
The takeaway, my friends? If you should find yourself in Portugal, squeezing in a day in Porto is warranted. Sampling ports from every cellar, however, is not.
Ready to book your trip to Porto? You can check rates, find great deals and book your Porto hotel online here.
Related posts: Lisbon: A City of Unexpected Must-Sees
Is a trip to Porto in your future? Have you indulged in a port wine tasting?
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