After checking out some of the port cellars in person the day before and doing some research online, Dylan and I headed out from our hotel on a mission to learn all that we could about port...mostly through tasting.
On our way to the opposite side of the river, though, I couldn't resist getting a couple photos of us and the city!
There are a few port cellars right along the river, but there are also quite a few up the hill. We decided to start by hiking up the hill to see about scheduling tours at the less accessible cellars first. The walk was steep and construction-filled, but the pay off was worth it!
Our first stop of the day was Offley. This was our first Port tour and we knew very, very little about it, which was strange because we are used to going on beer and whiskey tours (which we are seasoned experts on).
We quickly started picking up information about the different types of port - white, ruby, and tawny (which is ruby port that is aged in barrels) - and about the Douro River valley, pictured below, which is located about 100 km from Porto and is where all of the grapes for port are grown. (Port, like Champagne, is origin- specific. You can't make a true port anywhere else.)
My favorite part of this tour ended up being the guide, who was probably a few years younger than us and quite funny. She told us all about her love of drinking sweet, affordable port and the goal of avoiding the not-so-sweet port hangover.
She also told us about how companies had started making super fancy, one room hotels out of the really big port containers, pictured below, that originally contained ruby port. She told us that they charged "Cristiano Ronaldo prices" to stay in them, which could be much better spent on buying Port to drink instead, but admitted that it was a really cool concept.
Here, we also got to see some of the machinery that was traditionally used to make port, like this machine that I think was designed to separate the skins from the grapes.
After enjoying the tasting that was included at the end of our tour, we ventured a little further up the hill to Taylor's. Here we had the option of doing an audioguide tour, but we didn't want to tour overload ourselves, so we opted to instead pick out a few fancier ports to try in their really nice gardens. One of our choices was their 30 year old tawny. We decided that you really can taste a difference in the port as it ages. It is really smooth and develops a nutty flavor that was quite unique.
As we enjoyed our port here, we were joined by this rooster who seemed quite at home in the gardens.
We had reservations for a tour of Croft, which was also on the hill, but that wasn't until 5pm. With plenty of time, we decided to venture down the hill to check out Calem, which is one of the bigger and most visited cellars right on the river. We booked a tour and grabbed a quick bite at an indoor food hall/market nearby. (Right after we ordered, we noticed a bug crawling inside the display case that our sandwiches had been pulled out of. Luckily, I still had Travelan in my pack from Southeast Asia so we took one with our meal and ended up just fine! Our stomachs have proven quite strong, all-in-all.)
The tour at Calem ended up being really informative. It was a huge tour (45 people instead of the seven we had on our tour of Offley) but we learned a lot about vintage port (which is made from one grape harvest rather than a blend) and got to see a lot of really old port before tasting some good, but no-where-near-as-old port.
With our expertise growing, we continued our port touring extravaganza at Croft. This port cellar is famous for making the first Rosé port in 2006 (I think) as a way to appeal to a younger market. We were hot and a little sweaty from hiking back up the hill, so we were quite happy to be offered a glass at the start of our tour. We learned that the Rose is their only port that doesn't come into contact with French Oak. It is kept in stainless steel containers, so that it has a lighter, more refreshing flavor that works well in cocktails.
On this tour, we got to see some pictures of how Croft still makes some of their port in the traditional way, complete with foot-smashed grapes. And of course, we ended with some more port tasting.
In great spirits from some great port, we ventured back down the hill, taking a little time to get pictures of one of the murals and a silly sign that we had passed a few times in our trekking up and down the hill earlier.
Once back on the river, we weren't quite ready for the port tasting extravaganza to end, especially when we saw an open table outside of Calem's bar, which is right along the river walk. Here, we tasted Calem's sweetest white (a Lágrima which earns it's name from the "tears" that it leaves on the sides of the glass), their Rosé, and their 30 year tawny. We decided that Croft's Rosé was a little better and so was Taylor's 30 year tawny, but we were still quite content with Calem's options.
When I couldn't take any more sugar, we picked up and went to a casual restaurant next door that also had a spot outside. We shared a franceisina and cod croquette (another Portuguese speciality) while enjoying some people watching.
As the sun was setting, we headed back to our hotel and came across another set of performers in front of the Luis bridge. I was impressed from the beginning but was really impressed when one of the performers stood on the other's shoulders and then swung a hoola hoop that was on fire around her neck! Crazy!