The city of Porto is most famous for its namesake wine – port! And as a tourist in Porto, you absolutely must do a port tasting! Contrary to popular culture, port wine is not reserved exclusively for old men. Its actually quite delicious and really tasty in cocktails (who knew?!).
The grapes that make port wine are grown in the Douro Valley, about an hour outside of Porto. After the harvest, they are made into wine in one of the many port wine houses lining the Douro River in Porto. Well, actually Vila Nova de Gaia (read my Porto post for clarification!). All of the big port wine names have houses in Porto (well, Vila Nova de Gaia) and their names really set the skyline. The houses are also a must-do on your Porto bucket list!
Most port wine houses allow you to tasting and tour, but, despite being a super popular tourist activity, it is quite difficult to find helpful information regarding how to “tour and taste” port wine in Porto! So, here are my thoughts on port tasting in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia!
For starters, all of the port houses are located directly across the Douro River from Porto in Vila Nova de Gaia. The port houses line the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia and extend into town. Most houses are marked with their logo, and you really cannot miss them. If you are looking for a particular house, by all means research its location beforehand but otherwise, it is quite easy to find a port house in which to taste!
After locating the port houses, the next step is to decide where to taste! Almost all port houses offers tastings and/or tours for a reasonable cost. The more well-known the port house, as a general rule, the more likely it is to offer a tour. For example, Sandemans does a great tour, complete with a guide dressed like Sandemans’ mascot, The Don. Smaller houses, such as Kopke and Noval, will offer tastings but no tours and other houses, particularly the huge ones, have opened upscale restaurants and bars with stunning views overlooking Porto!
To plan your visit to the port houses, you need to decide if you want to taste, tour, dine, or a do some combination of the above. For those unfamiliar with port, a tour of a port house is probably a good idea. Most of the tours give a quite interesting history of port wine production and then walk guests through the house, explaining the process of making port. Most tours last around 40 minutes and include a tasting at the end. One port house tour is probably enough for any one tourists, as they are all quite similar. And by all accounts, it is very poor form to go from port house to port house and get drunk…
If you are familiar with port or have already toured a port house, you may want to skip the tour and simply taste some great port! To do a tasting, you can generally walk into any port house and order a tasting on the spot. Most houses have a menu of various tastings and you can choose which suits you best!
Reservations are not necessary for tasting, but tours, during busy times, book up early in the day. So while you do not need to make a reservation weeks in advance from home (nor can you), its a good idea to visit the port houses early in the day and put your name on the list for your tour of choice (most likely, the English one!). All of the big port houses offer at least one tour in English (and usually many) a day and the port houses are generally open from 10 – 5 (later in the high season) with the last entry 30 minutes before closing.
MY FAVORITE PORT TASTING STOPS
Graham’s – Best Bar. You’ve probably heard of Graham’s port wine. Graham’s is a big name player in the port industry, owning a number of labels (including Warre’s!!) and (obviously) Graham’s. Despite being a large company, Graham’s makes excellent port and has a truly great “port lodge” in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is home to, hand’s down, the best bar in Porto. Graham’s outdoor bar overlooks the Douro River, Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia, and the Luís Dom I Bridge. The below video was taken from Graham’s bar! Its totally gorgeous and must-stop, even if you don’t like port wine! Also, the bar makes really interesting cocktails out of port wine!
Taylor’s Port – Best Restaurant. Like Graham’s, Taylor’s is a big name in port production, and the Taylor lodge, which is located a bit up from the Douro River in Vila Nova de Gaia, has a decent tasting and tour and a terribly delicious restaurant overlooking the Douro River and Porto. Definitely make reservations in advance. Oh, and there are peacocks!!
Sandemans – Best Tour for Tourists. Although port snobs shun Sandemans, Sandemans gives an informative tour for those unfamiliar with port, complete with nods to their amazing marketing scheme. Not unlike Guinness beer in Ireland, Sandemans has really excelled in the port wine marketing department. Its mascot, the caped man – The Don – is certainly the most recognizable character in the port wine world and he is all over Sandemans port house. The Sandemans tour is quite interesting for your run of the mill/not interested in port wine tour, as the tour is given by a guide dressed like The Don and includes lots of information on the Douro, port wine, and the company. The tour ends with a tasting of red and white port, and your guide walks you through the tasting.
Noval – Easiest Tasting. Noval is one of the first port houses that you encounter after crossing the Dom Luís I Bridge from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. Noval only offers tastings (no tours) but its easy to walk in and do a tasting of three of Noval’s port wines, including a white one, which is why it makes my list as easiest port tasting!
Kopke – Best Tasting. Kopke is located very close to Noval right on the riverfront in Vila Nova de Gaia. Like Noval, Kopke does not offer tours, but it does offer a tasting and chocolate pairing! To partake in a port and chocolate tasting, walk in, ask for a table, and pick your tasting from the menu! While the tastings may seem pricey, they include SO MUCH wine and a plate of local Porto chocolates, and a tasting can certainly be split between two people. Of importance, Kopke offers tastings of red and white table wine and its open a tiny bit later than most of the other port houses!
I hope this information helps you plan your port tasting in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia! Have you been to Porto or Vila Nova de Gaia? What was your favorite port house?
STEAL OUR TRIP
The Graham’s 1890 Lodge: Rua Rei Ramiro, 514 4400-281 Vila Nova de Gaia. Open 9:30 – 17:30 (18:00 in Summer), with the last visit 30 minute before closing. Tours are by reservation only and can be made here. That being said, I walked in without a reservation in March and had no problem. Tours start at 12€/person. Graham’s also has an excellent restaurant and bar, Vinum Restaurant and Wine Bar, for which reservations can be made here.
Taylor’s Port. Rua do Choupelo, nº 250, 4400-088 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. Open 10 – 18:30 in the Winter, until 19:30 in the Summer (last entry 30 minutes before close). €12/person for an audio tour (multiple languages available) and tasting of two port wines. No reservations required. Port tastings and drinks are also available in the courtyard without a reservation. Taylor’s Port’s fabulous restaurant is called Barão Fladgate and reservations can be made in advance here. Taylor’s Port also has a new hotel called The Yeatman. The Yeatman looks very nice, but I have not stayed there.
Sandeman Cellars: Largo Miguel Bombarda, 3, 4400-222 Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal. Open 10 – 12:30 & 14:00 – 18:00 March – October, 9:30 – 12:30 & 14:00 – 17:30 November – February. Tours range in cost from €10/person for the Classic Tour to €40/person for the upscale 100 Year Old Tawnies Tour. You cannot make reservations online, but I recommend showing up early on the day you want to tour and putting your name down for the tour that you want to take (or have your hotel call). The English tours especailly book up as the day goes on during high season.
Kopke House: Avenida Diogo Leite, 312 (Vila Nova de Gaia). Open from May to October: 10:00 to 19:00 and from November to April: 10:00 to 18:00. No reservations or tours at the Kopke House, but you can stop in for a tasting, including a port wine and chocolate tasting. While Kopke House’s tastings may seem more expensive than other houses, the tastings are quite substantial and come with chocolate!!
Noval: Avenida Diogo Leite 256, 4400-111 Vila Nova De Gaia, Portugal. Open 11:00 – 18:30 daily (17:00 on Saturday). No reservations or tours. You can walk in to do a tasting of three ports or individual glasses. Price depending on what you taste, but prices are on par with other port houses.
ON A BUDGET
Base level port tours certainly will not break the bank. Also, many hostels do value “port wine tours” that visit one big port house and two wine tastings (but not port wine).