To visit Oporto is to move slowly to the past. Laid down, quiet and with tens of treasures scattered here and there, Oporto brings us the opportunity to “touch” in first person the history of a country, a city and a wonderful product, that is Port.
Besides the new city, lively and busy as any other western city in the world, it survives the old town, with small shops aligned with abandoned buildings. Treasures do not show up at first sight, and the visitor needs to pace himself and follow the rhythm of downtown in order to be able to see, evoke and experience why Oporto is infamous. Once you get the right speed, events flow as the Douro River does, allowing you to enjoy a nice city, great gastronomy and astonishing wines.
A walk through Vilanova da Gaia is a must. Not only to visit the historical cellars and taste impressive wines, but to see in perspective how Oporto looks like, as it is in the opposite side of the river. Streets are narrow and the steep invites you to make a healthy exercise. In return, you have the chance of visiting historical companies, as Burmester, Niepoort, Fonseca, Dow’s, Taylor’s, Graham’s and Churchill’s, just to name some of them, where it is possible to taste a lot of stuff as well.
As you may know, Port is a fortified wine. What does this mean? It has more alcohol that the one that it will get in a normal fermentation. Port wines, in plural as there are different typologies, are made stopping the fermentation for the addition of alcohol. This action translates into a wine with higher alcohol degree, and higher contents of primary aroma and sugar. Depending on when the alcohol is added, the resulting wine will come under one of these two paragraphs: ruby or tawny. The first one is dark, rich in sugar and fragrant, and it will need time to polish in bottle in order to give the best of it. The second type, tawny, is a wine that it will be kept for years in butts, to give the typical taste and colour of a wine aged in wood, but with a finesse that is only possible in few places. There are different styles of Port, being the most important: vintage, LBV (late bottled vintage), crusted (quite rare), Colheita, Tawny 10, Tawny 20, Tawny 30 and Tawny 40 and white Port.
I ate a memorable meal at the Taylor’s restaurant. Sited quite high in the hillside of Douro River, it renders wonderful views of Oporto. The food is great, the service impeccable and the wines astonishing.
What is really funny is to find a specific wine from a specific cellar. It takes time, and forces you to visit small shops where you can get enological jewels. And do not give up! For instance, it will be hard to find a bottle of Martinez or Smith & Woodhouse, two good brands that are better known outside Portugal rather than in Oporto.
I needed five days in Oporto just to get familiarized with the city. But I will need a full life to continue learning about this wonderful wines.