Porto Wine

Words: Susana Ribeiro
Photo: Daniel Rodrigues

The grapes are grown in the Douro Demarcated Region and the cellars are in Vila Nova de Gaia, but the name has never changed: Port Wine is known worldwide by the name of the city from which it is exported to the four corners of the world.

The grapes that produce this wonderful nectar are grown on the schist slopes of the Douro Valley. The breathtaking landscape of the Alto Douro Wine Region — classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO — combines with harsh but perfect conditions to create a wine that is born out of hard work. It is an inimitable part of local and national culture and history!

Port Wine has been one of the country’s major exports since the 17th century, and is the reason for partnerships and alliances between Portugal and other countries. In 1756, the Marquis of Pombal created the Douro Demarcated Region, making it the oldest demarcated wine region in the world.

What distinguishes Port Wine?

As well as the grapes coming from the Douro Demarcated Region, Port is a fortified wine. And it is this fortification that distinguishes it. What does that involve? It involves adding brandy to the wine before it finishes fermenting.

Traditionally, Port Wine was transported from the vineyards to the cellars in boats called rabelos. Until the construction of dams and weirs, the Douro was very dangerous, with strong currents, so transportation to the estuary was a very risky endeavour. Many lost their lives on these journeys.

Over time, this work was increasingly carried out by trains and lorries, and the rabelos became obsolete. Not completely obsolete, however, because now they take tourists to see the six bridges separating Porto from Gaia and then on to Foz do Douro. By 2019, the Port Wine export trade was worth almost €380 million.

When is the best time to visit?

Any time is a good time to visit the Douro Valley region, although there will be more to see during the wine harvest between September and October. During this time, many of the vineyards throw open their doors to visitors who, as well as tasting some of the wines, can even take the opportunity to tread the grapes in the traditional way. These events usually involve traditional music and picnics.

The Port Wine cellars in Vila Nova da Gaia are open all year, and in addition to tasting the wines, you can also find out all about the history surrounding this nectar.

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