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While there are many great reasons to visit the beautiful city of Porto, port tasting is a must-do. The city’s position at the mouth of the Douro River has made it the home of dozens of the best port houses. The grapes are grown upriver in the Douro Valley, which is worthy of a visit itself in order to see the terraced land & the annual harvesting by hand of 120 unique grape varieties in September. My guide to port tasting in Porto will help you get the best out of your visit, since the amount of choices can be overwhelming.
The guide to port tasting in Porto’s port houses
Most of Porto’s port scene is located in Gaia, which is on the south side of the Douro. Here you will find blocks of port houses, with their branded signs identifying each building. In addition to the port lodges, there are also plenty of liquor stores and other bars where you can purchase port.
Below you will find my guide to port tasting in Porto. While I didn’t visit every port house, I tried to at least stop in at as many as I could. It’s tempting to tour port houses that you are familiar with such as Sandeman’s, Cockburn’s, Graham’s, and Taylor’s, but if you’ve traveled all the way to Porto to go port tasting, why not focus on brands you can’t easily get back home? At the very least, mix things up, as the smaller port makers offer more intimate experiences. There are plenty of signs & maps scattered throughout Gaia, so don’t be afraid to get lost while trying to find your new favorite port. I have roughly listed these in order of which port houses were my favorites.
One thing to note is that the schedules for Porto’s port houses are more limited than you might expect. Don’t visit thinking you’ll be able to have late nights out tasting port. You’ll have to go to regular bars if you want to do that. Instead, get ready to do some day drinking (yay!). Also, most of the port houses only allow tours and tastings on a schedule. You can’t just show up and taste port, but rather you must tour the port house first. If you want an English tour, you may have to plan ahead even more. Unfortunately, those who want to casually wander from place to place drinking port may find themselves disappointed. I have noted a few port houses in particular that are more friendly to drop-in port tastings & where full tours are not required. If planning out your own schedule isn’t your thing, you may be interested in one of the port tours below.
One last tip for visiting the best port houses in Porto: eat plenty of good food & stay hydrated. Port is stronger than wine, so you will feel the effects of your port drinking sooner. There are plenty of great snacks around, so be sure to take advantage both at the port houses as well as at the kiosks lining the Douro. I particularly recommend the unfortunately-named “farturas”, which are fried dough with a creamy filling inside. I also enjoyed Gelados de Portugal, which offers unique local flavors such as pastel de nata, Madeira banana, chestnut, and port.
The best port houses in Porto, Portugal
Kopke Port House
Kopke Port House is the oldest port house in Porto, having opened in 1638. Unlike some port houses, there are no tours at Kopke. What you will instead find is a small, intimate port tasting room. It’s easy to overlook it given some of the massive port makers that are located in Cais de Gaia, but don’t miss it. There are only a few tables, so it could be difficult to get in, but if you do, you’ll have one of the finest port tasting experiences in Porto.
Kopke Wine House lets you select what you would like to taste off of their expansive tasting menu. If you want to try their basic ports, you can, or you can venture into rarer, more expensive varieties. The port is also paired with chocolates.
I had their 10 year White, their Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) 2012, and their 10 year Tawny. The pours were generous, and the tasting room is the most relaxing in Porto. When other places were crowded, it was somehow still super chill. Don’t overlook Kopke.
Vinhos Quinta Do Noval
Vinhos Quinta Do Noval is also located along the Douro River, just a few doors down from Kopke. They have been in operation since 1715. Like Kopke, it’s another Porto port house that has no tour, only tastings, making it a great drop-in option.
Vinhos Quinta Do Noval offers flights that are a solid value over individual pours. I opted for a flight of five different ports, including a 20 year Tawny, for €25.30. The Tawny alone retails for around €70 per bottle. It was one of the best ports I’ve ever had. I also particularly enjoyed the Colheita 2003.
The server was also knowledgeable & took plenty of time to answer my questions. In particular, I was curious about why white port is not common in the United States. He said that Americans know port as red, so that’s why we generally only see ruby & tawny ports except in specialty shops.
Espaço Porto Cruz
Espaço Porto Cruz has a regular tasting room, but that’s not the reason why I enjoyed it so much. The primary reason for going to Porto Cruz is to take advantage of their rooftop bar on the 4th floor, which has 360-degree views above Gaia & across the Douro.
The bar specializes in port cocktails, which is another experience you are less likely to have had while drinking port elsewhere. In most places, port is a dessert drink that is savored, but it’s actually quite versatile in cocktails. The rooftop drinks are especially delicious on a warm day. Get to Espaço Porto Cruz in the late afternoon, claim some space, and then enjoy the magnificent views of the sunset over Porto. There’s no better view, aside from perhaps from Ponte Luís I.
Croft is located a bit up the hill from most of the other port houses in Porto. Since it’s a bit off the beaten track, it can be quieter, though thanks to its quality, it still draws in people who are in the know. In addition to doing a standard tour and tasting, it’s possible to do just tastings. Like some of the other establishments that allow for drop-in tastings, there is a wide range of bottles available to try both in their beautiful tasting room as well as the outside patio.
Croft, which opened in 1678, is now owned by Taylor’s, so they often send visitors between the two. On the day I visited, Taylor’s was closed for a private event, so it was more crowded than usual, and they had unfortunately run out of cheese.
Even without the cheese, I still enjoyed Croft. I had a nice LBV as well as a 20 year Tawny, which was one of the best ports I tried all trip.
Cálem is the closest port house to the bridge, and it’s also one of the “newer” ones, having opened in 1859. Their tour schedules run somewhat differently, as you start with a museum visit, then 30 minutes later the tour begins. You really won’t need 30 minutes to get through the museum, so if you’ve booked ahead, you’ve got some leeway. The tour & port tasting cost €10.
The museum included information about what makes the land of the Douro Valley special. This isn’t specific to their port, but one thing that I noticed was that each port lodge’s tour & museum covered slightly different topics. This is nice since you’ll potentially be seeing several of them while port tasting in Porto. The overall gist of the process is the same, but some focus on the terroir & broader history of port, while others focus on their own company’s history. In the case of Cálem, there was also a pretty display of the colors of the port aging process. The museum also discussed the British origins of the port industry (it was created to prevent spoiling after the British could no longer import French wine, but still wanted to drink).
The tasting included a Fine White, and a Tawny Special Reserve. Both were healthy, tasty pours. Uniquely, Cálem also has a Rose port. If you haven’t experienced White port, you certainly haven’t tasted Rose.
Graham’s Port Lodge
Graham’s Port Lodge is the furthest port winery away from the main group on the south side of the Douro River. However, it’s still worth making the trek to. I recommend walking to it from Croft. If you stay up in the hills, it’s a pleasant walk in an area with little traffic, aside from the workers at the port houses & local residents.
As for the lodge itself, it’s a huge property, which will impact your thoughts about it positively or negatively. It has the usual tastings & tours you’d expect at their Graham’s 1890 Lodge, however Graham’s now requires reservations ahead of time.
That doesn’t mean you can’t drop in for some port & food. There is also a restaurant & bar called Vinum on site. When I visited at 2:30pm, the tables were all filled with tour groups, but there was still plenty of space in the bar. It was only on my way out that I found out that I could have also sat on their huge patio overlooking the city.
Graham’s had the best food & port combinations I tried in Porto. First, I had tuna from the Azores in a soy & sesame sauce along with a fantastic Quinta Dos Maldevos Vintage 2004. Next, I had a selection of cheese with the Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny.
Founded in 1880, Ramos Pinto is one of the newer port houses in Porto. The tour includes a museum, then a visit to their cellars. The museum focuses heavily on the history of the company, with unique views of their old office interiors. Founder Adriano Ramos loved women, so he included them in the marketing of the port. Any sort of marketing was actually groundbreaking, as Ramos Pinto was the first to do this. If you pay close attention, you can catch a glimpse of a Ramos Pinto port poster in some episodes of “Friends”. It’s on a wall in Monica’s apartment. Ramos Pinto were also the first port makers to export to Brazil.
Ramos Pinto was where I tried my first white port. The tour included one glass of white, and one glass of tawny.
Offley is part of a larger group of port makers. They themselves have been in operation since 1737. The highlight of the tour was the cellar room, which still uses a few stone tanks. Several of the Porto port house tours included the cellars, but this was the most interesting of the bunch.
The tour and a tasting of two ports is just €6, but for just €1.50 more you can add a third glass.
Taylor’s Port Winery
Taylor’s (opened in 1692) is one of the largest port makers in the world, so it’s unsurprising that their visitor’s center is one of the largest & most corporate. That said, they offer a self-guided audio tour, which means you can skip the parts of it that you’ve already learned about elsewhere.
The tour includes two tastings, but you can purchase additional pours. Unfortunately, on the day that I tried to visit, they were closed for a private event.
Sandeman is located in the heart of Gaia. It’s the largest port house along this stretch of the waterfront, and as such, it’s massively popular. Its outside bar & patio is a particularly big draw.
When I visited, Sandeman was being remodeled, and drinks were being served out of a cargo container out front. Despite the remodeling, tours were fully-booked well in advance.
Cockburn’s Port Lodge
Cockburn’s Port Lodge was closed for renovations when I was in Porto. Reservations are required for tours, which you can do on their website. The website also helpfully states, “Please pronounce and drink responsibly.”
Churchill’s is the newest port house in Portugal, having only opened in 1981 by John Graham. Yes, of that Graham family. Their upscale visitor’s center is along the Douro, just down the hill from Graham’s. They offer tastings, but only with advance booking.
Instituto Dos Vinhos Do Douro e Porto (Porto Wine Institute)
The IVDP functions as sort of a visitor’s center for all of the region’s port. Located in the old centre of Porto, it has an exhibition, bottle shop, and tasting room. While it doesn’t give nearly the same experience as visiting a port house, it’s an option if you are unable to make it to any of the Gaia port houses, but you still want to go port tasting in Porto.
As you can see from my list of the best port houses in Porto, my favorites tended to be the smaller operations. I liked being able to try port from wineries that are much harder to get back home (or even impossible). Whether you’re looking to tour larger, more corporate port houses, or if you’re wanting a more intimate visit, there’s something sure to fit your every desire when port tasting in Porto. There’s nowhere else in the world that you can have this experience, so making a trip to Porto for port tasting is a must-do for any aficionado.
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