Port Tasting in Porto, Portugal

Mrs ItchyFeet in front of city of Gaia leters

What is the one thing you have to do when you visit Porto, Portugal!?! You have to go port wine tasting! Porto is the land of port. In fact, if it’s called “port”, legally the grapes are grown, and the wine bottled in this region. Much like Champagne from France, Tequila and Mezcal from México, Cream Cheese from Philadelphia (JK on that last one!). The fun part of port tasting in Portugal is that the best tasting rooms are across the water in the city of Gaia. I think I can walk there?

Port wine!

The grapes for port wine must be grown in the Douro Valley region. The Douro Valley is actually the very first legally demarcated wine region. They have to be certified and everything (I visited the Wine Institute, which does the certification, so I’m in the know). It’s a whole process, with the final product being a fortified wine that is a bit on the sweet side. You think regular wine has a high alcohol content at 12%? Well, port wine is around 19%… and it doesn’t taste like it, so be careful! They serve port in these fancy, really tiny port glasses to keep you from getting too unruly. Smart!

Mrs ItchyFeet port wine tasting
Had a delightful time port tasting at this wine shop. The place was uber fancy. So fancy that I almost got locked in the bathroom because the door was too heavy to open with it’s minimalist doorknob!

Just like regular wine, port comes in a variety of colors and flavors (white, tawny, ruby) and the price goes up with the year and vintage. Some are aged in giant barrels before being bottled and some are aged in individual glass bottles. Some aged in the bottles for long periods aren’t very filtered and develop a “crust”. They are all certified with fancy labels to indicate their authenticity. If you buy a “port” grown anywhere else in the world, it’s not a true port and will not taste the same, or so I’ve been told. Got to protect the brand!

Now, while they grow the grapes in the Douro Valley, they can be aged and bottled anywhere in this region. That said, they age and sell most in the city of Gaia. The story goes that some king, back in the day, didn’t want the church to collect taxes from selling and producing port in the city of Porto. He told the sellers that they wouldn’t have to pay tax if they went across the Douro River to Gaia. It actually really worked out because it’s cooler in Gaia and easier to dig out some caves in the cliffs to be used to age the port. Winning!

View of bridge from inside tunnel
I was hoping for bats inside this tunnel, but was disappointed. That’s the bridge I will take to walk across the river.

How to get there

I looked all over Porto for some inexpensive port tasting and was having a hard time of it. Like, I knew that Gaia had all the port tastings, but I thought it was too far away. Why get on the Metro when I could just get some drinks near my apartment? Then I realized that the walk across the water was only 20 minutes. Walk down the hill, down some stairs, through a tunnel (no bats… I looked), across the bridge, and there you are!

Turns out that port tasting in Gaia is an extreme tourist sport. People come from all over the world for this. They have cruise ships dropping loads of peeps off for the experience of it all. I am not on vacation and have no desire to join an enormous group of people to tour the wine caves for 50 euros. Unless there are bats and, unfortunately, I’m assured that there are not bats. Lucky for me, I did a bit of research first.

The Ponte de Dom Luís I Bridge
Look at the size of The Ponte de Dom Luís I Bridge over the Douro River! You can walk across the bottom or top.

The views on the walk are amazing, so I can get loads of pictures for you all. The bridge is terrifying because of the height (and that’s from the bottom walkway!). It’s fun to see all the boats cruising up and down the river with their loads of tourists. Not many people attempt to drive across the bridge (probably just because there are so many humans gawking) but, nevertheless, be careful not to get run over. Safety third!

Where is it?

All my research said to skip the actual port companies unless you want a tour. If you just want a tasting, go to a restaurant that serves flights or to a wine shop. The best places are by the big Mercado along The Douro River. It’s a fun walk because there are so many people to watch and a bunch of tiny outdoor venders in booths along the way.

Rabbit street art
This is absolutely the best street art I have ever seen! It’s 3-D made from bits of trash. The photo doesn’t do it justice. So cool!

So now I have this plan to find a very specific restaurant that I had researched ahead of time. Good prices on flights of port. Perfect. Only I can’t find it! I’m walking all around the market. I happened upon some really really cool street art so I’m not like disappointed or anything. The restaurant must be closed today. Of course it is.

As I’m wandering the back streets of Gaia, I happen upon some random port house that is doing tastings with live fado music (it’s a whole thing here in Portugal). I’m in! They have a couple of different options, but I go for the one with a 10 year tawny, 20 year tawny, and a Colheita. A Colheita is like a vintage port, but for tawny, and somehow different… i.e. more expensive. The wonderful server gave me all the deets, and the ports were totally delicious. I bought the 10 year tawny because it was the cheapest.

Mrs. ItchyFeet on some colorful stairs
I keep finding these stairs with street art, and I want to see what is at the top. I keep going up and up!

Where to next?

After that magical experience, I decide to wander around a bit and find another place. After checking out a restaurant with 30 euro tastings (nope… above my pay grade!), I find a wine store that is also doing tastings for not so expensive. The banter with the server is really fun because it is his birthday, and the other server is giving him a hard time. I wish him a happy birthday while he figures out the situation of serving the regular wine and port wine.

At this location, the pours included: a really truly amazing white wine, a lovely (but too sweet) red wine, a (also too sweet) white port, a delightful Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) port, and a super fancy 20 year tawny port. I commented on the too sweet white port and the birthday-boy gave me an extra pour of a different, but still too sweet white port. That 20 year tawny was so so good! But you pay for that amazingness. The LBV was also really good and a lot less cash moneys. I bought a bottle of that and a less expensive version of that delightful white wine. I’m cheap. Don’t judge me!

Gaia park hill
This is the adorable park in Gaia that overlooks the Douro River. You can see the colorful city leters in the corner.

Now to get home. From the backstreets of Gaia, I kept finding cute staircases to wander up and take pictures from. I keep going up and up and up. Eventually I realize that I am making my way to the top of The Ponte de Dom Luís I Bridge. That is not my intention! If I go up, I have to go back down again… and then back up again to my apartment at the top of a really steep hill. But I have already passed the point of no return! Better make the most of it.

Look at that view!

The views from the park on the Gaia side of the Dom Luís I Bridge are spectacular! It’s a cute little park and there’s some kind of festival going on with music and dancing. Fun! Must keep going or I will never make it home. I wander across the top of the bridge, being careful not to fall off, run into anyone taking selfies, or get hit by a Metro train. Nothing prevents the Metro from running you down while you walk on the tracks… you just have to watch your back and move out of the way. These things are important!

Overlook of the Douro River
Check out this amazing overlook of the Douro River. If you look closely, you can see a gondola. See that gaint tower on the hill to the right? That is where my apartment is!

After successfully not dying on the bridge, I head downhill into the valley that separates the top of the bridge from the hill that holds my apartment in place. It sounds like a lot, but it’s actually only about 20 minutes. It’s just a really big hill. Lucky for me, all the stairs in The Dominican Republic and hiking in Peniche have trained me for this moment!

What a delightful day! I will definitely be back. I may even do one of those wine cave tours, even though it does not include any wildlife. Still debating on a boat tour or a train tour. However, I kind of like the slow pace of walking. I get to see more and I have more time for people watching. Plus, I get better pictures for you all!

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  1. Love that side of the river, the views, cafes, art and alleys are all so fun though we’ve never done it during high season. Don’t forget to stay hydrated the warm is coming. See you soonish.

  2. The train to Pinhao is so beautiful and amazing. the Olive oil and wine tasting in Pinhao is like none other.

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