We spent three days in Porto, and while we did explore some of the city’s churches and attractions, a good portion of our time there was spent touring port houses and tasting port wine. It is the home of port, after all; the similarity in the nomenclature is no coincidence. Porto is a truly amazing city, but we will be dedicating this post entirely to the wine that bears its name. We hope that the information we share will shed some light on this lesser known wine and help others plan their own Porto adventure.
Although it’s called “port” wine, the majority of the port cellars are actually located in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town across the Douro River from Porto. The list of port houses below is by no means exhaustive; however, we feel that it represents the majority of the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. There are also maps and signs posted throughout the town to help guide you along the way (especially helpful after a few tastings).
Cálem: Closest port house to the bridge that connects Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. Paid tour and tastings available.
Croft: Although a bit of a hike up the hill from the river, it is well worth the visit. Free tour and tastings available.
Ferreira: Known as the Portuguese port wine because it is the only major port company has been continually operated by the same Portuguese family since its founding. Free museum that provides information about the company’s history. Paid tour and tastings available.
Kopke: Tasting room only, no tour. Paid tastings available.
Quinta Do Noval: Tasting room only, no tour. Paid tastings available.
Sandeman: One of the world’s largest and most well-known port makers. Free museum that provides information about the history of port wine, the company, and marketing and brand development. Paid tour and tastings available.
Sogevinus: Tasting room only, no tour. Paid tastings available.
Taylor Fladgate: Free tastings. No tour, although there is an informational video playing in the tasting room. There is a restaurant on the property as well, with an outdoor patio where you can enjoy great views of Porto and the river.
Vasconcellos: Paid tour and tastings available (free if you purchase a bottle).
Wiese & Krohn: Founded by Norwegian cousins, now owned by a Portuguese family. Free tastings. No tour, but there is a small museum that displays traditional port wine making equipment.
We took tours at Croft and Ferreira, where we learned the basics of port wine. One important lesson that we learned is that to be a true port wine, the grapes must be grown in the Douro Valley, which became a demarcated region (D.O.C) in 1756.
Port wines are fortified and filtered, so unlike table wine, they will not mature in the bottle. When you buy a bottle of port, drink it. Once opened a bottle of port is good for up to four months. The exception to this rule is when the Institute of Port Wine declares a “vintage” year based on the remarkably high quality of grapes from a particular harvest. These wines will age in the bottle and, once opened, need to be consumed within a couple of days.
At this point you may be wondering, why is port wine fortified with brandy? The answer, to get you drunk faster. No, not really. Port wine producers began to add brandy to their wine in order to preserve it better for transport by sea to England, their largest consumer.
The two most recognized port wines are ruby and tawny. Did you know there are more? During our visit to Vila Nova de Gaia, we learned that there are actually several different kinds of port. Below we explain them, in very simple terms may we add, so to learn more, you’ll just have to visit Porto yourself!
Ruby: Made from red grapes and aged for a relatively short period of time in very large French oak casks. The large size of the casks limits oxidation and flavor absorption, allowing these wines to keep a more natural “ruby” color and ripe fruit flavor.
Tawny: Made from red grapes and aged for a longer period of time in small French oak casks. The smaller barrels allow for greater levels of oxidation and contact with the wood. These two elements cause tawny to become amber in color over time and develop deeper sweetness similar to dried fruit or honey.
Colheita: A small category of tawny ports, which bear a harvest date. However, unlike vintage ports, colheita is not bottled right away, but allowed to age in the barrel, sometimes for decades.
Branco (white): Made from white grapes and aged in a similar style to the ruby. These ports range quite a bit in terms of sweetness and some producers even make a style known as “chip dry,” which referrers to a taste that is as dry as a piece of wood.
Lágrima: Made from white grapes and aged in small French oak casks for a longer period of time than white ports. Interestingly, this style of port wine is not commonly exported from Portugal due to the belief that it would not be agreeable to non-Latin palettes. So be sure to get your fix while you’re in Portugal!
Rose: The newest innovation in port wine, roses are technically ruby ports, however, are limited in their exposure to the grape skins during the fermentation process, giving them a lighter color.
Vintage: When the Institute of Port Wine determines that a particular year produced exceptionally great grapes throughout the entire Douro Valley, they declare a vintage year. This occurs approximately twice per decade, with the most recent vintage being 2007. Due to the rarity of these ports, they are quite pricey. Unlike other styles of port wine, which are made using grapes blended from various years, vintages are made only with red grapes from that year. Vintage port wines are bottled after just two years of aging in the barrel and are not filtered, which allows them to be stored and aged further in the bottle. The oldest vintage port available for sale is from 1863!
Late Bottle Vintage (LBV): Very similar to vintage ports, but much more affordable, LBVs are made when a particular winery feels that their grapes are exceptional during a given year. LBVs are not declared by the Institute of Port Wine, however are dated with the harvest year. A great tip is to purchase a LBV with the same year as a vintage port.
If you enjoy wine, you should definitely add Porto to your list of travel destinations. Or, for a more affordable alternative, head to the nearest wine shop, pick up a few bottles of port and invite some friends over. We will be adding a glass of ruby, our favorite port, to the end of many meals to come.