One cannot help but instantly fall in love with the city of Porto. The second largest in Portugal, it lies in the northwestern province of Entre-Douro-e-Minho, known as the birthplace of Portugal’s wine industry. The river Douro flows through the 2,000 year-old metropolis, and a casual stroll around reveals one of Europe’s oldest centres; declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. The city offers an expressive, colourful and vibrant labyrinth of hilly apartment blocks with crimson-tiled rooftops, and is speckled with ancient relics from its Celtic and Latin traditions such as the trademark Porto Cathedral, Church of São Francisco, the archaic Clerigos Church Tower, and the upscale Avenida dos Aliados.
Within the heart of the city beats the pulse of Porto’s boisterous and captivating Ribeira Square. This core of Porto is demarcated by the prominent Dom Luis I and Arrabida bridges, and everything in between teems with activity: melancholy Fado music becomes inescapable, travellers haggle at local kiosk markets, ferrymen wait for clients to tour the Douro river, and waiters pour glasses of the crimson delicacy of Porto wine over every meal.
Known as Vinho do Porto, it is the lifeblood of the city’s exports and features an atypical, rich flavour with a salient amount of sweetness; a midway of sorts between German Jägermeister and a well-aged Chianti. The wine is manufactured with an assortment of grapes; predominantly the Touriga Nacional and Francesa, or the Tinta Cão and Barroca flavours. Whilst there is a sweeping range of palates, one can normally categorise the wine into these five subdivisions:
Tawny Port: manufactured with red grapes, and aged in barrels instead of bottles, Tawnys are the classic flavour of Porto wines. Its distinct sanguine colour and sweet flavour comes from the oxidation and fermentation process, and can complement a variety of dishes.
Ruby Port: a step below Tawny, ruby is what I refer to as the Budweiser of port drinking, and is the cheapest and most ubiquitous type. Nevertheless, they’re still amazing, and locals and travelers alike love to drink it, especially during a lunch or aperitif with the local seafood.
White Port: made with white grapes, these are typically younger than vintage ports or some rubies due to the oxidation process, which darkens the colour of the wine. Many people enjoy them as cocktails during an aperitif, or as a standalone drink during the day.
Vintage Port: One of the most selective and persnickety of all denominations, vintage is the superlative of all ports. Winemakers follow strict guidelines that have been implemented to ensure quality control throughout the ages, and typically bottle them for around 18 months before labeling them ‘vintage’, but this can vary according to each one.
Late-Bottled Vintage (LBV): A modification of Vintage Port, LBVs are aged beyond the standard 18 months. This is due to its discovery, in which low demand wines prompted winemakers to leave the aged port in their cellars. Fortunately, curiosity proved delicious and profitable, and some port aficionados prefer these finely-crafted drinks over others.
The following are the top 5 recommended places to enjoy port wine in Porto. Please note that this list is not exhaustive, nor fully representative or Porto’s innumerable wine bars:
Vinologia, Rua de são joão, 28-30, 4050-522 Porto, Portugal (+351 910 404 435)
Photo: CCI France International
Although a newcomer to the port industry, Vinologia is unquestionably one of the best wine bars around. The venue focuses solely on wine, offering an eclectic library of ports from local to national vendors. Customers can choose wines by the glass or order entire bottles from their selection. The staff was highly educated on ports, speak fluent English, and were courteous throughout our entire time there. We personally recommended this venue.
Tonho, 11 Cais de Ribeira 13-15, 4050-509 Porto, Portugal (+351 222 004 307)
Near the northern entrance of the Dom Luis I bridge sits this hidden gem of a restaurant. Dom Tonho was established by the local blues artist Rui Veloso in 1992 and has been visited by a host of politicians and musicians. Clearly a place for the affluent, this restaurant offers a great dining experience in Porto. Staff were friendly, decor was splendid, and their riverfront, uphill terrace was a dream to experience. Personally recommended.
Wine Quay Bar, Cais da Estiva 111, 4050-080 Porto, Portugal (+351 22 208 0119)
One of the incumbent leaders of Portuguese wine bars, Wine Quay Bar has won TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence two years in a row (2014-2015). This one also features a breathtaking view of the Douro river and offers a few, but succulent choices of tapas. The bar chooses to give all of its glory to its collection of ports, which have earned it extensive press coverage. If you decide to go bar hopping along the Douro, then don’t hesitate to stop by this place; it’s frequently packed with residents and tourists by nightfall.
Caldeireiros, Rua dos Caldeireiros 139, 4050-139 Portugal (+351 223 214 074)
A stone’s throw away from Porto’s iconic São Bento Station and Clerigos Tower, Caldeireiros consistently ranks as one of the leading restaurants in Porto. The venue offers a simple decor and a heterogenous selection of drinks and dishes; everything from tapas, to fish, pork, and beef entrees, as well as a well-stocked bar of wines. Vegetarians: this is one of few places in Portugal that can accommodate the meatless mindset. Staff are extremely helpful, courteous, and can recommend suitable dishes. Excellent value for money.
Vinum Restaurant and Wine Bar, Rua do Agro nº 141 (Grahams Port Lodge), 4400-281 Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto, Portugal (+351 220930417)
This restaurant is a microcosm of Portuguese history and Douro winemaking. Vinum was established by the Scotsman Andrew James Symington and his wife, Beatrice de Leitão de Carvalhosa Atkinson, who developed their talent into a family business. 350 years later, their legacy transformed into this incredible venue, which features events and conferences for up to 600 people, stunning architecture with ambient lighting, over 3,000 barrels of family wine, and an extensive menu of national dishes, including cod, steak, and seafood. Do not miss this icon of the Douro, which won the Great Wine Capitals Award in 2014.