Taste: Porto

30 Oct 2014 by GrahamSmith

A trip to historic Porto will have you looking at its most famous export in a new light, says Annie Harris

You can’t fail to be impressed by Porto. The city cascades down to the Douro river, a tumble of multi-coloured houses with red roofs, their cast-iron balconies adorned with washing and vibrant pots of geraniums.

Over the gorge spans an array of bridges connecting the UNESCO-listed old town of Ribeira to the wine lodge district of Vila Nova de Gaia and the vineyards beyond.

The northern Portuguese city is, of course, renowned not only for its picturesque views but for the perennially popular fortified wine that bears its name. Once, traditional Rabelo boats transported the barrels downriver from the Douro valley vineyards to be matured in the lodges, the temperate coastal climate suiting the drink’s slow maturing process.

If you are interested in spending a couple of days exploring the region, a good place to base yourself is the Yeatman hotel, in the heart of Vila Nova de Gaia.

It classes itself as Portugal’s first luxury wine hotel, and its cellars house an extensive collection of the country’s vintages, to be enjoyed over a meal in the Michelin-starred restaurant. There is even a themed spa – you can have a wine scrub or bathe in the stuff.

On the doorstep of the Yeatman are Taylor’s wine lodges, run by one of the oldest family-owned port producers in the city for more than three centuries.

For €5 you can enjoy a guided tour of the extensive cellars, which house about 4,000 pipes (oak barrels), 200 toneis and balseiros (large oak vats), as well as bottles that date back three decades to what was one of the finest vintages in the history of port.

While the maturing process takes place in the lodges, the port is made upriver in the Douro valley, where all the quintas (vineyards) are located. Designated the world’s first demarcated wine region in 1756, all port must be made here to bear the name.

It’s created by fortifying wine with brandy to preserve its natural sugars, a process originally carried out to keep the drink fresh on its long sea voyage back to England.

After marvelling at the huge vats and dusty bottles, it’s time to step back into the Portuguese sunshine and sample a few.

While all the different types of port may at first seem confusing – from LBV and tawny to ruby, white and even pink (see right) – a tasting session will soon have you looking at the drink in a new light. (This writer has since developed quite a taste for Chip dry white port and tonic, a refreshing change to a G&T.)

For the full experience, head for the quintas in the remarkable Upper Douro valley, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.

The train journey from Porto station to the pretty town of Pinhao takes a couple of hours – the Vintage House hotel, originally an old wine warehouse, has its own entrance from the station and can arrange tours of the area.

As much of the Douro is inaccessible by road, the river is the best way to get around, and a trip along one of its many tributaries is a relaxing way to see the vines. Some of the finest port is produced at Quinta do Panascal, in operation since the early 19th century and the flagship estate for Fonseca.

Its vine-shaded terrace is a fine spot for lunch – sip an aperitif of ice-cold white port before tucking into some delicious local produce and you’ll no longer think of the drink merely as an accompaniment to cheese.



The only variety that is unfiltered and bottle aged. Vintage port is only declared about three times a decade, and about 1 per cent of all port produced is good enough. It must be from a single harvest and aged for two to three years in barrels before bottling. It should be at least 15 years old and be decanted before drinking.


A blended port that is barrel-aged for between three and 40 years. Its golden hue comes from the natural evaporation of the wine, allowing oxidisation to occur, which changes the colour and develops the rich raisin and nutty character. Best served chilled.


A blend aged for up to three years in either stainless steel or concrete vats before bottling to preserve the fresh fruit flavours and deep berry colour.

Late bottled vintage (LVB)

Wines from a single harvest, barrel-aged for four to six years. They were destined to be vintage but when none was declared they were bottled later. These wines are intended to be drunk early and do not age in the bottle.

Single Quinta

Port from a single harvest and a single estate, the next best thing after vintage port and much more affordable. Bottle-aged and will need decanting.


A blend from several vintages that is bottled unfiltered. Crusted ports have to be bottle-aged at least three years before release and will improve with age. An affordable alternative to vintage.


Made from white grape varieties, fortified and aged the same as ruby. Best served chilled as an aperitif.


A fairly new invention, technically a ruby but the wine has a limited exposure to the grape skins, thus creating the rose colour. Best as an aperitif.


  • Taylor’s cellars are open Mon-Fri 10am-6pm, weekends until 5pm. 250 Rua do Choupelo, Vila Nova de Gaia; tel +351 223 742 800; taylor.pt
  • theyeatman.com
  • csvintagehouse.com
  • Quinta do Panascal is open 10am-6pm daily Easter-Oct, weekend reservations required rest of year. Tel +351 254 732 321; fonseca.pt
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