In Portugal we didn’t have the chance to explore the scenic Douro Valley, the birthplace of port wine. However, we did get to do the next best thing~ a port wine tour in Porto. We had a full week to “do” Porto, and this port wine tour was at the top of our list for “things to do” in Porto.
In the 17th century, the British developed a taste for the wines from the Douro region. By 1756, this valley was established as the only place port wine could be produced. Similar to how bourbon whiskey is defined by where it's distilled in Southern Kentucky. Today port wine is the top industry and the top tourist draw for Portugal's "City to the North". The grapes are picked and the wine produced in the Douro Valley but it is shipped and matured 60 miles downriver in Porto.
Across the river from Porto, in La Vila Nova de Gaia, is the best place to sample port wines. There are at least a dozen wine cellars and just as many tours. You can tour them on your own or take a guided tour. Because we know essentially nothing about port, we chose the guided tour.
The cellars where the port is aged are called lodges. It is in these lodges you can taste Porto's most famous product, port wine. Port is a medium-sweet wine usually taken as a digestif after dinner. It is also often accompanied by cheese to balance its powerful flavor. Port is a fortified with a grape brandy which when introduced to the wine stops the fermentation process early, leaving more sugar in the port. The precise reason port wines are so sweet.
There are essentially four types of port: ruby, tawny, vintage, and late bottle vintage (L.B.V.). Ruby is the least expensive as its young aging process is just three years. It has a fiery taste of grape and pepper. Tawny is the most typical. Probably the one you've tasted. It is aged in smaller barrels for at least ten years to maximize the exposure to the wood.This gives it a leathery color with more complex, mellower flavor. Some may say a "nutty" taste. Vintage port is a more expensive ruby. Rather than being a blend of many years, it comes from a single harvest. After the port is aged two years in barrels it is tasted by the Port Wine Institute to determine whether it's worthy of the vintage label.
Unlike vintage port, late bottle vintage is a blend of wines from a single year aged together in wooden vats for about five years. This fruity, rich-in-color port is more affordable than the vintage label and of the four probably my favorite.
In all, we toured three lodges and tasted seven different port wines. Obviously wine tasting is very subjective and we may not be the best of judges. Of the three cellars we hopped between, we enjoyed the tour at Ramos-Pinto the most. As for the seven port wines? Well, our guide Gabriela said, "The delight in port wine is an acquired taste". All right then, we'll stick with something simple, shall we say, less complex. . . red wine.
For wine connoisseurs this tour is a must. For us, we've traveled all the way to Portugal from Spain. We couldn’t miss it!