Perhaps the most famous of Portugal’s exports, port is a fortified wine made from grapes grown in the Douro Valley. Synonymous with the beautiful city of Porto, the drink draws millions of visitors annually to taste it at its source. Whether you’re a first-time sipper or a port aficionado, here’s what you should know to make the most of a port-tasting trip to Porto.
1. Some walking is involved. Porto is typically associated with port, yet most of the port houses or port tasting rooms are actually across the river in a town called Vila Nova de Gaia. You’ll have to walk a short distance across the Ponte Luís I bridge from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, but you’ll be met with Insta-worthy views. Good to know: Vila Nova de Gaia has even steeper hills than Porto, and some of the port houses are uphill.
2. Vila Nova de Gaia has 10 port houses. Sandeman, Graham’s, Cockburn’s, and Taylor’s -- whose products are found stateside -- are among the largest producers of port and have some of the busiest tasting rooms. Kopke, one of the oldest port houses, offers tasting flights paired with chocolate; in addition to port, they also make other Portuguese wines. A few lesser-known options (ones not sold in the U.S.) include Wiese and Krohn, Burmester, and Vasconcellos.
3. Some venues offer free tours, while others charge a small fee. Taylor’s is among the places you can visit for free, and Sandeman charges a nominal fee (from €6, approximately $7 USD) for the tour and tasting. If your time is limited -- or if you want to taste a variety of port in one place -- visit Port Wine Institute in Porto, where hundreds of ports are available for tasting for as little as €1 per glass.
4. There’s even a wine-themed hotel. The 82-room Yeatman Hotel in Vila Nova de Gaia takes wine very seriously: each room is named for a Portuguese winery and its 21,000-square-foot spa has products and services that incorporate wine, grapes, and grape seeds. Even the outdoor pool is shaped like a wine decanter. Its location near several port houses makes it convenient for tastings, too. Off-season rates are from €200 per night.
5. Double check the port houses’ operating hours. Most port houses open early -- around 10 a.m. -- and close between 5 and 7 p.m. Some close for lunch, and others operate on limited hours during the winter.
6. Safety first. Port tasting packs a punch; be sure to have breakfast and lunch during your outing. It’s also important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. We recommend visiting no more than three port houses per day -- fewer if you’re a light drinker.
7. Plan to bring some port home. While some brands like Taylor’s are easily found here at home, not all varieties are found on American wine shop shelves. If you find something you love, ask if it’s exported. Since most shops have special wine bottle wraps for sale, you can pack a bottle in your luggage with no fear of a leak.
8. Start farthest away from your hotel. We like to begin a tasting day at the port house located highest up the hill so we can work ourselves back down. Nothing takes the fun out of a day of port tasting like trudging up and down steep hills.
9. Try everything. Port comes in several varieties: white port, ruby port, tawny port, late bottled vintage, colheita, blends, and vintage port. Even if you think you know what you like, it’s worth trying something new.