Ports of Call

While my New York crowd was enjoying St. Patty’s day with green beer and corned beef à la Bachelor Pad, I was celebrating in a wholly different manner–atop a pirate-style flat bottomed boat cruising the mouth of the Douro river, in Porto Portugal, Port wine in mouth  hand.

The boats, which dot the Douro like tourists in Central Park, were the traditional wine transport boats of the region until the 1960s when modern technology (damn electricity) put them out of business.  Now, they serve to float tourists under six scenic bridges and show off the red-roofed buildings in the city’s Ribeira neighborhood, and Port caves on the opposite bank in Vila Nova de Gaia (AKA Port tasting heaven).

The best part the cruises–other than the great price tag (10 Euro), and fantastic scenery– is that they tend to include tours and tasting at a nearby cave, or wine cellar.

My complimentary tour was at Croft cellars, a dinosaur-aged company founded by two British families in 1588. The tasting room was cavernous, littered with the tops of barrels, chatty tourists, and vintage ports that make diamonds look inexpensive–not knowing what to expect, my comrades and I descended gingerly into the caves as our tour began….


In typical Uncorked fashion, the tour was in Spanish–a language I absolutely cannot speak–so all we could do was soak up the sticky grape aromas that emanated from the thousands of barrels piled throughout the stone-walled wine fortress…and pose for ridiculous pictures.  Luckily, the security guards were only called once, and we managed to escape unscathed from the dark, earth-floored enclave.

Through  reading the English pamphlet attempting to listen to the tour guide, I discovered the main difference between Port types–bottle aging vs. barrel aging. Before we get there, a brief definition: Port wine is a fortified (read: highly alcoholic and sugary) wine from the Douro region of Portugal.  There’s a boatload of variation when it comes to Port (Like more than the racial variation among Brad and Angelina’s kids, which says a lot). Generally, it’s served as an after-dinner drink, and goes great with cheese courses, cheescake, dried fruit, and other rich desserts.

Anyway, back to the main difference that matters (AKA the one that affects your wallet).  Bottle-aged ports are generally vintage ports with high price tags. The grapes all come from a single year, and are bottled long before they are ready to drink. They come from exceptional years, and are the type of wines people cellar for 20 years or more without opening.

Barrel-aged ports, on the other hand, spend all of their aging time in casks of different sizes, which is what lends them their unique colors. Amber tawny ports come from smaller barrels, while rubies are aged in huge casks, where less contact with the wood lets the wine retain its bright crimson color. The price range here is broad, but great Ports can be found without breaking the bank.

A lover of the city of Porto, and the oft-misunderstood beverage,I’m here to champion this fortfied wine for a new, tastebud-loving crowd, as something that should be uncorked far more often. Lovers of dessert, awesome flavor, and special glassware unite!

Port Wine Uncorked:

Laura Loves: A rich tawny port with tons of cinnamon and spice…Mmmmmmm.

Porto’s chic and historical Ribeira district–perfect for a sunset walk, dinner al fresco, an afternoon drink (or all of the above).

The fact that Port often lasts up to six weeks after being opened.

This video to explain how Port is made:

Fun Facts: The Douro valley was defined and established as a protected region, or appellation in 1756, making it the oldest defined and protected wine region in the world.

The portion of Port lost due to evaporation in the barrel is known affectionately as the “Angel’s Share.”

Can’t wait to Try:  The bottles I brought home–

Taylor’s Select Reserve Port, a bargain Ruby (12 Euro)

Ferreira Reserva Tawny ($15 Euro)–a complex tawny with great dried fruit flavors.

DSCN3485-768x1024 DSCN3516-1024x768PS More to come from  my Portugal Adventure soon! (Click here for a photo preview)


  • March 29, 2012
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