A Wine Lover's Guide to Porto, Portugal

Posted by Jessica Dupuy on October 22, 2013 at 12:52:01 PM EDT | Post a Comment
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It's no secret to any wine lover that the primary allure of Porto is, quite simply, its port wine. Touting a history that birthed the world's first demarcated wine appellation in the mid-18th century—long before Bordeaux was first classified in 1855—the Porto region has earned a permanent spot on the list of top worldwide wine destinations. But in recent years, this beautiful hillside city, replete with mazes of cobblestone streets and sun-baked red-roofed buildings, has seen a dramatic upswing in quality among red and white table wines, too, that has attracted a growing number of wine enthusiasts, and, in turn, innovative new restaurants, a vibrant art scene, and a revival of luxury accommodations.

As Portugal's second largest city, brimming with myriad regional diversions, Porto visitors should come equipped with a vino-specific strategy to capitalize on the very best that Porto has to offer. (Keep in mind the lion's share port tasting rooms, or "lodges," as they're more commonly called, are found across the river in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia.) Here, the ultimate wine lover's guide to Porto, Portugal.

Shopping and Feasting at Porto's Riverside Quays

Fronting Porto's riverside quays are an assortment of restaurants with sidewalk seating, ice cream vendors, and market stalls peddling an array of touristy knickknacks. Search for your share of budget-friendly souvenirs, then sample one of the city's signature dishes, franceshinha, a mammoth sandwich layered with beef, ham, sausage, and cheese, all drenched in a tomato gravy (try one of the best at the tiny four-table restaurant Bufete Fase). Wine merchants also line the riverside and the Palácio da Bolsa, offering a wide range of wines from Portuguese labels like Vinologia or Loja da Praça Gourmet, as well as from the Association of Port and Douro Wine Producers and Bottlers (AVEPOD), which retails more than 50 small Douro region producers.

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Wine Tasting at Sala Ogival

For a fairly comprehensive tasting of Portuguese wines, hit up Sala Ogival, set inside Porto's Palácio da Bolsa. Managed by ViniPortugal, the trade association for the Portuguese wine industry, the tasting room here proposes wine tastings from different regions around the country. Visitors can purchase an "Enocard" for $3, which gets you access to two to four wine samplings from a dozen of Portuguese varietals.

Port Tasting in Villa Nova De Gaia

While its dry table wines have gained significant attention, port is still the region's premier attraction. And on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river, you'll see the names of port tasting lodges and warehouses spelled out in huge letters across the roofs. Most lodges are open daily from May through October; some close on weekends in the winter. Feel free to walk right in and request a tasting—no appointment is necessary. Try Taylor's, one of the oldest port producers in the country, where you can take a tour of the lodge, and sip a few different ports, like the dreamy Late Bottled Vintage ruby port and the winery's unique extra-dry white port, Chip Dry.

Dining at DOP

The second restaurant for famed Portuguese chef Rui Paula, DOP is the sister restaurant to acclaimed DOC, set within the interior wine region of the Douro Valley. Chef Paula's commitment to genuine Portuguese terroir is evidenced by his daily menus sourcing seasonal ingredients for traditional regional dishes reinvigorated with modern culinary techniques. You'll find dishes of roasted cabrito (kid goat), samosas filled with Portuguese sausage alheira, and velvety seafood risotto. The wine list at DOP is extensive and completely devoted to Portuguese wines.

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Seafood Sampling in Matosinhos

For a unique dining experience, hop a cab 15 minutes west of Porto to the nearby seaside town of Matosinhos, where you'll find some of the freshest seafood in town at the little mom-and-pop neighborhood dives set along Avenida Serpa Pinto. When you step out of the cab and smell the sea, you'll know you're in the right place. The street side is peppered with portable patio tents and a line of charcoal grills cooking up the day's freshest catch. Order your waiter's selection from the grill—you can't go wrong with fresh squid, red sea bream, and salty grilled sardines. While you won't find high-end wine lists at places like these, do take advantage of the more provincial table wines, which pair well with the fresh seafood fare and deepen the sense of the authentic food and wine terroir.

Carousing at The Gin Club

Hitting up Porto's vibrant nightlife scene requires a little stamina. Things don't really get going here until well after 10:30 or 11:00pm on weekends, when most locals have finished up family meals and set out for a good time. If you need a break from wine, stop in at The Gin Club, where you'll find that the same gin bar trend that has taken a stronghold in Spain, has found a foothold here, as well. Offering more than 150 gins from around the world, cocktails come customized with your gin and tonic of choice, accented by a few fresh botanicals.

Bunking Down at the Yeatman Hotel

No wine escape to Porto is complete without turning in for a few nights at the Yeatman Hotel. Named for one of Portugal's long-established port families, the Yeatman is a luxury establishment dedicated to promoting the best of Portugal's viticultural industry. Nestled along the ridgeline of Villa Nova De Gaia, the hotel is home to a full-service Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa, 82 tastefully decorated guestrooms, and one of the most impressive wine cellars in the country. The hotel bar offers an impressive list of Portuguese wines by the glass, and the restaurant features weekly wine dinners. Enjoy sunsets with a glass of wine in the decanter-shaped infinity pool overlooking the meandering Douro River, while the evening lights of Porto twinkle away.

All photos courtesy of Jessica Dupuy

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