The Porto trip was real. It was amazing. Those Internet travel sweepstakes are legit people! Sign up for them. Or don’t, so I can win another one. We had a fantastic experience with our travel, and stuffed as much fun into the two and a half days we had in Portugal as possible.
We left on a Lufthansa flight from Dulles, VA Wednesday afternoon, flying past Portugal to Frankfurt, Germany (a bit out of the way, but technically I can now say I was in Germany), then spent a weary three hours for our layover there, before boarding the second plan and arriving in Porto at 11 a.m. local time.We didn’t get more than a couple hours of sleep during the travel, but when we landed we hit the ground running. After checking in at the Sheraton Porto Hotel and Spa (a great hotel, also covered by the giveaway) and pounding round one of caffeine (Portuguese coffee is so delicious), we went to The Yeatman Hotel in nearby Vila Nova de Gaia (Gaia for short), across the Porto side of the Douro River to take in some views.We grabbed some more coffee at an outdoor table at Dick’s bar and marveled at the amazing weather (high 70’s during the day, high 50’s at night) and the quiet, peaceful vibe of the area.The Yeatman was probably the most expensive place as far as food and wine we saw in the Porto area, so after sharing a glass of wine we headed down the hill to find some cheaper options. I was obsessed with the cobblestone streets and stone walls, being as this is my first time in Europe and such an old city in general.We didn’t really know where were going, but since we’d never been inside a Port wine cellar, we decided to check out mega-wine magnate Sandeman for a Port wine tour and tasting. Tours run on the half hour, and we were hungry, so we grabbed a bite at their outdoor cafe beforehand.
For the most part, food and wine in Portugal was so cheap I almost felt guilty about it. For around $8 US, we got a half bottle of Mateus Rose, a grilled cheese sandwich and an order of fries. The Mateus wine is kind of a joke in Porto, because it’s cheap and sweet and not of the highest quality, but I’m not too fancy for a cheap fix every now and then. It’s also low in alcohol content, which is a good thing before doing a Port wine tasting.
The tour was quick and informative. We walked through the cellars to see the massive barrels where the ruby ports are stored – for ruby ports you want less contact with wood to preserve the fresh fruit flavors – and the hundreds and hundreds of smaller barrels where the tawny ports were aging – tawny ports need more contact with wood and age longer, resulting in a nuttier, almost honey-like flavor.
Tom is a particular fan of the Sandeman Don graphics located throughout the cellar. The Don was one of the first trademarked company graphics, I believe, representing Sandeman’s Sherry production in Spain (the sombrero) and the Porto production in Porto (the cape).
We also saw the vintage ports aging in the bottles, dating back to as early as 1904. Most ports are blends of wine made from many different years, but vintage ports are composed of only wine from one specific year, declared by the Port Wine Institute as a year of perfect conditions throughout the region, or a perfect port wine from a certain winery and are the only ports that continue to age and improve once they are bottled. All other ports will be the same on the day you open them as they were when they were bottled, regardless of how long they’ve been sitting on your shelf.
After the tour, we got a chance to taste five port wines – a white port, two rubies and two tawnies.To be honest, before this trip I was pretty anti-port. I’ve always found it to be a little too liquor-y for me. I can’t tolerate brown liquor or brandy, and always felt like I was drinking something of that harshness when I had a port. I’m guessing this is because those ports were either cheap or just not very good, because by the end of the trip I was all about some port wines. Or perhaps my palate has just refined in the past couple of years. Even though ports are made using brandy, it’s a colorless and tasteless brandy, so it really shouldn’t result in that astringent liquor taste if the wine is made correctly.
I really liked the Late Bottled Vintage 2009 Ruby Port, the Imperial Reserve Tawny. But whew, after five ports, despite not finishing them all, we were more than a little buzzed. To be a true port, the wine must have at least 19% alcohol, so… yeah.
To avoid falling asleep, we walked around the riverfront for awhile. Several boats were docked in front of Sandeman with barrels of wine on board. Although much of the wine is transported now in large tanker trucks on the road, the river still serves as a means of shipping the wine from the wineries out in the Douro Valley to the cellars in Gaia and Porto. These cities are better suited to the aging of the wines, due to higher humidity.
Porto and Gaia are famous for being the only European cities with six bridges. I’m not sure which one this was (five ports and two hours of sleep doesn’t lead to high information retention) but it was very pretty.
We walked across to get to Porto for dinner, stopping for number one of many ridiculous tourist double selfies.
We also caught this gorgeous sunset as we were crossing.
For dinner, we picked a cute little restaurant on the riverfront that looked fairly crowded with locals. In America, many of the restaurants located with such good views tend to have sub-par food, but this place was fantastic. I have no idea what it was called, but I don’t think it matters. Here’s what I have to say about food in Portugal.
1. It’s all delicious. I didn’t have a single food item I didn’t like the whole time. There was also a lot of variety.
2. It’s absurdly affordable.
For this dinner, we had about five small dishes and wine (a delicious dry Portuguese red I also can’t remember) for 40 euros. Crazy. In DC, the same dinner definitely would have been around $100 before tip.
Such a beautiful first day in an amazing city. Stay tuned for parts two and three later this week!