Porto Quay
By George Stewart

Spring is nearly upon us and we eagerly anticipate the return of the warm days and sunny evenings. Before the full-fledged summer holiday season, the spring provides a wonderful opportunity to visit some wonderful locations and avoid the crowds as well as the summer heat. It is also a nice time to enjoy a bit of wine tourism in the Northern Hemisphere, heading to places like Champagne, Provence and Spain.

Recently, we visited one of the world’s great wine-cities. Alongside the likes of Bordeaux, Beaune and Stellenbosch, Porto has a remarkable history in wine and a modern culture that is soaked in the iconic wines of the region. A bustling city at the mouth of the famous Douro River on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, it is ideally situated for enjoying a variety of pursuits but there is little more pleasurable than sitting with a big glass of Douro red or a refreshing WP&T (white port and tonic).

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Porto is easily one of the world's truly great wine cities, alongside the likes of Bordeaux, Beaune and Stellenbosch

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Porto is a city with few rivals for native wine culture. Wine bars and restaurants with brilliant lists proffer a dizzying array of Portuguese specialities and display a refreshing inclusivity of the country’s entire oenological variety. Despite sitting at the mouth of the Douro and the eponymous wine region as well as lending its name to the most famous fortified wine in the world, Porto serves as the ambassador for Portuguese wine in its entirety. You’re as likely to find local Douro tinto as Dao, Alentejo, and Bairrada among others. In the wine bars of this striking town you will never run short of variety.

Vinologia

The top of the list in Porto for wine experiences has to be the legendary wine bar, Vinologia. Located on the main road down to the river front, this is likely the first Port Bar anyone from outside of Portugal will ever visit and sadly may be the only one. That is an experience that must not be wasted. An incredible selection of ports by the glass and a penchant for comprehensive flights is the way to go here.

The staff are so knowledgeable about their product that I hesitate to make a recommendation off the list so I will only echo my own experience. A flight of white Ports took us outside our comfort zone and presented us with a line-up of a half-dozen glasses. Ranging from the youngest and driest wines up to some truly unctuous and heady 30-year-old single harvest ports this was a remarkable introduction to a truly overlooked style of wine. We finished off with a glass of 30-year old Tawny and still the bill for this experience cam only to about £15 in total.

Wine Box

The slightly hipper, Brooklyn-feeling Wine Box is not far from Vinologia and you could hit both on a crawl of wine bars, however they are both so different that I would suggest spending an evening at both. A highly enthusiastic and savvy staff adds to the ambience and makes the daunting array of wines a bit more understandable.

Though a fabulous selection of Port graces the menu, the real draw here is the range of table wine available by the glass. On recommendation from the sommelier, we sprang for a 2011 Carm Douro Reserva red which was a true classic for the region. The order of the evening, though was a very cool, oxidative white from Cartuxa winery from the southern region of Alentejo. Here as at Vinologia, resist the urge to get too clever and let the guys here do the work for you; they’ll not steer you wrong!

Bar Ponte Pensil

This is a bar that trumps all the others for views across the Douro. As the sun sets, Porto begins to glow with beautiful colours of gold and blue shimmering across the river. The classic stone buildings, clinging as they do to the steep slopes, begin to reflect the warm glow of street lights and the alleys and avenues come to life with activity. There is no better place to watch this take place than this terrace bar located under the breath-taking henge that is the Dom Luis I Bridge.

They make a mean Caipirinha but the delicious selection of wines are the best way to while away the afternoon and evening and enjoy the view along the quay and across the river to Porto’ twin city, Vila Nova de Gaia. Crawing up the equally precipitous slopes, it is pleasing pastime to count the familiar names of the Port lodges and make a note of the unknowns as ones to try in the future.

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"As the sun sets, Porto begins to glow with beautiful colours of gold and blue shimmering across the river."

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Porto is a fantastic city for wine bars, with fantastic choice of restaurants and wine shops as well. When the sun shines, it is a great way to spend the day, taking a traditional rabelo boat up the river among the dramatic scenery of the Douro Valley ad even visit a few Quintas (wineries) along the way. Quinta do Vallado and Niepoort are particularly good to visit as are the bigger names of Taylor’s and Warre’s.

Panorama The city of Porto from the old city wall to the east.

While you're here, it's also worth taking some time to visit the city's cultural and architectural wonders. The Catedral da Se is easily the most spectacular from the outside, however the Igreja de Sao Francisco boasts one of the most stunning interiors imaginable; covered entirely in remarkably ornate gilt wood carvings. Fo those not afraid of heights it is worth testing your mettle by crossing the Ponte de Dom Luis I which has linked Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia at a height of 146 feet for over 120 years.

It's a city with no shortage of attractions and in the spring time you can catch the first truly warm days of the year and avoid the summer crowds. You may even find yourself down river enjoying the sun and surf at the Foz do Douro on the Atlantic coast. Whatever you do here, Porto is the perfect destination for spring travel. If you also happen to be a wine lover it is doubly so.