Learn about how a trip to Porto, embracing the Portuguese passion for Port, and having an open mind changed my opinion of Port.
During my time in Europe, I paid a visit to a couple of wine regions – one of them was Porto. Porto was a wonderful destination to go to and I would definitely recommend it over Lisbon if you can only choose one. In mid-June, Porto had a nice humid but not too hot climate, which was refreshing since I've been in sweaty, hot weather during my time around Spain and in Lisbon beforehand. Porto was charming with a down-to-earth vibe, friendly residents and clean streets. Also, the gastronomic experiences were top notch and there were a ton of things to do – including enjoying a glass or 2 of Port. It also had a relaxed vibe in comparison Lisbon, while having a vibrant party scene. I had the wildest night at the São João festival where there were fireworks, than clubs took their parties outside to the streets for an after party that lasted till dawn. I didn’t know this festival was even going on till I got there, so I just got lucky with my timing.
I also got lucky with my accommodation. It was situated in Villa Nova de Gaia, just across the bridge from downtown Porto. What was amazing about this part of town was that the boardwalk of Port Houses was on this side of the Douro River, which meant easy access to Port tastings. Not only that, the World of Wine (WOW) Porto with tons of museums was in this area. In essence, this place is a wine lovers dream. The only problem coming here was that I didn’t like Port. I found the combination of high alcohol and sugar in the wine to be off-putting for my tastebuds and frankly, overbearing. However, trying to take in all new experiences with an open mind in Europe, I challenged that idea and put it to the test.
During my week, I did 2 wine tastings at Burmester and Caves Cálem, both very popular Port houses on the boardwalk. As well, I visited the World of Wine museum and Planet Cork (Fun Fact: Portugal is the largest cork-producing country in the world) at WOW Porto. Both museums were very interactive and I’d recommend anyone pay a visit to them. What was really inspiring about this place was that they were so (and I mean SO) proud of Port. The boardwalk along the Douro River had an entire street of Port Houses one after another and a row of flags with all the Port Houses marked on them, Port was served and sold anywhere and everywhere, and many tourist experiences included free Port tastings. The Portuguese's love and pride for Port elevated my curiosity in giving this wine a true opportunity at being a wine to like. Not to mention, there were hundreds of options of Port types and brands here in comparison to Canada, so I couldn’t not be curious.
As my mind opened up to the possibility of enjoying Port, so did my tastebuds. It’s akin to when I didn’t like red wines (yes, there was a time) when I was a starter wine drinker and only drank Rosés and Sparkling wines - it’s not that Port was bad, it’s just my tastebuds weren’t accustomed to the intense flavours and sweetness. In this experience, the more I drank Port, the less bad it started tasting (not because I was getting drunk, but it could have been a factor). Also, I found learning the story behind how Port became fortified and world-renowned so fascinating. This deeper understanding gave me a greater appreciation of Port.
Lastly, what truly changed my experience with Port was having it with proper food pairings. Port is not commonly served at restaurants in Canada nor brought to my friend’s dinner parties, so there aren't many opportunities back home to enjoy it in a gastronomic experience. But let me tell you, Port NEEDS to be paired with specific foods because its boldness and sweetness can easily clash with your food. Once it’s paired properly, you can truly enjoy it.
My biggest learning coming to Porto is that Port is a charismatic wine that has lots of character. In other words, Port is a wine that’s not meant to be enjoyed at any occasion or by any person. How you enjoy and appreciate this wine is the key to unlocking its true potential. That's the secret to being able to enjoy Port wine!