Nothing punctuates an amazing meal quite like an ancient port. For most restaurants in the United States, though, port seems like something of an afterthought. Few are offered, and they tend to be pedestrian at best. So, if you’re looking for that perfect tawny, get in a plane, and head for Portugal. In Porto, the country’s second largest city, you will have access to a variety and depth of port impossible to find on our side of the Atlantic.
Port offers plenty of distractions, but the port houses tend to be at the top of everyone’s list. Once the jet lag has worn off, head out for the Quinta da Pacheca to experience port production in a more intimate setting. Next door are vineyards owned by Sandeman, where you can get a feel for how the larger operations are run. Since the Solar de Vinho de Porto keeps a tight leash on how many bottles of port are produced, the excess grapes are used in table wine, which Lauren Adler, a recent traveler to Porto, suggests you try.
Adler also recommends that you not miss the opportunity to tread grapes at one of the vineyards. “Grape-treading was a fantastic experience,” she says, remembering that there was a man with a pole chanting in Portuguese during the crush-something that she assumed to mean “left, right …” From her experience, she recalls, “You stand in a line with arms linked and move your feet in a circular motion to crush the grapes. You move all together in a line to the other side of the vat. Then, you return.” The process is repeated until the grapes are sufficiently stamped.
After having sampled the local fare, check out the Casa da Musica (House of Music), designed by Dutch architect Rom Koolhaas, or the national Contemporary Art Museum. Even strolling the streets with no other objective is worth an afternoon of your time. Dine on some tripe or pig’s blood broth, and relax with a view of the Douro River. Then, go back for another glass of port!
Portugal is often lost in Europe, as France, Spain and Italy tend to draw the largest crowds. Within Portugal, Lisbon usually grabs the top spot for travelers. So, if you want to try something different-while finally sipping the port you’ve never been able to find-try Porto. And, bring a bottle back for me.