One of the great things to do when traveling is to sample the local beverages. In Belgium and the Czech Republic, this is usually beer, in France and Italy it's wine. Turns out Portugal has a pretty fantastic wine culture; the most well-known of these varieties being Port. Aptly named, the city of Porto is the historical trading and export hub for these fortified wines which vary in color from a light amber to a deep purple-red. The wine is typically sweeter and often drank as a digestive or after-dinner drink. Not a big fan of sweet wines to begin with, I wasn't sure I would be a fan of port, but, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong.
The Duoro river separates the city of Porto to the north, and Gaia to the south; a number of iron bridges span its width. Along the bank of the river on the Gaia side, in the shadow of the Ponte Luis I bridge, are the port wine caves. Moored in the river are traditional Rabelo boats, meaning little tail in Portuguese. These flat-bottomed boats unique to the region were used for centuries to transport port wine from the Duoro valley where port is produced, to the cellars in Porto to be traded and exported. Today, they are primarily ornamental, but the cellars - along with tasting rooms - still line the riverwalk and are dotted throughout the adjacent neighborhood. An obvious experience for anyone visiting Porto would be to, of course, try the port! And that is just what we did.
Our AirBnB in Porto was very specifically chosen to be close to the port wine cellars. I had grand hopes of taking an afternoon and hopping from cellar to cellar, tasting the port as we went, but alas, things never quite go according to plan. A longer than anticipated drive from Fatima left us no chance to visit the cellars on the day we arrived, and other plans the next day precluded that as well. However, we did make it to two cellars, so all was not lost.
The first cellar we visited came on the recommendation of our AirBnB host. Located off the main thoroughfare a couple of blocks, Real Companhia Velha Degustação is not the most obvious to find. Nonetheless, the proprietor, an expat from Canada, was able to do a tasting for us with no prior reservation (note that in high season, this may not be the case). The tasting room was a little campy in that there were wax figures of women stomping grapes, and the damp, musty air was chilling, but these did little to detract from the wine. Our host was knowledgeable about port and was able to educate us on the difference between a white port (I had no idea such a thing existed), a tawny port, and a ruby port. We each got a small taste of 9 different varieties after which we declared our favorites and each purchased a bottle to take home.
Once we had completed our tasting there, we headed over to Taylor's Port. This involved a trek up the hill, but it was manageable, even with a stroller. We arrived just a few minutes after the tours officially ended, but they graciously let us quickly walk through their cellars and exhibit, and do a tasting. I always love to see long rows of barrels neatly stacked, awaiting the time when they are tapped, bottled, and consumed. Taylor's was more bourgeois than the prior cellar, and had a more established compound. It was intriguing to see their displays of port - some dating back as far as the 1860s! After consuming a sizable volume of port at the first cellar we visited, my memory of the specific ports we tried at Taylor's is a little fuzzy. However, I do remember thinking that for the premium price that was charged, the port was better, but only marginally so. Naturally, we purchased a bottle to bring home.
The rest of the evening in Porto was spent enjoying the local cuisine and another bottle of wine - I swear, we aren't alcoholics, but the wine is cheap and amazingly delicious. For all the colorful tiles and amazing food in Porto, we were sad to have to leave the next morning. An unpretentious city, Porto is most definitely one I would like to visit again, taking longer to explore all it has to offer.