Porto, as the name suggests, is the birthplace of Port Wine. So on a recent visit to Portugal’s second-largest city, I could not pass on the opportunity to tour the famous wine cellars and of course enjoy copious tastings of this delicious grape juice.
Set on the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia, in the heart of the historic area and across the river from the old city centre, the wine cellars of Porto are truly picturesque.
With their world-famous names in giant neon signs making it hard to miss, the port wine tasting tours at the cellars have become one of the most sought after attractions in Porto.
Accessing the cellars is very easily accomplished if you work your way up from the river bank. The Rabelo boats that once brought the wine from the Alto Douro wine region to Porto can still be seen casually bobbing along the banks of the Douro River – a reminder of the days of old. The Porto cable car, brimming with tourists, glides smoothly past overhead. Along the banks, the famous cellars of Sandeman, Ferreira and Ramos Pinto sit proudly, steeped in their traditions.
If you’re prepared for the uphill climb, you can venture on to some of the other prestigious cellars: Offley, Cockburn and Taylors.
Taylors Port wine cellars sits on Rua do Choupelo, and by the time we reached the vine-covered entrance I was out of breath.
While Taylors have various vineyards across the country, the cellars at Villa Nova de Gaia houses most of the company’s reserves of wood aged Port as well as their Vintage Port, in tunnels below the cellars.
We found a table (cleverly in the shape of a wine barrel) in the Library room, and amidst the dusty books and aging bottles we got to work on the menu. As we waited for the next English tour of the cellars, we ordered some port by the glass; a good mix of the vintage, tawny, ruby, late-bottled vintage (LBV), and dry white.
The tour commenced with some basic history about Port wine, and then delved into the fascinating history of the House of Taylors. We then entered the cellars itself: long cool, dark warehouses with thick granite walls and high ceilings to help keep out heat and maintain temperatures throughout the year.
We learned that ‘casks’ are seasoned oak barrels which usually hold around 630 litres of wine. As cask ageing encourages contact between the wine and the wood, it intensifies the ageing process which is used mainly for Tawny Ports.
The most impressive for me was the sight of the giant oak vats which normally hold around 20,000 litres of wine. In these mammoth vessels, there is less contact between the Port and the wood and this ageing method is therefore used mainly for the fruitier styles of Port such as Taylor’s First Estate Reserve or LBV.
As mentioned, below the cellars, lay tunnels in which the Vintage Ports age in bottle, lying horizontally to keep the corks moist. While we did get to see some ports ageing in bottles we didn’t get the opportunity to slip into the depths of the tunnels (not sure if I would have enjoyed that!)
The entire tour took no more than 30 minutes, and was truly an interesting and informative session where I learned a lot about the history and process of making Port wines.
Afterwards, it was on to my favorite part of the tour: more tastings! As part of the tour, we were invited to taste three very different Port wines: Chip Dry – Extra Dry White, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and the 10 year old Tawny.
At 3€ per person, I would highly recommend a tour of the Taylor’s cellars when in Porto. Get there early like we did, and sample your favorite port wines before the tour! The by-the-glass menu is wonderfully priced, and hopefully, the sun will be shining as you take in the terrace views.
For more information visit the Taylors website.