The wine lover’s guide to Porto
British Airways’ Master of Wine Tim Jackson writes a guest column this month on Portugal’s second city, set in a region of rolling vineyards and rich reds
Portugal’s wines are mainly made from indigenous, distinctive grape varieties that have fantastic character, such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Loureiro or Encruzado. These make wines that are simultaneously high quality and of their own style, which means there’s plenty of interest for a wine lover to discover. And, for most people, it will be a discovery, since the wines are still relatively unknown to many. This makes it all the more exciting to introduce some of them to our customers.
The centre of Porto is compact and easily walkable so, when I go, I try to stay reasonably close to the centre. That could be either on the Porto side or on the Gaia side, where Porto’s signature drink is made.
Porto’s port lodges are all on the south bank waterfront, Vila Nova de Gaia. The area is worth a stroll for its boutiques, bars and restaurants, and many of the port lodges in Gaia are open to visitors and worth the pilgrimage, with museums or tours such as that at Cálem worth a diversion. A new World of Wine (WOW) centre has also recently opened, and I like the Vinum restaurant at Graham’s Port Lodge, too. On a bend in the river, it has a particular vantage point that gives beautiful views back down to the Dom Luís I Bridge, and the wines are, of course, superb.
When it’s time to explore outside of Porto, it’s worth aiming for one of the wider region’s main towns, such as Peso da Régua or Pinhão. Pinhão can also be accessed by train, and its train station is worth a visit for its beautiful, decorative, blue tiling in the classic Portuguese style. Peso da Régua also has the Douro Museum in it.
It’s also then worth seeking out one or more of the wine farms – quintas – where the grapes are grown. More and more of these are open to the public for tours, tastings and so on. Some have restaurants and even hotels as well.
For wine, the vineyards of the Douro Valley are a Unesco World Heritage Site. Around 90 minutes’ drive east from Porto, these are found all over the banks of the winding Douro River and its tributaries. These banks climb steeply from the river’s edge, rising from around 100m to over 600m above sea level, and are often terraced to allow the vines to cling on to the vertiginous hillsides, creating a visual set of contours that leave a distinctive mark on the countryside. The Douro is mainly schist – a mineral-rich rock – and many of the vineyards were made by breaking up the schist bedrock and carving it into the terraces. It’s a remarkable, dramatic landscape.
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