best tours to consider

Guide and the best tours to consider

With red, rosé or white hues, Port wine is one of the most well-known and appreciated symbols of the small Portuguese town in the world. When you’re on holiday in Porto, there’s no better way to fully immerse yourself in the city’s culture and discover its distinctive history than by tasting one of its famous fortified wines, preferably accompanied by the sweet notes of a Fado show.

The history of Port wine is really interesting, and the best way to discover it is by visiting at least one of its cellars. A visit to the Porto cellars usually lasts only an hour, but during this time you will have the opportunity to retrace the history of the brand, the wine production processes in its many prized qualities to close with a tasting accompanied by the explanation of an expert. Port wine has a strong link with Portuguese culture, especially with the art of Fado, which sees the drink as an accompaniment for the public intent on letting themselves go to the sweet and melancholic notes of the typical Coimbra song.

If we were initially hesitant about the idea of ​​visiting a winery, our tour at Burmester won us over with an elegant and relaxing atmosphere, in a short but intense experience that activates all five senses. We were so happy that we returned to the same cellar several times, and we chose to try other ones, intrigued and attracted by the new aromas and flavors offered by the other brands. There are so many Porto cellars on the riverside of Villa Nova de Gaia, all with a unique history and wines with refined flavours.

With this post we will try to clarify things by showing you which, among all the wineries, are the best to visit, deserve a special mention and to which you will we suggest taking part, in our opinion, an overview of the tours that. The post ends with its production methods and history of Port wine

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What is Port wine?

The tasting table at the end of the guided tour of the Burmester winery in Villa Nova de Gaia.

Port is a fortified sweet wine originating from Portugal, famous for its sweetness which often sees it accompanied with desserts and aperitifs.

It is obtained through a complete fermentation process achieved by adding alcohol to the wine. This process stops the transformation of sugars into alcohol, leaving the wine with a particularly sweet flavour.

With a very different flavor and consistency from the table wines we are used to, it reaches an average alcohol content of 20 degrees and, precisely because it is particularly strong, it is advisable to consume it with caution.

Port wine is produced only with grapes from the Douro Valley and has been a protected name since 1756 .

There are different types of Port wine, below I will list the four main ones:

  • White: younger and fruitier, it is produced with white grapes and for this reason it has a more acidic and less fruity flavor compared to other types of Port wine. It has a semi-dry and sweet scent, excellent for aperitifs;
  • Ruby: a red wine that is aged in very large barrels. Precisely for this reason it has less contact with the wine which allows it to maintain its initial characteristics. Its scent recalls berries and plums, with an equally fruity flavour, the color is a very intense dark red;
  • Tawny: as with white and Ruby, Tawny wine is also aged in large barrels and then transferred to smaller containers where a longer aging process follows due to greater contact with the wood and greater oxidation. On the palate it has an aftertaste of nuts and caramel;
  • Vintage: it is the most prized wine of all, obtained from selected grapes of excellent quality. Starting from aging in barrel, we continue with decanting into the bottle where the wine rests for long periods, in some cases even up to 40 or 50 years.

How port wine is made

Map of the Douro valley and its connection with the river to Porto hanging on a wall of the Burmester winery

Unlike what people think, Port wine is produced not in Porto or Villa Nova de Gaia, but in the Douro Valley, which is located a few dozen kilometers north of Porto, along the path of the river of the same name.

At Villa Nova de Gaia, however, the maturation process takes place inside barrels of different woods and sizes, depending on the wine you intend to produce.

Port wine was born in the 18th century when English merchants, to meet the strong demand for wine from the United Kingdom which could meet from France, they decided to increase Portugal’s exports, by starting to build their own cellars right in the Douro Valley, famous for its optimal microclimate and for the quality of the grapes which allowed the production of excellent quality wine upon their arrival.

However, at the time the wine did not resist the long crossing to England very well, quickly becoming acidic and losing quality. To solve this problem it was decided to add brandy to the wine because, as it was discovered, stopping the fermentation with brandy extends its shelf life for long journey to England.

This was how Port wine was born and today it is not surprising, once you know the history, to discover how a large part of the wineries are owned by Englishmen, with some exceptions. Most of the cellars in fact have British names and it was only in 1781, with the creation of the Real Companhia Velha, becoming one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world. In 2001, .the Alto Douro Vinhateiro wine region has been classified as a world heritage site by UNESCOCompanhia Geral da Agricultura das Vinhas do Alto Douro, increasing its prestige and making it a protected product. The Douro Valley was protected by the that the Portuguese entered into the production of this fortified wine,

Boats used in the past to transport wine barrels from the Douro Valley to Porto.

Once the grapes were harvested and transformed into wine, the product was transported to Porto in large barrels loaded on the rabelos, typical boats similar to barges that you can admire still docked today along the banks of the Douro on the side of Villa Nova de Gaia. This happened until the 1960s, when modernization saw the boats retired and replaced by tank trucks.

After arriving at the cellars, the wine is bottled or left to ferment in the large barrels located inside the cellars which are located on the southern bank of the river. Here, along the Avenida de Diogo Leite, all the cellars of the major Port producers are found one after the other. There are so many and each of them is unique in some ways.

Why are the cellars not located in Porto, but in Villa Nova de Gaia?

Upon arriving in Porto, I was surprised to discover that all the cellars famous for the production of Port are not located in the city of the same name, but on the opposite side of the river in Villa Nova de Gaia. It seems that the cellars were once on the side of the river that belongs to the city of Porto, but were then moved to the other side of the Douro because the natural light and lower humidity allowed for better maturation.

Each winery is open to the public and, together with the shop where you can purchase their fantastic wines, offer the possibility of taking part in guided tours. In the summer months some wineries also make outdoor tables available where you can purchase a tasting kit, as well as a single glass or a cocktail based on Port wine.

Port wine cellars: how many and which ones they are – with map

Large barrels used to ferment wine at the Burmester winery in Villa Nova de Gaia.

Villa Nova de Gaia is home to over twenty Port wine cellars, all unique in their own way, open to tastings and guided tours to discover the secrets in the production of the most famous wine in Portugal. Big names include Taylor’s, the winery that contains some of the largest barrels in Europe, and which offers a tasting in a flowered patio with peacocks. Then there are Ramos, which has remained almost unchanged since its opening and Sandeman, one of the most famous and well-known in the city, as well as Graham’s which are by far the oldest and least touristy.

In this section I wanted to collect all the main Port wine cellars on a map that you can consult at your leisure. Continuing reading you will also find a list of wineries with a link to their website where you can find out more about their history and find everything you need to book one of the visits with tasting online.

In the next section I will instead give you some advice on which wineries to visit, trying to direct you towards those with a visit itinerary and a better quality of wine than usual.

The colorful and gigantic writing that reads "Gaia" it is installed on the top of the hill in a park close to the Douro river.

Below is a list of the main Port wine cellars in Villa Nova de Gaia:

The following is a brief overview of those which, according to the reviews of customers and visitors, as well as based on our personal experience and the offers proposed, are considered the main and best Port wine cellars. I hope it will help you choose which wineries you will visit!

Port Wine Cellars: which tours to choose? Here are our recommendations

View of the Luis II bridge from one of the windows of the Burmester winery in Villa Nova de Gaia.

There are so many wineries and it wouldn’t surprise me, as happened to us, that you might struggle to choose which ones to visit. In fact, they are all of excellent quality. From the smallest and quietest, family-run ones, to the largest, most famous and touristy ones. Each Port wine cellar in Villa nova di Gaia offers guided tours in various languages, with a tour and tasting at the end of it all. Some add a boat tour on the Douro River or a Fado show to the mix.

Online you will find many other articles and blog posts telling you about the various wineries, listing the most important ones, their history, their wines and their most important tours. With this post we want to avoid the same approach and say a few words about the wineries we visited ourselves, offering you a list of what we believe could be the best tours in terms of value for moneyo, without confusing you too much with too many different proposals.

Some wineries house the same producers, such as SandemanFerreira and Offley, offer visit packages that have a lower and more advantageous price than what a visit to the individual cellars would cost. Among the other promotions we highlight that of the Calém winery which sells a package that includes a visit to the cellars and a Fado show.

How to choose which winery to visit?

When choosing the wineries to visit, rely on the advice of experts or those who have visited them before you. All wineries are unique in their own way, but it is undeniable that there are some that produce better wines or with flavors that are better suited to your palate.

In choosing the wineries and their tours we relied on the advice of some friends who had previously visited them in Porto and on the suggestions of some local people and guides.

A tip for touring

We recommend booking a tour which, together with the wine tasting, includes an accompaniment of sweet or savory products – usually chocolate and cheese. Port wine is very good on its own, but releases its nuances better if accompanied on the palate by another flavor

We visited two of the most famous wineries: the Burmester and the Calém . In both cases the experience was impeccable and the wine of excellent quality, but between the two we preferred the atmosphere and flavors of the Burmester. Burmester winery is smaller and more elegant, the characteristic position close to the Luis I Bridge and the wines delicate on the palate, more suited to our taste.

It should be noted that all the Port wine produced by the wineries we have listed is of excellent quality, and very often it is difficult to recommend, how much better is it to go and taste to find the brand that comes closest to your palate.

Below we have collected what we consider to be the 10 best tours to the Port wine cellars, choosing from the most interesting and curious experiences which at the same time lead you to higher quality tastings. I would like to point out that for some wineries we have selected more than one tour because we believe that, given the quality of the wine and the history of the brand, the visit is worth both for the traditional tour and for some more particular experiences.

I hope they will help clear your mind.

The 10 best experiences of visits and tours to the Port wine cellars

Large barrels used to ferment wine at the Burmester winery in Villa Nova de Gaia.

Tour to Burmester Winery

  • Cantina: Burmester
  • Tour: Tour with 3 tastings and chocolate
  • Cost of the tour: 20 euros
  • Tour duration: from 30 minutes to 1 hour
  • What is included: guided tour of the cellar, tasting of three Port wines (white, ruby, tawny) accompanied by chocolate wafers

We recommend it because: it is one of the few wineries to offer tours in Italian, the winery is located in a privileged position overlooking the Douro River and the imposing Ponte Luis II above its roof. The building itself is very beautiful, the staff are well-trained and the wine is of excellent quality. This is perhaps one of the best tours from which to discover Port wine.

The Calem canteen building in Villa Nova de Gaia.

The two tours at the Calèm winery

We recommend them because: Calém is also one of the historic wineries with an important history behind it and an excellent quality of the wine offered. In this case too, it is an excellent point from which to start discovering Port wine with a tasty wine and a very professional guided experience. The accompanying chocolate and cheese tour allows you to enjoy the wine, savoring its flavors with studied combinations. In the case of the Fado show tour you will have the opportunity to listen to this typical Portuguese song in a unique location that combines two of the oldest and most important Portuguese traditions, singing and good wine. The tour has a small interactive museum that allows you to learn about the history and production processes in a very clear and at the same time interesting way.

the corridor flanked by barrels inside the Pocas winery of Villa Nova de Gaia.

I due tour alla Cantina Poças

  • Cantina: Puddles
  • Tour: Port Wine & Pastel de Nata / Gastronomic Experience
  • Cost of tours: 17.50 euros / from 47 to 47.50 euros
  • Duration of tours: 30 minutes / from 60 to 90 minutes;
  • What they include: a tasting of white Port wine and a tawny wine / port wine tasting of your choice of a DOC Douro Valley wine with accompanying menu consisting of canapés refined dishes, crackers and a cheese platter

We recommend them because: the Poças winery is also internationally renowned for its quality wine. Unlike the others, it is smaller and more intimate, owned by the same Portuguese family for four generations! Together with the traditional tour, which is still available among the cellar’s proposals, Poças offers two excellent alternatives that allow you to best savor the qualities of Port wine by accompanying it with traditional Portuguese sweet and savory products. This gives you the opportunity to feel the true Portuguese tradition, savoring the liqueur drink accompanied by the dishes for which it was perfected.

Bottles of port wine with Graham's brand.

Graham Winery Tour

  • Winery: tour with 3 wines, chocolate and cheeses and pasteis de nata
  • Tour: Super Premium Tasting
  • Cost of the tour: 65 euros;
  • Tour duration: 1 hour and 45 minutes;
  • What it includes: a tasting of 30 year old Tawny, 40 year old Tawny, 1997 Single Harvest accompanied by cheeses, chocolate and pasteis de nata.

We recommend it because: Graham is the oldest winery in the city and is undoubtedly one of the wineries to visit in Porto. A pro of this winery is that it is not super crowded with tourists like the Cálem winery or the Burmester. The Graham cellars also have an excellent restaurant called “Vinum” overlooking the Douro River and Porto, excellent for tapas with a view (although not very cheap as you can imagine). The Super Premium tour allows you to taste some of the most precious and refined qualities of Port wine, taste and smell how the wine changes during the aging process and feel on the palate how it pairs with the sweet and savory dishes and products of the Portuguese tradition .

A cask of Cockburn's Port wine

Tour alla Cantina Cockburn’s

  • Cantina: Cokburn’s
  • Tour: Wine and chocolate tasting tour
  • Cost of the tour: 27 euros
  • Tour duration: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • What is included: tasting of a Cockburn’s Fine White wine accompanied by passion fruit chocolate, of Cockburn’s 10 Year Old accompanied by cinnamon chocolate, of Quinta dos Canais Vintage with red fruit chocolate

We recommend it because: Cockburn’s wines have stood out since the beginning for their quality and refinement, becoming over the course of the 20th century, the most requested and exclusive Port in the region. Today, Cockburn’s Special Reserve is one of the most prized and sought-after Port wines in the world. The visit is a journey into the history of the brand with a tour of its museum, a tour of the fully operational cellar (you will see the various production processes), and the final tasting. We recommend the traditional tour to simply savor the quality of this Port wine, among the best in existence, enhanced only by the flavor of the chocolate. The winery has a refined location, with a small, quiet and secluded internal courtyard perfect for enjoying their wines to the fullest without being disturbed by the chaos of the promenade.

Glasses containing Porto Fonseca wine.

Tour to the Fonseca winery

  • Cantina: Fonseca
  • Tour: Visit + dinner + Fado show
  • Cost of the tour: 65 euros
  • Tour duration: 2 hours and 30 minutes;
  • What is included: visit to the cellar, tasting of a Port wine, dinner with Fado and tasting of Port wines;

We recommend it because: The Fonseca winery is known for its commitment to sustainable agriculture, which it has been promoting for decades. The visit experience is one of the shortest and takes place in only two rooms (the cellar and the one dedicated to dinner and tasting). The tour will give you the opportunity to taste one of the finest Port wines (the famous Bin 27 from Fonseca) and enjoy a typical three-course Portuguese dinner with an exciting Fado show. It all happens inside the cellar, one of the most magical places where you can enjoy a similar experience.

The Ferreira cantina building in Villa Nova de Gaia.

Tour to Cantina Ferreira

  • Cantina: Ferreira
  • Tour: Dona Antónia Visit
  • Cost of the tour: 25 euros.
  • Tour duration: 1 hour and 45 minutes.
  • What it includes: the tour and tasting in the Dona Antónia Tasting Room of five qualities of Port wine that refer to its name.

We recommend it because: Probably together with Sandeman, that Ferreria is the most beautiful cellar of all with several rooms connected by corridors. The Ferreira winery  also produces very high quality port, so much so that some of its bottles of Tawny Port wine are among the most expensive in the world! The visit experience is one of the most complete and exhaustive and ends with a tasting in a more intimate and quiet room than that of Burmester, Calém and Sandman. The visit will bring you to the interesting story of Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, who managed to enhance the brand by focusing on the quality of production methods and innovative aging processes. The tasting allows you to taste five examples of Port wine produced according to Dona Antónia’s techniques and will give you the opportunity to savor some of the highest quality Port wines on the market.

Frequent questions

Below we have collected some of the most frequently asked questions about Port wine, its tasting and visits to the cellars.

Where are the cellars located?

Contrary to what the name might lead one to think, the cellars are not located in the city of Porto but on the other side of the river, in Villa Nova de Gaia. Reaching them is very simple: just cross the Dom Luis I bridge from the Ribeira to reach the Gaia promenade. Although most of the wineries overlook the river, some of these (including Taylor’s, Graham’s, Croft and Cockburn’s) are a little further inland.

How much does a glass of port wine cost?

A glass of port wine generally costs from 3 euros to 8 euros. The price varies by brand, type of venue and wine chosen. Younger wines are less expensive. Likewise, also consider the location of the place where you buy it in the cost of the wine: a glass costs much more if purchased on the Ribeira and significantly less in less touristy neighborhoods.

What is recommended to eat with Port wine?

Depending on the quality, color and ageing, Port wine can be paired with a wide variety of dishes and foods. White wine goes very well with vanilla and tropical fruit ice cream, Ruby Port goes well with desserts, especially cheesecakes or chocolate cakes. Finally, Tawny Port and Vintage are perfect for desserts, dried fruit and intense cheeses.

Which type of Port wine is the most prestigious?

These are Tawny wines aged 10, 20 or 30 years. Aged Tawny Ports are produced by blending wines of different vintages and aged for many years.

Visit the Douro region

Panoramic photo of the Douro valley planted with vineyards.

If you have time and money we strongly recommend you organize a visit from Porto to the Douro Valley, where the wine production process Porto originates from and is where much of Portugal’s finest wine is produced. Extraordinary UNESCO naturalistic site, the valley is an indescribable spectacle with high hills covered with vineyards from the top to the bottom of the valley, where the Douro river meanders towards Porto. When visiting the Douro Valley you will not only be able to take wonderful photos but also visit the quintas, or the cellars where the wine is produced before being bottled for sale, or transported to the city to be transformed into Port wine. Each of the famous wineries in Villa Nova de Gaia has at least one quintas in the Douro Valley that you can visit and where you can take part in tastings, sometimes accompanied by lunch.

If you don’t feel like renting a car to drive there then rely on an organized tour. There are several departing from Porto, many of which include a visit to one or more quintas. We advise you to take part in this day tour, with a cost starting from 100 euros per person with transport, English-speaking guide, lunch and tastings included.

With this we have come to the conclusion of our short guide to Port wine cellars in Portugal.

This blog is one of many that we are writing to help you organize a visit to Porto and Lisbon on a budget, with various practical tips that we hope they will help you organize the ideal holiday for you.

We hope it was useful to you. For anything, write to us by email or on social media: we will be happy to help you!

Bon voyage!

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