If your New Year’s no-booze resolution has dissipated faster than the bubbles in a day-old glass of champers, it’s time to change tack: rather than fail at abstaining in 2016, save yourself for a tipple-themed Portugal jaunt instead.
You’ll find port in even the smallest towns here but true fans should plot a northbound pilgrimage to the Douro region, spiritual home of the nation’s favourite elixir. Start in historic Porto – and prepare for your preconceptions to be challenged.
“Port isn’t one particular flavour or style,” says Ryan Opaz, Porto-based founder of wine and gastronomy website Catavino. “There are at least eight different styles from unctuous and sweet to light and relatively dry – you should explore it all!”
Ease yourself in at local wine bars Prova or All in Porto, he suggests, then hop the Douro River to adjacent city Vila Nova de Gaia. “Wander the streets and stop in a few wineries here,” says Opaz, who recommends Burmester, Quevedo, Churchill’s and Graham’s.
The latter has a great restaurant but you can also combine dinner with sumptuous port finales at favoured eateries such as DOP or Pedro Lemos. Be adventurous, suggests Opaz, and sample some colheitas – tawny ports from specific years – plus some white ports. “Try white port and tonic: it’s perfect in summer!”
Which brings up the vital when-to-go question. “Spring is gorgeous here but June is also great – especially for the Festa de Sao Joao,” he says, describing dusk-till-dawn partying with traditional boat races on the river the next day. But while the Porto area can satisfy most libation cravings, the wider Douro region also lures like a siren song.
Plan ahead via the route suggestions and resources at the Douro Valley and Porto and North Portugal websites but keep in mind that day trips into the heart of region from Porto take at least 90 minutes by car or train. “It’s not like Napa – visiting the wineries here takes lots of time,” says Opaz.
Wine-writing Portugal expert Sarah Ahmed (thewinedetective.co.uk) agrees that planning is vital for Douro explorations, and advocates the train over a self-drive approach. “It’s the easiest, cheapest and quickest way to access the valley – plus you’ll enjoy the jaw-dropping river scenery alongside the steeply raked vineyards towering above.”
But where to go? “The town of Pinhao is the valley’s beating heart with the best cellar doors at Quinta de la Rosa, Sandeman Quinta do Seixo and Royal Oporto Quinta das Carvalhas. There are also new visitor centres at Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim and Croft Quinta da Roeda – both are a stone’s throw from the town and also accessible by boat.”
If you have time only for a couple of Douro wineries, though, Ahmed’s must-sees are Quinta de Ervamoira and Fonseca’s Quinta do Panascal, the latter in a stunning location overlooking the Tavora River. “Visit in April and you’ll find the scent of its aged orange tree echoed in its flamboyant vintage port. Or come at harvest time and watch the grapes foot-stomped in granite lagares.”
The region’s mid-to-late-September’s harvest is always “buzzy,” she adds, as is late-June’s Feira do Douro. But while you should always look for the big port makers on local bar menus, she also suggests searching for tipples from smaller producers such as Quinta de Santa Eufemia and Alves de Sousa.
For accommodation, she recommends the region’s two stylish Wine Hotels, which also serve tastings and classes. But while you’re drinking in the views, you should also plot your next trip beyond the port-soaked pleasures of the Douro.
“Portugal is full of unique vinous treasures. Fortified lovers should make the pilgrimage to Madeira as well as to Setubal, just south of Lisbon,” says Ahmed, adding that the latter is home to one of the world’s leading examples of fortified moscatel.
OUR READERS WRITE
It’s less about where you go than when: in Porto in mid-December we toured Taylor port house, then sat alone at a fireplace, testing. It was dreamy. @aegisnyc
We went to Portugal this past October and visited the Duoro Valley. In particular we visited Pinhao and stayed at Quinta de la Rosa. Excellent way to learn about and enjoy Port. Jo Ann Ely
If you’re in Lisbon and unable to visit the Douro Valley, at least visit the Port Wine Institute [ivdp.pt] @timofnewbury
My wife and I highly recommend working with Portugal Trails portugaltrails.com. They arranged a self-guided driving tour for us that was outstanding. Patrick M Farrell
You can fly to Porto on SATA or fly to Lisbon and take the great train to Porto. Lovely hotel (Central Hotel) on the pedestrian-only Main Street. Robert Morrow
You kind of have to simply go to Porto. It’s the be all end all. There are more than 20 winery lodges a short walk from downtown. @SnarkySteff
Porto. It’s a quaint, gorgeous seaside town with bodegas along the water. The port tasting is inexpensive there and the food is rustic and homey. @chiqee
We took a fantastic day trip to the Douro Valley from Porto with Douro Exclusive [douroexclusive.com]. It included private tastings, the tour and an amazing meal. @sandyhermiston
Visit the Douro region: there are many amazing port producers there and it’s also beautiful. I loved visiting the Niepoort [niepoort-vinhos.com] and Wine & Soul [wineandsoul.com] wineries. @OntarioCulinary
Go to Lisbon, Alentejo, Coimbra, Nazaré, Ericeira, Sintra and Mealhada. Alentejo has the best wines and you can visit the farms. They also produce olive oil there. Or go to Mealhada for the suckling pig. @jrcnconde
Garrafeira Nacional [garrafeiranacional.com] on Rua de Santa Justa in Lisbon where I found the rare 1963 Noval vintage I was searching for a few years ago. I could not find it in Porto. Another nice visit in the Douro Valley is Quinta do Panascal [fonseca.pt/en/visitors-centre], one of Fonseca’s quintas. Also, in Vila Nova de Gaia, the restaurant at Taylor Fladgate [baraofladgate.com] is a good foodie/port destination. @sebprovencher
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