Port and Portugal are one and the same. It is impossible to imagine where the country would be without it. This rich aperitif is entwined within the cultural landscape, as prominent to the Douro as red wine is to Bordeaux and beer is to Bavaria.
If you’re partial to a measure, then you will be happy to hear that exploring its origins in Porto and throughout the Douro Valley is one of the great joys of our luxury Douro River cruises. From Porto to Vega de Terrón, the legacy of port runs deep throughout northern Portugal, and you can trace its journey from the fertile slopes and historic quintas of the patchwork countryside to the cavernous subterranean wine cellars of Porto, where Port has been stored, aged and traded for centuries.
To introduce this classic Portuguese aperitif in greater detail, here we explore the origins, types and tasting notes of Port wine, as well as some of its popular local pairings.
Port wine through the ages
Types and tasting notes
Port wines are produced in a range of styles and vintages, with the most distinctive difference being whether it was aged in sealed glass bottles or wooden barrels. This ageing process influences the taste and viscosity of the Port. From here, Port wines can be divided into four categories – which you can learn about below:
Tasting notes: Fruity and full-bodied, with plum and red berry notes.
Ruby Port is by far the most common and least expensive Port wine from the Douro Valley. Often stored in stainless steel tanks to preserve its flavour and colour, it is defined by its deep red hue and powerful, sweet fruitiness. Some reserve ports are aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of six years, which adds depth to the flavour of the wine.
Tasting notes: Nutty, dry and medium-bodied, with a distinct brownish-hue.
Tawny Port refers to red grape Port aged in wooden barrels. This type of ageing exposes the wine to oxidisation, which gives it a smooth, mellow brown colour. Tawny Ports are considered among the finest dessert wines because of their sweet, subtle flavour, and some of the finest vintages are aged for more than five years to add more nuttiness and wood notes.
Garrafeira Ports are among the most unusual and rare forms of Port, given the lengthy process that goes into crafting every bottle. Often referred to simply as ‘vintage’ Port, Garrafeira uses a combination of wooden barrel and glass bottle ageing to maximise the flavour and depth of the wine, with some of the most premium products being left to mature for up to 15 years. This creates intense and rich wine that often comes with a high alcohol content.
Tasting notes: Mellow and fruity, with a velvety feel on the palate and a flavoursome finish of honey and oak.
White Port is very common in Portugal, particularly when paired with mixers in a cocktail. It is made from a blend of green grapes and aged demijohns, to impart maximum flavour. Like white wine, white Port varies from very sweet to very dry, and one of the most popular producers in the Douro Valley is Taylor’s – a historic British-Portuguese winemaker.
Flavours of the Douro and their Port wine pairings
Eating and drinking are some of the great joys of cruising the Douru River, and you’d be forgiven for spending your days daydreaming about your next meal. Naturally, food and Port go hand-in-hand in this beautiful region – so here are a few popular pairings to look out for on the river:
Bacalhau à bras and white Port and tonic
You’ll see bacalhau (cod) on plenty of menus across Portugal, and one of the most popular ways to enjoy it in the Douro Valley is in bacalhau à bras – a cod-based hash containing eggs, fried potatoes and black olives. Served in traditional Portuguese taverns from Porto to Pinhão, this classic peasant dish is as authentic as it gets, and absolutely delicious washed down with a white Port and tonic water cocktail.
Try it: Head to Porto’s Restaurante Abadia Do Porto for bacalhau à bras done right.
Alheira sausage and vintage Port
Iberia has long been heralded for its excellent charcuterie, and the Douro Valley is no exception. One of the delicacies of the region is alheira sausage, which comprises a blend of smoked poultry and game, believed to have been invented by Portuguese Jews during the time of the inquisition. For your first taste of this beloved regional delicacy, you need an authentic option – so opt for a vintage-style Port that has been aged for at least eight years.
Try it: As local and authentic as it gets, Papas Zaide has been delighting travellers with its alheira sausage, charcuterie and Port selection for decades.
Polvo and ruby Port
For a classic taste of Portugal, you must try polvo – octopus. With the Atlantic Ocean on its doorstep, seafood is taken seriously in the country, and one of the locals’ favourite fish dishes is grilled octopus served with salad or in a stew. You’ll find it in many restaurants throughout Porto, and we’d recommend washing it down with a local ruby Port for that classic taste of the city.
Try it: Papavinhos is considered among Porto’s best seafood restaurants, offering a contemporary take on some of the region’s best-loved dishes – accompanied by a comprehensive wine list.
If you would like to go and experience the joys of Port wine first hand, then click here to discover our collection of luxury river cruises on the Douro. Or, for more information and booking advice, visit the homepage or call our team on +44 161 236 2537.