Port tasting and wine tasting in the Douro Valley of Portugal is a must-do day trip out of Porto Portugal. And it’s definitely an affordable luxury travel experience!
We’ve done unique wine tastings all over the world. There’s nothing better than getting out to vineyards and tasting wine with the people who make it.
We were especially excited to take a day trip from Porto Portugal to taste not just the wine but especially the port from the Douro Valley!
And the wines and ports were amazing. But what really blew us away were the amazing landscapes and gorgeous vistas in this ancient valley.
Wine in the Douro Valley of Portugal
The Douro Valley is generally associated the production of Port wine. But vineyards in the Douro valley produce just as much table wine (regular wine) as it does fortified port wine.
The Douro valley has a unique microclimate that makes it ideal for wine production.
There’s a long mountain range to the west of the area. This protects the Douro from the cold wet winds that blow in from the Atlantic Ocean. The results are drier conditions than along the coast along with hot summers and cold winters.
And within the microclimate of the valley there are sub-micro climates! South-facing vineyards see slightly higher air temperatures than north-facing farms. Meanwhile, the climate also become drier to the east and wetter to the west.
Put this all together and you have a valley that is a wine maker’s dream. So many factors to toy with!
So it’s no surprise that that wine has been produced in the region since antiquity. And it has been firmly established that production winemaking was well underway in the Douro valley under Roman rule in the 3rd century.
When Rome fell monks stepped up and carried on the tradition of winemaking in the region until the British port boom really put the Douro Valley of Portugal on the winemaking map.
Port Wine in the Douro Valley
The concept of “Port Wine” came about in the late 1600s.
Port wine is produced just like any other wine. But fermentation is stopped short by the addition of a neutral grape spirit known as aguardente. This leaves residual sugar in the wine and boosts the alcohol content.
Because port wine is freaking delicious (and with the help of some clever marketing) pretty soon all of Britain went port wine crazy. And British port trading companies quickly made port wine the dominant product of the region.
Much cheating and fraud around the production and sale of port wine followed in the early 1700s.
As a result, a royal Portuguese charter in 1756 defined the production region for Port wine. It thus became the world’s first demarcated and regulated wine region in the world. In other words, just like only sparking wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called Champagne, only fortified wine made in the Douro Valley can be called Port.
Although port wine production dominated the region, regular table wine has always been produced in the valley as well.
Finding a Wine Tour from Porto to the Douro Valley
Our wine day in the Douro Valley would be a day trip out of Porto. Our focus was on finding an affordable semi-private tour.
After some research we settled on the Douro Valley Wine Tour: Visit to Three Vineyards with Wine Tastings and Lunch.
Three vineyards is a good number for a day of tasting and the wine lunch looked great!
Getting to the Wine and Port Tastings in the Douro Valley
Our driver picked us up at our affordable luxury homestay rental in Porto just before 9 am.
We were in a van with 8 other tasters plus the driver which was pretty cozy.
The day started a bit dreary and rainy. But we had high hopes that the microclimate of the Douro Valley would treat us differently. We were right to be hopeful!
As we drank our morning keto bulletproof tea on the 1.5 hour drive from Porto to the Douro valley our driver explained that how our day would unfold.
First we would stop for a coffee break at a small local cafe. Then off to our first tasting at a large production winery (quinta), followed by lunch at a second medium-sized winery and finally a tasting at a small boutique winery.
We drove east through the rain which turned to fog as we climbed the range that separates the Douro from western Portugal and creates the unique microclimate in the valley.
What should have been dramatic views along the way were…not!
But as we got to the eastern side of the range the weather cleared. Eventually we were treated to a beautiful sunny day in the Douro Valley.
Quick Coffee Break
Our first stop was at a small bakery/cafe in the valley.
We finished our keto tea as our tasting-mates enjoyed non-keto diet pastries and some local coffee.
The views from the cafe were a taste of the great views we would enjoy all day.
First Tasting: Fonseca Port at Quinta do Panascal
After making our way around the valley we arrived at our first tasting: the Fonseca winery Quinta do Panascal.
We were quite lucky with our timing for this day of tastings as harvest was well underway during our time in the Douro Valley. And the very first thing we saw at the Fonseca winery was post-harvest grape stomping of grapes that would eventually become Fonseca port!
Things got even better when we made our way to the tasting room. After a brief introduction to the Fonseca brand we were treated to several port tastings.
We have long known the joys of ruby and tawny port. But we weren’t familiar with white port…something that some port producers still refuse to acknowledge as port wine. But we love it! Tastes more like a Sauternes than a Port, but still a mouth full of YUM!
After tasting we stepped outside to enjoy the amazing views from the Fonseca winery at Quinta do Panascal.
The Amazing Terraced Vineyards of the Douro Valley
Between our first and second/lunch tasting our driver took us on a scenic tour of the terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.
The terraced approach to cultivation in the Douro Valley dates back hundreds of years. The oldest walls that make up the terraces are estimated to have been built 400 years ago to plant olive trees.
But most of the old walls were built by hand 150 to 250 years ago during the British port wine boom. When you see these terraces stretching as far as the eye can see, it’s amazing to think about the amount of labor it took to build them. All without the use of machinery.
What’s more amazing is that most of these walls were abandoned when the phylloxera outbreak in the 1880s destroyed the wine industry in the Douro Valley and the rest of Europe.
And most of the old walls were not reused after the grafting of phylloxera-resistant American rootstock to vines in the Douro Valley restored the region to winemaking glory. Because by then mechanization had revolutionized wine making and the narrow terraces are simply not conducive to mechanized farming.
Instead, wider terraces and sloped cultivation is used to cultivate the ‘new’ vines.
Today, some of these walls are protected (UNESCO) and must be maintained in proper shape as part of the unique heritage of the Douro region. And you have to admit, they do make for an amazing view and give the Douro Valley its unique character.
At one of these scenic stops we found an almond tree and made a snack of opening and eating raw almonds right off the tree. Amazing.
Lunch at Casa dos Barros
Eventually we made our way to the town of Sabrosa for lunch at Casa dos Barros.
Our Spanish friend Carmen later pointed out that in Spanish ‘sabrosa’ means ‘tasty.’ We may have been in Portugal, but that description still fit!
Magellan Was Born Here…?
But our first stop in Sabrosa was just across a small road from Casa dos Barros to have a look at the house where the great Portuguese explorer Magellan may have been born.
It was either here or in Porto. But they are preeeetty sure it was here. Maybe.
Casa dos Barros
Casa dos Barros is actually a small boutique hotel in and around a large recently restored house. It sits on a winery that dates back nearly 300 years.
Staying at the hotel is relatively inexpensive!
And the only way to enjoy the facility and a tasting there is either on an organized tour such as our or by staying as a guest at the hotel.
The facility is gorgeous. If we were to stay in the Douro Valley this is definitely where we would stay! There are only a few rooms in and around the house. And there is a comfortable sitting room with a big fireplace on the main floor.
Decorated with period furniture and featuring several gardens, you feel like you are on a period piece movie set at Casa dos Barros. For example, the “Secret Garden” is surrounded by the house and features manicured shrubbery.
Our wine tasting lunch took place in the other garden around the pool surrounded by the vineyards which produce their wine.
Wine Lunch at Casa dos Barros
Our wine lunch at Casa dos Barros was lovely. Great food.
And plenty of wine, including a large format red that was delicious!
After lunch we were led to the wine cave at Casa dos Barros where we tasted several of their port selections directly from the barrel.
With full bellies and happy palates we climbed back in the van to visit our last winery of the day.
Quinta Do Beijo Port Tasting Douro Valley Portugal
Our last tasting of the day was at Quinta Do Beijo, a small boutique winery.
Our host was the son of the owner, a cheeky lad who kept us entertained AND on our toes with his witty banter as he explained the history of the farm and the port they produce.
In addition to entertaining us he gave us tastings of their various offerings, including a wine-thief tasting of a 30 year old vintage port straight from the barrel!
We also once again got to see the magic of post-harvest winemaking in progress!
Back to Porto
After Quinta Do Beijo it was time to head back to Porto.
It was a quiet drive as many of us took advantage of the hour and a half trip to take a little port wine induced siesta!
Wine tasting in Portugal’s Douro Valley is a must-do for any oenophile or even casual wine drinker.
We both thought we knew port wine before this tasting but realized that we had only scratched the surface of the depths of complexity and variety that port wine has to offer.
The terraced vineyards are gorgeous, the winerys are unique and the wines and ports are great.
Taking the time to visit the Douro Valley is an excellent affordable luxury travel experience.