Wine Travel: The Port Houses of Gaia
Port aka vinho do Porto, is a fortified wine that is produced specifically in the Douro region of Portugal. The first demarcated wine region in the world traces back to 1756 and is the only region where the signature Port wines can be found.
The story is that Port originated in the Douro Valley by a monk who added grape spirit to his wine during fermentation for sweetness. Today this tradition continues with the signature technique of vinifying Port from five locally grown grapes with aguardiente, a brandy-type liquor. The spirit is added during the wine process to stop fermentation and preserve the sweetness of the grapes.
Although a sweeter red wine, due to the combination of the fermentation and aging process, it typically has a high alcohol content, sometimes up to 19%. Port wines can be found in various aged varieties. Ruby, Tawny, Reserve, Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage, White, and Rose are all styles that are vinified throughout the Douro region.
The majority of the wine production houses are in Vila Nova de Guia, the hub of the Port industry. Guia, as it is locally referred is located on the opposite side of the Douro river from the primary city of Northern Portugal, Porto where the river ships and local Ribeiro boats port.
When visiting the city of Porto, stopping at some of the nineteen of Porto’s local wine lodges for a tour and tasting is a top travel experience for visitors.
Here are some of our local favorites:
Taylor Fladgate – Established in 1692 is a founding Port House and one of the oldest in Vila Nova de Gaia. With all its grapes grown among its own Quinta farms, they produce barrel aged ports. Their reserve feature the largest collection of cask aged Tawny Ports and have set the standard for Vintage Port and the originator of Late Bottled Vintage style Ports. Their Port cellar is open daily for tours and tastings.
Sandeman – established in 1790, another of the oldest port houses in the Douro specializes in Tawny and aged Tawny Ports. Most identified for its signature logo of a Spanish Don in a Cordoba hat with a Portuguese university student cape represents the brand’s commitment to selling Iberian fortified wines. In addition to Port, Sandeman produces Portuguese Maderia and Spanish Sherry and Brandy. Tastings and tours are available daily.
W & J Graham’s Port – established in 1820, is one of the first local wineries to have invested in their own vineyards. Featuring both barrel-aged ports produced in seasoned oak barrels and bottle-aged ports that are stored while young in glass with a slower aging process creating a drier style port. Tastings and tours are available daily.
Rozès – What started in the mid 1800’s as an import company of Port wines in Bordeaux, France, in the 1930’s grew into the Porto Rozès brand.Their offerings include Classic Ruby, Tawny and White Ports and a visit will immerse you into the history of Port wine, the Douro Valley, Rozès and modern day production. Tours and tastings at their Gaia visitor center are by appointment only.
Visit these and the other local cellars and wine shops on a seven night cruise along the Douro River. Discover firsthand the scenic beauty of the terraced vineyards and learn the history of this unique wine region.
Sandee at BucketList Travel Advisors is a river cruise and wine specialist. Contact her to learn more about wine travel in Portugal and along the European Waterways.