Port in Porto

Night panorama of Douro riverbank

We park nearby Paços do Concelho, the city council of Porto. Shortly after I befriend a Portuguese woman who appears to be the parking ticket warden, so for that reason parking becomes complimentary. We crawl along Avenida dos Aliados, the main alley leading from the center to the Douro riverside. Along the Cais da Ribeira waterfront a facade of the shelter Muro dos Cobertos da Ribeira extends with its numerous bars, shops and restaurants. Warm orange city lights reflect on the surface of water and a two-level bridge Don Luis I notably highlights this picturesque scenery. On the other side of the river many Port Wine cellars are located. Barges moored at the shore once served to transport port from Alto Douro, the region of origin. Today the barges serve just as a decoration since the barrels are being transported overland. Let’s see then, what is not only a decoration here.

Historical buildings in Porto

In Porto it is fairly easy to find pastelaria, which serves crumbly cookies with pudding filling pastel de nata. Galão, the milky coffee, is a perfect complement to the cookies.

We inspect various corners of the city. Porto has a different architecture as compared to Lisbon. Unlike the capital, the city has never been never destroyed by the earthquake, so many buildings retained its original character from hundreds of years ago. In the city center you easily notice that at every step you take. The other side of the coin are fairly old crumbling tenements, the slums of the XXI century.

Petite shopkeepers address passers-by, people hang colorful laundry outside their windows. Here and there, dirt, dust and green rotting walls. This is a natural mess and forgetfulness seldom mixed with little restoration work to keep things in order. In this way Porto creates its aura.

Taylor’s Port cellar

We walk along the river Douro on the side of the city of Vila Nova de Gaia. We pass the moored barges loaded with barrels of port to reach the area of the Caves Vinho do Porto, or the cellar, where the fortified port wine ages, the showcase of this part of Portugal.

Cellars located right on the river attract the biggest crowds of visitors. We pass Cálem and Sandeman cellars and continue walking uphill on a cobbled road. That brings us to Taylor’s. Right in time. A free tour around the cellars combined with wine tasting is just about to start.

The traditional means of transportation of Port barrels

Port is made from grapes grown in the Douro valley in Alto Douro region. The wine is matured and bottled in Vila Nova de Gaia (often confused with Porto on the other side of the river). Harvested grapes are crushed and undergo fermentation process, resulting in the alcohol level reaching about 7%. Whereupon the wine spirit is added and the alcohol content increases to around 18-21%.

Thus prepared wine is aged in oak barrels, which often are imported from French vineyards. After a prolonged period of use the barrles are, for example, exported to Scotland, where they would serve for many years for the whisky production.

There are several types of port wine. Ruby is a sweet and cheapest variety. Tawny has already an acquired taste and a properly-chosen bottel should satisfy most of the more experienced wine tasters. For real connoisseurs there are various Vintage brands which are produced by a considerably longer aging (this applies only to wines with aging potential). As a result the Vintage has lower levels of sugar and alcohol, but its taste bouquet is refined.

We buy a bottle of port wine, a half pound of large, seasoned olives straight from a big barrel and off we stroll along the waterfront gradually moving from theory into practice in port wine tasting.