Captain Ulysses is quite the epicurean and could not miss the famous Port wine cellars nestled in Vila Nova de Gaia, accross from Porto, on the other side of the Douro. If you too enjoy good food and good wine, you’ll undoubtedly love visiting the port wine cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia! Follow the guide!
👉 Visiting the Porto’s port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia
👉 Brief history of Port wine
👉 How is Port wine made?
👉 What are the different types of Port wine?
👉 What about the vineyards?
💡 The Captain’s tip 💡
Want to know more about the history of Porto? Captain Ulysses warmly recommends this free guided tour of the city. It’s up to you to choose how much you wish to tip the tour guide!
Visit Porto’s port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia
Where are the port cellars located?
The vast majority of the cellars are located in the municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia, opposite Porto’sRibeira district, across the Douro.
You can easily walk to Vila Nova de Gaia (take theDom Luis I Bridge) or take the metro.
The Port wine cellars are mostly located on the banks of the Douro, but some, such as Taylor’s, Graham’s, Croft or Cockburn’s are a little further away.
Which port wine cellars should you visit?
The cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia belong to some forty merchant companies, which own a total of 200 port brands (and account for 90% of the market ).
Suffice to say that there are plenty of cellars to visit… too much even! Faced with this profusion of cellars, it can be hard to decide which to visit. This is why Captain Ulysses has selected a few Port wine cellars which he warmly recommends!
The Captain’s favorite Port wine cellars in Porto/Vila Nova de Gaia
Head for the heights of Vila Nova de Gaia, a fifteen-minute walk from the Dom Luis I Bridge, opposite the iconic hotel The Yeatman (where Captain Ulysses also recommends staying if you can afford it… or simply going for a drink!)
Taylor’s cellars, which are among the most famous in Porto, have it all: a splendid setting and very high quality ports!
Admission includes a port wine tasting, as well as an audio guide (available in 12 languages). The visit is really quite fascinating! You will stroll among the vats of port before visiting a small museum where you will learn more about the Douro region as well as the history of Port wines and their production.
And you’ll be able to put your brand new knowledge to the test with a Port wine tasting at the end of the visit. Next to the bar, you will also find a shop where you’ll be able to buy high quality Port wines!
In short, Taylor’s is most definitely one of the Captain’s favourites wine cellars in Porto!
💡 Practical information 💡
Taylor’s cellars are open for tours daily, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is 15 € per adult, 6 € for children. To avoid queuing, especially during high season, the Captain recommends booking your tickets in advance. You can book your ticket on Taylor’s website.
Located further west, half an hour’s walk from Dom Luis Bridge (10 minutes by bus – lines 901 or bus 906), Graham’s Port wine cellars also have it all: a magnificent historic setting, a rich history and very high quality wines!
All visitors have to join a guided tour (available in French, English, Portuguese, Spanish, German and Russian). The visit begins with a short film retracing the history of Graham’s and the production of Port wines before continuing in the cellars.
At the end of the visit, you will be able to taste three ports (you will be asked at the beginning of the visit to choose from between “menus” at different rates depending on the quality of the ports included).
Graham’s cellars also comprise a boutique and a restaurant.
💡 Practical information 💡
The visit to Graham’s Cellars is guided and must be reserved in advance. You can book your tour directly onsite or book your visit online.
The most touristic cellars: Calem, Porto Cruz and Sandeman
Calem, Porto Cruz and Sandeman are undoubtedly the most touristic port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia. While they’re not as high-end/charming as Taylor’s and Graham’s, they do have the merit of being easily accessible and quite inexpensive.
Admission tickets to the Calem cellars are €13 full price (interactive museum + guided tour + tasting). Find out more here.
To treat yourself, you can even opt for a visit to the Calem cellars followed by a port wine tasting and a Fado show , at a really very reasonable price.
Brief history of Port wine
The origins of Douro wines
While Port wine as we know it today was only really created in the 19th century, the Douro Valley has been famous for its vineyards for over two millennia, as evidenced by the writings of Strabo, a Greek historian and geographer (60 BC – 20 AD). The Romans introduced the cultivation of vines along the Douro river in the 2nd century BC.
Ancestral ties between England and Portugal
In the 14th century, Portugal and England developed strong political and commercial ties, so much so that many British merchants took up residence in Portugal – which explains why the names of many Port wine companies sound resolutely English.
In the 14th century, the English started importing Portuguese wine, but in small quantity, and mainly from the Minho region.
The rise of Douro wines
In 1667, Colbert, Prime Minister of King Louis XIV, limited then simply banned French imports from from England.
In retaliation, King Charles II of England put an end to imports from France. But the English, who were great wine lovers, found themselves deprived of their main source of supply! English traders therefore turned to Portugal, with which trade relationships were already well established.
But the English clearly prefered the ample and full-bodied wines of the Douro Valley to the Minho wines which were hitherto imported from Portugal. The production in the Douro Valley therefore intensified and Porto becomes the starting point for wine convoys crossing the Atlantic.
To prevent the wines from spoiling during the trip, some producers decided to “fortify” their production with the addition of brandy. This method, which was at the time quite unorthodox, was based on the same principle as the “mutage” which later became characteristic of Port wines (although the addition of grape spirit now intervenes at the time of fermentation).
At the beginning of the 18th century, Port wine was becoming increasingly popular. Production increased dramatically and some unscrupulous producers tried to conceal the poor quality of their wine by adding elderberry juice to darken the color.
The Marquis of Pombal
In 1756, the Marquis of Pombal, Prime Minister of Portugal, decided to put an end to the dishonest practices of some producers of Port wine. From then on, production and trade of Port wine were subject to regulations and came under state control. The Marquis of Pombal created the Companhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro (which later became the Real Companhia Velha) and drew up a detailed classification of the vines, designating the best vineyards, which were authorized to export their production, and inferior quality vineyards, which were exclusively destined for the Portuguese market.
The Marquis de Pombal somehow invented the concep of registred designation of origin!
The birth of modern Port wine
In the 1830s, the vast majority of Port producers started fortifying the wine by adding neutral grape spirit to stop the fermentation. Port wines became sweeter, with a higher alcohol content.
How is Port wine made?
The grape varieties grown for the production of Port wine – around 30 in total – are overall unique to the region and rarely grown outside the Douro Valley.
The most famous are :
- touriga nacional
- tinta roriz
- touriga francesa
- tinta barroca
- tinta cao
- tinta amarela
- fina malvasia
The grape varieties can be grown separately, but are often mixed before or after fermentation, each bringing its own character and flavors to the wine.
As with traditional wine, the harvest period is around mid-September. The Douro vineyard, with its steep relief, is only accessible on foot: the grapes are hand picked.
Once picked, the grapes are transported to quintas ( large wineries) to be vinified. The grapes are trampled in lagares, large granite vats, to pop the grains and extract the must.
Next comes the fermentation stage, during which the sugar turns into alcohol.
The fortification is a key moment in the production of Port wine: neutral grape spirit (77°) is added to stop the fermentation. The Port wine thus “fortified” is sweeter (since the fermentation did not come to an end) and with a higher alcoholic content than traditional wines.
Following the fortification, the wine spends the winter in the cellars of the quintas, before being transported to the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia where it’ll age.
The aging and blending of Port wine
In spring, Port wine is transported to the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia to age in casks, barrels or bottles.
After aging in barrels, the wine is “blended”: oenologists select and blend different vintages before bottling the port wine.
What are the different types of Port wine?
Captain Ulysses wouldn’t want to ruin the suspense! The classification of Port wines is somewhat complicated, and you will be explained everything when visiting the cellars.
But here is a small simplified classification:
- Ruby: these are rather young wines, 3 years old on average (hence their dark ruby color), resulting from the blending of different vintages aged in casks (thus remaining relatively sheltered from air and little oxidized). Rubies are not intended to be kept for long.
- Tawny: Tawnies are oxidative wines, that is to say they have been aged in barrels, in contact with air, and have oxidized, which explains their tawny, brown or red color. More complex than Rubies, Tawnies are aged in barrels for at least 6 years before being blended and/or bottled.
- Vintage: Vintage wines are considered the best port wines. They are the result of a particularly exceptional harvest and come from the best vineyards. After a short period in barrels, they are bottled the on the 2nd or 3rd year following the harvest. Vintage ports are intended to age in the bottle and oenologists recommend keeping them for at least ten years (if not more) before consuming them.
- LBV:Late Bottled Vintages remain unblended, just like Vintage Port wines. But them, LBVs are aged for 4 to 6 years in casks or barrels before being bottled. While they can continue aging in the bottle, they are not long-keeping wines and they can be consumed as soon as they are bottled.
What about the vineyards?
Visiting the cellars has aroused your interest and you’re curious to find out more about Port wines? Captain Ulysses highly recommends going on a day-trip to explore the vinyards of the Douro Valley
If you’ve rented a car, you can freely visit the Douro region on your own. Otherwise, the Captain recommends opting for an organized day-tour such as this one.
Wondering where to buy Port wine in Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto?
If you want to buy high quality bottles, then the Captain recommends that you do so directly in the Port wine cellars or in wine shops.
If your port budget more limited and you simply want buy a few bottles without breaking the bank, you’ll find what you need in supermarkets: it might be not very glamorous, but you will find all the “basics” at very affordable prices.
Where to order Port wine?
To buy good Port wine (and more generally good spirits) online, the Captain warmly recommends the Maison du Whiskey.
Excessive drinking is dangerous for your health; alcoholic beverages should be consumed with moderation.
Looking for tips to plan your vacation in Porto? You might find these articles of interest:
👉 A Guide to Porto: the best things to do
👉 Day-tours around Porto
👉 Visiting Porto with children
👉 Where to eat in Porto? The Captain’s restaurant recommendations
You can also find all of the Captain’s articles on Porto’s must-see sites and monuments here.
👉 Skip the lines: book your tickets and visits in advance!
Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all o the Captain’s suggestions!
🛏️ Accommodation: to book your accommodation in Porto, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Booking.com. From youth hostels to luxury boutique hotels, there’s plenty to choose from! The Captain particularly recommends:
– youth hostels: The Passenger Hostel and Urban Garden Porto Central Hostel
– budget and mid-range hotels: Decanting Porto House and Porto Charming Hotel
– luxurious hotels: NH Porto Jardim and the Yeatman.
🎟️ Activities: museums, monuments, guided tours, boat tours, excursions… there’s plenty to do in Porto! To avoid wasting time in endless queues, especially during high season, the Captain strongly recommends that you opt for skip-the-line tickets and book your activities in advance. You can book all your tickets and tourist activities on GetYourGuide and Civitatis.
⛵ Cruises: Porto is undoubtedly synymous with Douro! It’d be a shame to leave the “Capital of the North” without embarking on a Douro river cruise. If you’re only staying in Porto for a long weekend, the Captain recommends the six bridges cruise. If you have more time, then he highly recommends the Douro Valley cruise with wine tasting & lunch.
🎫 Citypass: valid from 1 to 4 days, the Porto Card includes unlimited access to city transport (including to get to/from the airport), free entry to 6 museums and a selection of discounts in museums, attractions, Port wine cellars and shops.
🚐 Transfers: you can take the metro at the airport to get to the city center (1/2 hour). But if you’d rather avoid public transport, you can also book a shared or a private transfer at very reasonable prices.
🚌 Local transport: you’ll propably quickly tire of Porto’s steeply sloping streets and might be tempted to take local transport instead of walking. The public transport network is convenient and easy to navigate. You can buy your tickets directly at metro stations and bus stops (be careful, you will need to take 1 Andante card per person).
You should also know that access to public transport is included in the Porto Card. Otherwise, the hop-on hop-off bus tours are great options to explore the city. You can also opt for a pass including access to hop-on hop-off buses, the funicular as well as tramways.
Among other means of transport, you can also try the bicycle, the electric bicycle, the segway,the tuk-tuk, the small train …
✈️ Flights: to book your flights to Porto, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends Skyscanner. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.
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