You’d be a either a fool or teetotal to visit Porto without tasting the Port wine on offer – so I duly obliged.
Before this weekend, my encounters with this famous sweet wine, like many, consisted of the odd glass after dinner cheese at Christmas.
After my recent lessons, I have no doubt that this was the very cheapest Ruby Port, probably way past its sell by date*.
Over several days I managed to fit several different tastings into the schedule to understand and explore the complexities of the different styles which exist.
Visiting Cockburn’s Port Cellars
On the other side of the river from Porto is Gaia de Vila Nova.
This is where all of the warehouses are which create their world famous Ports.
They set up here for a multitude of reasons, temperature, cost and space being among them.
In the past, barrels of wine designated to be made into port from the Douro were taken down the river to these warehouses and shipped overseas when ready.
Nowadays though, the wine is taken to the warehouses by truck, with the boats being just for show and an annual regatta.
Many of these large, well known brands are British, who discovered this region after the war with France put an end to their supply of Bordeaux.
In Porto, it’s a must to visit at least one of these – and our group opted for Cockburn’s, which had the largest warehouse, as well still having a working cooperage.
Cockburn’s, which will certainly be familiar to many, is located about 5 mins up a typically steep slope away from the riverside, due to the size of it’s storage facilities.
The tours themselves come in several guises, with most of them being similar apart from what and where you taste afterwards.
Before the tour you can check out the small museum for free which charts the history of the brand through the centuries with stories, old adverts, bottles and photos.
During the tour your’ll see a large amount of barrels, tools used to repair them, and a video featuring the Taster, Manuel Rocha, whose father and grandfather were tasters before him.
This chap has been working in the tasting room since he was 19, so he knows his stuff.
Although they do not make or use new barrels, the coopers repair all of the old ones, a pretty methodical and painstaking process.
The cooperage still employs young apprentices to keep the trade alive, which is admirable.
At the end of the tour you enter the tasting room where tour drinks will already be setup for you.
We were encouraged to get a ‘classic’ tasting and a ‘premium’ tasting between two to sample a greater number of wines.
In my opinion, this is well worth doing. With the premium tasting you’ll get some of the more expensive wine, bit that’s not to say those you get with the classic are not delicious – they are!
Each of the wines have handy tasting notes against each one, with explanations of how it is made.
I liked the 10 year old Tawny the most, so duly ordered a glass of the 20 year old at the bar.
Don’t miss heading to the WC before you leave, you’ll be able to check out the strange old TV ads!
Further Port Tastings
I also visited ‘The Wine Barrels‘ which is in a stunning building in Porto. However, the service is poor and the food is not brilliant.
They do tend to focus on more independent smaller producers though, if that’s your thing.
A great value tasting of Ferraria Port wine can be tasted in the Mercado Beira Rio, which is nestled between the Port houses in Gaia.
This will save you going on the Ferraria tour if you are desperate for Port, as my party was.
At €6 for 5 glasses, it’s incredible value.
All in all I’m now a lot more clued up on Port!
* All Port should be drunk reasonably quickly after opening. With vintage it might be just two days!