Coda: A Tasting Trip to Portó, Portugal

Stepping off the bus, we found that we were on the outskirts of Portó. So, a quick subway ride into the center of town brought us to our hotel and into the heart of the beautiful city.

This is a view of the colorful skyline taken from across the river in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia. It’s funny how, to appreciate the true beauty of Portó, one has to leave it. Still, the brightly colored buildings were especially gorgeous against a blue sky.

But, when people speak of the dessert wines of Porto, the tasting rooms are actually in Vila Nova de Gaia. There are two main ways of getting across the river: by boat or bridge. (Guess which one doesn’t cost 3€+?)

We chiefly took the Dom Luís I Bridge, traipsing across both the upper and lower walkways. When it opened in 1886, it was the longest arched metal bridge in the world.

As navigating the Douro River can be a challenge (as attested to by this monument to past shipwrecks), the bridge provided much easier access to the port cellars across the way.

You guessed it – since we made that long trek, we were obliged to try some port wines! At Kopke (the oldest cellar in Porto), we did a white port tasting. From left to right, these were 7, 10, and 20-year ports. The fun part about Kopke? They include chocolates with each glass. Talk about a sugar rush.

The newer cellar, Porto Cruz, houses their tasting room in an equally modern building. We tried a cheese and wine pairing but added their rosé port to mix it up a bit. (Sugar – check. Cheese – check!)

Another stop (on another day) was at Offley. They, too, have jumped on the modern bandwagon and are making rosé ports. This style was first produced in 2011, but several winemakers are now including it in their more traditional lineups. (Still, don’t expect to see in US markets anytime soon as both locals and tourists like Mikey are snapping it up quicker than they can make it.)

Yet, even the most inventive changes have yet to alter many of the cellars. Wines are still aged for years in oak barrels housed in original buildings and few care to change this long practice.

We did find, however, that one of the older producers and the pioneer in creating rosé port (Croft) is currently working to overhaul and modernize their cellars. As such, many of their barrels have already been relocated and the rest will be removed by the end of this year. Cheers to the last of you!

Just as an aside, Mikey wonders how they plan on moving this behemoth. Yeah, the “ruby” stage in port wine production involves several years in these huge vats so as to keep the wine away from the oak. (Less surface area touching wood equals less wood flavor.)

But, what do they drink while waiting so long for the wine to mature? Well, as any decent winemaker will tell you, beer! Oh, and we’re not talking mass-marketed brews. Following this line of reasoning, Porto is home to many wonderful craft beer havens. (For Americans, just consider the NorCal or Oregon wine regions’ plethora of good breweries. Makes sense, huh?)

We happened upon a very new brewery called Fábrica Nortada. Now, when we say “new,” know that it sprung up last autumn following our last trip here.

Still, it had 8 beers on tap and some were really nice. Yeah, these things take time, but Fábrica Nortada is off to a good start.

Much more established, Letra Brewing is a personal favorite of Mikey’s and we visited for a sampler flight each of the three nights we were in Porto. (Oh, and they have a wonderful garden out back in the heart of the city. Check this place out!)

Even newer to the scene was A Fábrica Brewing (no relation to the above). Whilst they only had two house-made beers, this “nano-brewery” will be a place to keep on the radar.

Sure, beer is food, but we had to eat from time to time. Although tasty, as you can see from the above picture, Portuguese cuisine is extremely carb-heavy. (The steak was good, however.)

Perhaps we could have ordered a salad from UberEats (pretty crazy with the moped delivery guys, huh?), but we decided to get our veggie fix elsewhere.

Yep, there was a vegan buffet restaurant that Mikey stumbled upon last year. For the low price of 7.5€, we ate vegetables and tofu to our hearts’ content – very refreshing.

Mostly, though, we enjoyed walking around the city and enjoying breaks in the clouds and rain when possible. As a “city on a hill,” Porto is not for the faint of heart when it comes to walkabouts. Still, it is a beautiful city to explore and is complete with winding side streets in which to get lost.

Of course, a major landmark at the center of the city is the Clérigo’s Tower. Seen from most parts of the city, the Baroque structure served as a navigational beacon during our stay.

Many of Porto’s Baroque buildings hail from the early 18th-century and exhibit some of the best tile-work of which Portugal is so well-known.

Perhaps a bit deceptive given the crane, this church is not under construction. Rather, it is a beautifully embellished example of said tiling.

The interior was very simple and Mikey really liked the cleanliness of its ceiling.

Yet, Porto is not stuck in the past. Many modern art projects adorn the simplest of structures. (Talk about an Alice in Wonderland kind of vibe!)

We also came across the Hard Rock Cafe of Porto. Remember when a Hard Rock t-shirt conveyed some sort of worldliness back in the 90’s? Yeah, we kept walking past the passé.

We also tried out a few coffee bars. Much akin to other international chains, Costa was less than desirable. No, that’s too harsh. It just seems that we were so enthralled with the tiny Spanish cafés that anything resembling a chain has become less than worthy.

In fact, one of the best coffees we enjoyed was on the terrace of Sandeman Cellars. Yes, they offer many port wines and specialty cocktails, but we spent several hours just enjoying coffees and people-watching.

But, we also tried a different sangria each day. Made with port wine, these cocktails were the inspiration for Mikey’s own recipe that made it into the Los Angeles Times two years ago.

In all, Porto was a fun city to revisit. We enjoyed the wine and really got to relax for quite a bit. Perhaps knowing that we had seen much of it before and are likely to come back kept us at a slower pace and enabled us to enjoy the simpler aspects of it. Well, we’re speeding off to Lisbon next, so we’ll speak to you from there real soon. Tchau!

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