Porto, or Oporto, is Portugal’s second largest city, and perhaps its most enchanting. Nestled amid sweeping river views, classic architecture, and delicious food is Porto’s most well-known export: port wine. Oenophiles should be sure to add Porto to their bucket lists of must-visit wine regions around the world. As the city and surrounding region become a new favorite for tourists, keep in mind these insider tips for the best wine-tasting experience in Porto and beyond.
1. You Can Stop Over In Porto
Porto is an increasingly popular destination, in part due to the stopover travel encouraged by TAP Portugal as well as a new-ish Ryanair hub in the region. For those unfamiliar with the term, stopover travel simply refers to spending time in your layover city en route to your ultimate destination. This has become a great way to see more of the world thanks to incentives from many airlines encouraging the practice. For example, TAP Portugal allows visitors to spend up to five nights in either Lisbon or Porto during their stopover. Using this method, travelers can add another spot to a European destination at no additional cost.
2. The Off Season Is Worth Your Time
Porto, a World Heritage city, can be a bustling tourist hub during the high season, which lasts roughly May to September. For more manageable crowds, consider a trip during April or October. The weather will still be pleasant, but the wineries and city won’t be overcrowded. Experiencing a trip during low season makes for a much more enchanting, relaxing experience.
3. Real Port Wine Comes From Porto
Before a visit, it’s best to understand the main event in the Douro Valley: port wine. To be a proper port wine, the grapes must be Portuguese indigenous varietals and they must be grown in the Douro Valley region. Port, called vinho do Porto in the native Portuguese tongue, remains the largest export of the region and its biggest tourism draw. Port is a Portuguese fortified wine product that is usually designated a dessert wine. It packs a punch with an alcohol content of 19 to 20% and is served in a special smaller-than-usual wine glass. A serving of port will be roughly three ounces.
4. Port Deserves A Chance
Before my visit to Porto, I wasn’t a huge fan of port. I actually found it to be super sweet and unpalatable. But after experiencing all the magic of this dessert wine in its place of origin, consider me a convert. For those who haven’t yet discovered a port wine they enjoy, I advise keeping an open mind before your trip to Porto. It is likely that the enchanting vineyard backdrop, delectable Portuguese cuisine, and winemaking steeped in history will change your perspective (and your palate). Since my visit, I am much more comfortable navigating a wine list at home and abroad and ordering port for an after dinner sip. In fact, port’s become a favorite night-out treat since my port wine exploration in Portugal.
5. There Are Four Main Types Of Port Wine
Most wine lovers will break port into either the ruby or tawny category. Ruby port is the most common and affordable and is aged in stainless steel barrels to retain its signature red color. Tawny port, on the other hand, is usually aged in wooden barrels for at least two years and becomes a rich amber hue. Another kind of port is white port, which is crafted using indigenous white grapes. The final category, rosé port, is the newest. This kind generally has notes of strawberry, caramel, and violet according to Wine Folly.
6. Port Pairing Pointers Deserve Your Attention
It can sometimes be a challenge to properly pair wine with food. So starting with some idea of what goes well with port can help make a trip to Porto extra tasty. All port varieties stand up well to strong cheeses (like blue cheese and Stilton), as well as most desserts. Chocolate and caramel are especially delightful with a glass of port. Tawny port specifically also tends to pair well with salty appetizers like pretzels or almonds; fresh melon is another perfect complement to a tawny port. Apricots and dried cherries are other classic pairing options, as well as brie cheese, apple custard, pecan pie, and creme brulee. Many area eateries will be able to provide tips for pairings, too, so don’t be shy about asking for advice!
7. The Valley Is An Hour Away
Something to be aware of before a trip to the area is that the Douro Valley, where the grapes for port wine are grown, is actually an hour from the city of Porto. There are numerous ways to reach the valley. For a slow and scenic route, travelers can take a boat trip that winds up the Douro River and into the valley. Or, with a rented car or chauffeur, a roughly hour-long drive can be expected. Additionally, there are train routes if you prefer to travel through the region at that pace.
8. Visiting Suggested Wineries Alleviates Decision Fatigue
It can be challenging to choose from the numerous vineyard properties sprinkled throughout the Douro Valley, so I’ll share a few of my favorites to make it a less daunting task.
A good option is to visit the famed Croft vineyard as it’s the oldest port producer in the area. They have a large tasting room built at their estate -- called Quinta da Roêda -- in Pinhão, a town about an hour and 40 minutes inland from Porto. For a fun lodging twist, consider a stay at the Quinta da Pacheca property; there, travelers can spend the night in a luxuriously appointed giant wine barrel. Another viable option is the home of the celebrated Fonseca port, the Quinta do Panascal. At this property, visitors can explore independently thanks to an audio guided tour and four levels of port tastings.
9. There Are Wine Caves In Vila Nova De Gaia
For those who aren’t interested in heading inland for a vineyard experience, there is a closer alternative. Traditionally, port wine was transported from the Douro Valley to Porto via the Douro River. It was then stored in wine caves for aging before longer journeys elsewhere. They are located just across the river from Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia. Nowadays, these wine caves are known as wine cellars, and many offer port wine tastings.
At the Croft cellar (previously mentioned as the oldest port producer), tours and tastings are offered all year long. Be sure to try their rosé port, called Croft Pink, as this vineyard pioneered that special fortified wine option. Other favorites include a vintage port blend as well as both tawny and ruby port varieties. The guided tour offered at the cellar includes a tasting of three of Croft’s ports, plus accompaniments. Dependent upon the weather, guests will either be able to relax on the patio or inside the fireplace room. There’s even a cheap tasting option for those under age 21 that includes snacks and juice.
10. Vinho Verde Doesn’t Disappoint
When wine drinkers think of Porto, port is naturally the first wine that comes to mind. But not enough has been said about the other crisp and refreshing varietal found in the north of Portugal, vinho verde or green wine. Reminiscent of an herby, light sauvignon blanc, vinho verde is a must-try for anyone visiting the Porto area. Just an hour away in Ponte de Lima, one of Portugal's oldest towns, is a center dedicated to this delicious wine that includes a wine tasting room. This is a great day trip option as the town is scenic and lovely.
Not up for a trip to Ponte de Lima? Simply order this lovely white wine when out to dinner in the Porto region.
11. Porto Plus
While port wine is a huge part of the draw to visit this area, there’s a lot more to keep travelers happy. Porto has a super scenic and famous bookstore, the Livraria Lello. Rumor has it that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling found inspiration in this magical shop. Visitors should also sample ginja, the unofficial liquor of Portugal, known for its sour cherry flavor. The northwestern city of Porto is even home to a famously fancy McDonald’s, great examples of the renowned Portugese azulejos tiles, and a decadent sandwich called a francesinha. Travelers should be sure to explore the beautiful Ribeira district overlooking the river too.
Planning a visit to Portugal? Don’t miss the capital city of Lisbon and all it has to offer!