White, tawny or ruby; port has many facets, so take the time to investigate this delectable tipple at your leisure
As all English gentlemen know, the done thing is to partake of a little port while in Portugal, if only to make sure one is stocking one’s cellar with a tiptop vintage. Although Porto is the centre of the country’s port viticulture, Lisbon is where many wish to sample. Just a word to the wise: port is a whole lot stronger than wine, so plan your sampling carefully. You’ll thank us in the morning.
Before embarking on your tasting tour of port in Lisbon, there are a few key pointers to keep in mind. For one, lose the port prejudices. All too often banished to the back of the drinks cabinet (unless it happens to be Christmas), port has struggled to shake off its out-dated image. But with its variety and its richness, as well as its coveted vintages, port can be remarkably complex and sophisticated. Relegate it to the festive season at your peril.
Port enjoys far more variety than those stuck with supermarket plonk might guess. Known locally as “vinho do porto,” port is produced only in the northern Douro Valley region of the country (where Porto is located). White port, a lighter, drier version made with white wine grapes, makes the perfect aperitif; tawny port, aged in barrels, offers a richer, viscous body, and a full, oxidised flavour; and ruby port is typically younger and vermillion-hued. At the really top-end, try the Colheita styles – highly aged tawny ports from a single year. For those starting at the beginning – or those who wish to work their way through a comprehensive selection of styles – nowhere is better equipped to craft a bespoke flight than Solar do Vinho do Porto. Located in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto neighbourhood, the tasting room is in part overseen by the government’s port wine agency, and stocks hundreds upon hundreds of the country’s best bottles. Multiple visits may well be required.
Once you’ve sampled the cellar at Solar do Vinho do Porto, continue your tasting tour of port in Lisbon at Chafariz do Vinho, a wine bar located on an eye-catching 18th-century aqueduct. Its range of port by the glass is supplemented by its 100 year-tasting flight, which serves 10-year, 20-year, 30-year, and 40-year barrel-aged ports. Winebar do Castelo, at the foot of São Jorge Castle, is another exceptional stop-off. Apart from its scenic setting, the bar serves a range of ports, local sharing plates and more than 100 Portuguese wines – it’d be easy (and certainly not ill-advised) to spend a good few hours here. Looking for souvenirs? You’ll have better luck exploring a specialised shop than raiding duty free shelves just before your flight. In Baixa, Garrafeira Nacional enjoys legendary status and is known to sell 100 year-old bottles. If you’re looking to push the boat out, that is.