Port wine, from the Douro Valley to tasting

You may be wondering whether port is really considered a wine, how it's made, what types of port exist and, above all, where to try them on holiday in the northern capital. Alcohol abuse is dangerous for your health and you should drink in moderation, but that's just as well, because port is a wine that should be enjoyed first and foremost.

However, its taste is so mild that you may well drink it several times during your stay. This traditional Portuguese spirit is similar to cooked wine, but not exclusively. Port is sweeter and contains more alcohol. It belongs to the family of "mutés" wines, meaning that brandy and other spirits are added during fermentation. Port wine has an alcohol content of around 20% and 100g of sugar per litre. It is made in the Douro valley, around a hundred kilometres from Porto. Let's discover this popular spirit!

Landscape of the Douro valley and its river, Porto, Portugal.

- © Simon Dannhauer / Shutterstock

History of port

Port wine was born in the upper Douro valley, and the river that meanders through the area deserves to be as famous as the city itself. The breathtaking wine-growing landscapes of the basin are veritable works of art, sculpted by the hand of Man. With its arid climate in summer and temperatures hovering around 40°C, winter is very harsh and very cold. Difficult to access, the mountainous terrain is highly unsuitable for farming. Before the dam, the Douro River was much lower and its current much slower than it is today.

The Douro valley with its pretty vineyards in autumn, Portugal.

- © Olga Gavrilova / Shutterstock

The Douro Valley has been home to vineyards since the Middle Ages. Even with all the difficulties that go with it, passionate men continue to cultivate the grape. Most winegrowers make a living from their plantations and carry on the tradition from generation to generation, wanting to protect the heritage by taking care of the vines. More than half of winegrowers have just one hectare and cultivate the grapes with love. But if they can still make a living from it today, it's thanks to the history of rivalries between England and France.

In 1667, Colbert put the brakes on imports of foodstuffs from England, and King Charles II taxed French wines and eventually stopped them being imported. As a result, wine merchants turned to the Douro Valley and Porto to buy their wine. As a result, the estates grew and the business became very prosperous, and remains so today.

Vineyards in the Douro Valley, Porto, Portugal.

- © silky / Shutterstock

What are the different types of port?

Red ports are the most common. There are several types:

  • The "Ruby" are the least interesting and tend to be at the lower end of the market.
  • Tawny" ports have been aged in oak casks for at least 5 years.
  • Tawny Reserve" wines are aged for 7 to 8 years, and "Tawny" wines aged for 10, 20, 30 or even more years are blends, and this age is an average. For example, a 10 year old port and a 20 year old will give a 15 year old "Tawny".
  • Twany colheita" are ports made from a single vintage and matured for at least 7 years in casks.
  • Vintage" wines are the noblest and represent a small proportion of the harvest. They are bottled after 2 years and continue to age once. They can be drunk after 2 years but are even better if kept longer.
  • Late Bottled Vintage" is made from the same grapes but is aged in casks for 4 to 6 years and will not age as well as a "Vintage".

The whites, which are less noble, are still very pleasant to drink. However, they can be drier.

The rosés are fairly recent (2008). This is a "Ruby" fermented like a rosé wine and served chilled or in cocktails.

How to drink port?

Port is an ideal wine to serve as an aperitif, with cheese or dessert. Rosé and white port wines are best drunk chilled, and are often used in cocktails. Red port should be drunk between 14°C and 15°C.

Two glasses of Tawny port wine

- © seligaa / Shutterstock

Does port wine age well, and how long should I wait before drinking it?

Port wine is bottled between 2 and 3 years after it is first produced, and ages for a further 2 years in the bottle. It can be drunk then, but it is preferable to age it for at least 10 years before opening it. Ports are often 15 to 25 years old, but some are over 100 years old. To preserve it, it must be stored horizontally, otherwise the cork will dry out.

Will port keep for a long time once it has been opened?

Once opened, port can be kept for 4 months. It is best to store it upright and in a cool place, except for Vintage port, which should be drunk quickly as it settles. If you wait too long, it won't have the same flavour in the following weeks or months.

The best wine cellars for tasting port wine

To visit the best wineries, cross the river by boat or over the Dom Luis I Bridge into the town of Vila Nova de Gaia.

Cave Cálem for those who want to combine port wine tasting with a fado show

To start with, we recommend a visit to the interactive museum, where you can taste between 2 and 3 ports depending on the option you choose (between €14 and €21). And if you decide to visit the winery in the evening, you can listen to a fado concert (€23). The tour is in English.

Cave Cálem

📍 Address: Avenida de Diogo Leite, 344, Vila Nova de Gaia

Website

⏰ Opening times: 10am-7pm

Graham's Port Lodge for a port wine with a spectacular view

This winery dates back to 1890 and is set high above the city to give you a splendid view of Oporto and the Ribeira. After a tour with a French-speaking guide, you can sample Graham's Quinta do Malvedos, Vintage and Tawny wines.

Graham's Port Lodge

📍 Address: Rua do Agro 141, 4400-281 Vila Nova de Gaia

Website

⏰ Opening times: 9.30am - 5.30pm

Sandeman for a dive into history in period costume

You've probably already seen Sandeman's Dom in advertisements, in his cape and hat. It's even the costume your guide will be wearing to tell you all about Sandeman's history (in French) and with a tasting session.

Sandeman

📍 Address: Largo Miguel Bombarda, 47, Vila Nova de Gaia

Website

⏰ Opening times: 10am-6pm in winter and 10am-8pm in summer.

⭐ Where to stay in Vila Nova de Gaia?

Vila Nova de Gaia vue de la Ribeira

- © krivinis / Shutterstock
Novotel Porto GaiaPorto

Novotel Porto Gaia

Hotel with outdoor swimming pool
8Very good
From
£94 / night
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The House of Sandeman - Hostel & SuitesPorto

The House of Sandeman - Hostel & Suites

Hotel in the same historic building as the Sandeman winery
9.4Fabulous
From
£71 / night
Book
by Jude JONES
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