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While in Portugal exploring the local and authentic dishes, we could not miss the opportunity to tour some port wine cellars and experience port tasting in Porto.
Port is a fortified wine produced in Douro Valley in the north of Portugal. Our quest took us from Lisbon to Porto, Oporto in English, Portugal’s second largest city.
While in Porto, we took port wine tours, visited wineries, and sampled ports at wine tastings, all aimed at uncovering the magic of this world famous drink.
If visiting Porto is on your travel plans, don’t miss indulging in Port tastings. Let this guide to the best Port wine cellars help you navigate your visits.
From the oldest port wine cellar to immersive virtual experiences, join us for a fascinating discovery of port tastings in Porto.
What Are Port Wines and How They Are Made
Porto, Portugal and port wines are inextricably linked. Port is wine made exclusively in Portugal’s Douro Valley. It is heavily regulated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto.
The grapes used are native to Portugal and include red grapes such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz, and Tinto Cão.
Like any red wine, port starts out the same. The grapes are crushed and fermented. Then the yeast converts the grapes’ natural sugar into alcohol.
With port, however, aguardente (sometimes referred to as “brandy”) is added to the red wine. This stops the fermentation process and increases the alcohol content to about 20%.
Wine Tasting in the Port Wine Cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia
Vila Nova de Gaia, situated across the Douro River from Porto, is the home of historic port lodges and wine producers. You’ll find more than 60 port houses.
Despite its name, the port wine industry is not housed in Porto but in Vila Nova de Gaia commonly referred to as “Gaia” by locals.
The reason the port wines are found in Gaia is due to an interesting twist between religion and politics.
Story has it that in the 13th century, the church was the only institution to benefit from taxes on trade in Porto.
The King then gave authorization to port wine makers to escape this tax by moving across the Douro River to Vila Nova de Gaia instead. This was much to the dismay of the church.
Gaia, however, is also an ideal location for aging port wines. The climate on the north bank of the river is milder, providing better conditions to store the port in the cellars.
From Porto, cross over the magnificent The Dom Luís I Bridge via the upper deck, reserved for pedestrian and tramways. You will enjoy the amazing view over the river, Gaia and Porto.
Here are a few lodges to consider for a port wine cellar visit and wine tastings.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you don’t feel like organizing your Port wine cellars visits, consider this fantastic Port Wine Lodges Tour. You’ll visit several of the Port wine cellars mentioned here. You will enjoy 7 port tastings while learning about the production of Port. It is definitely a great value for the memorable experience you get.
1. Real Companhia Velha: The Oldest Port House
Real Companhia Velha is the oldest wine company in Portugal. It was founded by the King and the Prime Minister, Marques de Pombal, back in 1756.
Further from the river and from the tourist attractions in Gaia, this port cellar offers a more intimate visit, making it one of the best port tasting locations.
When we visited, we were the only ones on the tour. It began with a brief video introducing the company and the Douro region, where port wine grapes are grown.
The company owns several wine estates or “Quintas” in Portuguese in the Douro Valley where the grapes come from.
Real Companhia Velha is a working winery where you can still see the wine cellars and port wines aging in barrels. This is unlike other wineries which have refrigerated port cellars in the Douro Valley and just keep a port house for visits in Gaia.
In the port wine cellars you’ll find a large portrait of the King and the Prime Minister as a reminder of their heritage. The cellars are now family-owned by Portuguese proprietors.
Real Companhia Velha Port Tasting
Our visit ended with the port wine tasting of a Lagrima Porto and a Tawny Porto.
The Lagrima is known to be the sweetest of the white port wines. Its name means tears, referring to the tear shape it forms while being poured into a glass.
The consistency is slightly thick and the taste is really sweet. It’s a great wine to have chilled as an aperitif or as a dessert wine.
The Tawny Porto was aged for four years in oak barrels. While strong, it has dried fruit and nutty flavors. This Tawny port is most commonly sipped on as a digestif or over a dessert at room temperature.
This was our first visit to a port wine cellar and it made for a friendly and approachable introduction to port tours and the production process.
Real Companhia Velha
Address: Rua Azevedo Magalhãe 314, Vila Nova de Gaia.
Tours: Available Tuesday to Saturday; 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Offered in multiple languages.
Book: Call in advance to reserve your spot. Duration is about 1 hour.
Prices: Tour and tasting free with the Porto Card. Otherwise tasting starts at €12.00 for 2 wines.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: To explore the city and make the most of your visit to Porto, we recommend getting a Porto Card. With the Porto Card, the tour and tasting is free at Real Companhia Velha. You can also get a discount on port tasting at other port wine cellars in Villa de Gaia. A Porto Card is an official city pass that offers benefits and discounts for over 170 attractions and cultural sites in Porto and the region.
RELATED: Read more about how to make the best of your Porto visit with the Porto Card
2. Cálem: The Most Accessible Port House on the Douro River
Cálem, located right across the Douro River, is a popular destination for visitors. Cálem offers a well-organized informative tour for a maximum of 40 people in different languages. Don’t expect an intimate tour experience here.
However, Calem has a small and interactive museum that details the port wine making process. It is worth spending time here before the guided tour starts.
On the tour, the guide walked our group through the wine cellars and, using video and audio support, recreated the wine making experience. This was very well done and worked even for a large group.
The final stop was the vast tasting room near the cellars.
Cálem Port Tasting
On a large table to accommodate our group of about 25, were glasses and bottles laid out on a We tasted two different Cálem Ports. A Fine White Porto and a Tawny Porto Special Reserve.
The Fine White Porto was smooth and sweet. The kind of wine that goes well with fruit based desserts.
The Tawny Porto on the other hand, was strong and tasted closer to a Cognac with a much higher level of sweetness.
Address: Av. de Diogo Leite 344, Vila Nova de Gaia.
Tours: Offered multiple times per day in different languages; from 10:00 am to 6:00pm.
Book: Walk in or book in advance. Duration is about 1 hour.
Prices: Port tours and tastings start at €14.00 and there is a premium tasting also available
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Calem also offers a guided tour with a Fado performance in the evenings. This is an enjoyable way to combine Portuguese culture and port wine tasting.
3. W & J Graham’s Port: Port Wine Tasting with a Strong Family History
Graham’s was one of the first companies in the port wine industry to invest in its own vineyards in the Porto Portugal area.
William and John Graham founded the company in 1890 and touring their cellars gives you a real feel for their tremendous family history.
Today, five Symington cousins run this family business and personally make the port wine. Many are 4th and 5th generation port producers.
The tour begins with a video presentation of the company’s history. Next is a guided tour of the active cellars – a dark, musty, delightful experience – where you’ll see barrels and vats of port wine. There is plenty of time to ask questions of the knowledgeable guides.
Then it’s on to the tasting room.
RELATED: Check our article for more things to do in Porto for food lovers
Graham’s Port Tasting
Graham’s is a place where you can take your time and enjoy your port tasting. Relax in their bright main tasting room, or the cozier, calmer vintage tasting room where you can truly feel the family history.
The 20-year old Tawny Port is considered one of the best with flavors of toffee, caramel, raisin, and hazelnut.
Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port has a richer taste with notes of ripe plums, cherries, and dark chocolate.
We highly recommend the premium tasting that includes chocolate or cheese tastings paired with your port.
If you have more time, the terrace is a lovely spot to enjoy a light meal and more wine. When you are ready to buy a souvenir port, their guides are extremely helpful with your purchase.
Address: Rua do Agro, 141 4400-281 Vila Nova de Gaia
Tours: Your choice of the Main Tasting Room tour or the Vintage Room tour where you can taste some of their rarer ports. Tours available in several languages
Book: Advanced reservations required. Duration is 1-2 hours.
Prices: Tour and port tasting starts at €18 for 3 port wines.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Go for the premium tasting with pairing of chocolate, cheese and custard tart.
4. Sandeman Port Cellars: Mystery and History
The Sandeman port house dates back to 1797. This is when George Sandeman bought the building where his port wines have been aging in ideal conditions for more than 200 years.
The Sandeman Cellars have a feeling of mystery that is amplified by their mascot, the Sandeman Don.
This iconic trademark image is possibly the first ever wine logo, as Sandeman was one of the first to bottle, label, brand, and advertise its wines.
During your tour, you’ll be guided through the winery by a person dressed up as the Sandeman Don in a black cape and Spanish hat.
The magnificent building is a must-visit for Porto port tasting. Here you’ll find more than 2,000 casks of Sandeman port wines in various stages of their aging process. Some vintage ports date back to 1908.
There are also many fascinating paintings and photographs on display that have been collected over the centuries, adding intrigue to this port tour.
Sandeman’s Port Tasting
After the informative tour you’ll head to the tasting room for a few generous samples.
The Fine Ruby Port has a strong fruit flavor profile with a hint of spice that warms you up. It’s excellent as a dessert wine or chilled on its own.
The Fine Tawny Porto is a wonderful balance of fruit and caramel flavors that would be perfect for a winter evening.
Linger a little longer after your tasting and try one of their fantastic port cocktails on the patio. Go at your own pace as you soak in the magnificent views of the river.
Address: Largo Miguel Bombarda, 47, Vila Nova de Gaia
Tours: Offered daily, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm in multiple languages.
Book: Advanced bookings recommended. Duration depends on the tour you choose and ranges from 50 minutes to three hours.
Prices: Tours and port tastings start at €16 and range from 3 to 5 port wines.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you are looking for a place to stay in Porto, The House of Sandeman offers quaint rooms and suites next to the Port lodge. For more information about where to stay in the city, check our full article about the best areas to stay in Porto.
5. Espaco Porto Cruz: An Interactive Port Experience
The Port Cruz Space in Gaia is a multimedia center that offers different ways to experience port wines and the region.
Through a combination of artistic creations and interactive presentations, you learn about port tasting in Porto.
On the first floor is a little shop where you can sample different port wines starting at €3 and pair them with cheese or charcuterie.
The second floor has a fantastic 360 virtual reality tour of the Douro Valley and audiovisual resources as well.
Next to it is an arts space and large tasting room.
The Porto Cruz Space also has a restaurant that is only open for lunch in the summer months.
The rooftop has amazing views over Porto and the Douro River. You can also enjoy lunch, cheese tastings or snacks in the afternoon with port wines.
Porto Cruz Port Tasting
After visiting the second floor, we made our way back down to taste a Porto Rosé and a Porto Tawny.
The Rosé was round, sweet and fruity, making it an easy wine to drink. The Porto Tawny was full bodied, with notes of berry and plum fruits.
It is said to be best served slightly chilled and with rich desserts.
Address: Largo Miguel Bombarda 23, Vila Nova de Gaia.
Tours: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 am – 7:00 pm. Advanced bookings are not required, stop in at your convenience.
Prices: Port tastings start at €8 though we recommend choosing a paring starting at €15. One free port tasting included with the Porto Card.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: You can enjoy delicious Port cocktail at Espaco Porto Cruz. However, if you want to learn to make your own Port cocktail, we recommend this fun workshop at Espaco Porto Cruz. Create two Port cocktails while sampling Ports and learning about the history of Port wine and winemaking process.
6. Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro: Dive into Port Wine in Porto
If you are a Port fan and want to dive deeper into this enchanting fortified liquor, visit the Porto Wine Institute.
Also known as Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto, it is dedicated to the important role of port wine in the city and beyond.
While not technically a Port wine cellar, the best part about the institute is that you can see and taste several different Port brands.
The institute features a small museum with a detailed exhibition about how port wines are made. Visitors learn about the grapes used for different varieties and colors of port wines.
There is a lot to port wines, and we are certainly not experts. Here is a brief primer of the four main categories and subcategories you can sample at the wine institute.
Ruby Ports are named for their distinct ruby color. These are young, approachable wines with fresh, fruit-filled aromas. Within this category you have Ruby Reserve, Late Bottle Vintage or LBV and Vintage Port.
Tawny Ports are typically a blend of older vintage wines. These ports spend more time in oak barrels and the colors range from ruby red to more ruby-orange or “brick red” as they mature. In this group, you’ll find 10, 20, 30 or 40 Year Tawny Ports. One delicious Tawny we enjoyed was the Colheita. This is a Tawny from a single vintage.
White Ports are made from white grapes and come in made in very dry to semi- sweet styles. The wine is typically fruity and often used to make the popular Port Tonic, which is “Port and Tonic” on the rocks.
Rosé Port is one of the lightest port wines and like white port, it is a younger port. It is made from red grapes which undergo a light maceration to keep the color, tannins and flavors. It can also be used in cocktails.
Port Tasting at the Porto Wine Institute
No visit to Porto would be complete without a wine tasting of port wines. As such, the institute offers tastings of different varieties of port wines.
For a small fee of about €1.50 euros per glass, you can sample high-quality Ruby, Tawny, Reserve and Vintage port wines. This is actually where we tasted some of our best ports.
If you’re lucky enough to go there on a Thursday evening, the institute’s port maker will whip you up a port cocktail.
Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto
Address: Rua de Ferreira Borges 27, Porto.
Hours: Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm
Prices: Museum is free. Port tasting ranges from €1.20 to €10 per tasting glass. It’s a self-service tasting machine from which you can sample as much as you wish.
Best Tips To Plan Your Port Tasting in Porto
Drinking port is a must when visiting Porto Portugal. Here are our best tips to plan your tour and tasting.
- Finding a port tasting in Porto is easy. All of the port houses are located directly across the Douro River from Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia. There’s no need to rent a car – you can simply walk over the beautiful Dom Luís I Bridge or use public transport.
- Decide if you want to taste, tour, dine, or all of the above! If you just want a quick tasting, you can probably walk into any of the port houses. If you want a tour, you should definitely book in advance. Most are very easy to book on each port wine cellar website.
- Be aware that most port houses close around 6pm. Go early in the day – don’t miss out by thinking you can visit after dinner.
- With all the port wine cellars clustered in one area, you could, in theory, visit several in a day, especially if you just pop in for a tasting. If you want to do full tours, you could probably fit two or three in one day if you schedule carefully. If you want to visit several without the hassle of booking or timing your visit, then taking a guided or private tour is best.
- Check ahead to see if your port house tasting includes food. If not, be sure to eat before your tour and tasting.
- If you want to spend some extended time at a port house, some, like Calem offer Fado performances or other entertainment on certain days. You might also want to enjoy one of the upscale restaurants and wine bars with stunning views over the city of Porto.
- While you are in Gaia, don’t miss the cable car. It’s a quick, 5-minute trip that offers impressive panoramas of Porto along with the roofs of the wine cellars, the Ribeira, the Clérigos and the Douro, in all their splendor.
Learning about port wines was a completely novel experience. We arrived in Porto as complete beginners, and left with an expanded knowledge base.
Through the port wine tastings, we had a chance to cover the different types of ports offered in the region. It was amazing to see the differences in colors and nuances in the shared sweet taste.
Our favorite discoveries were Rosé and White Ports. We also gained a deeper appreciation for aged ports such as the LBV or 10 year Tawny, which offer more balance and complex aromas.
Port wines offer many endless learning opportunities. We just barely scratched the surface.
Regardless of how much you know about port wines, a visit to Porto and the Douro region should not be missed.
Have you had port wine before? Please let us know your favorite type of Port wine in the comments below.
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
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