#15.2 Exploring Port(ugal)

Taking the country road


Moving away from the city, we visited the magnificent Avelada vineyard on the hills near Penafiel! 

(missed Part 1?)

In the morning we woke up a bit dizzy, but nothing that the abundant and delicious Serra do Pilar B&B breakfast couldn’t fix, bravo to them. We spent the morning visiting parts of town we hadn’t seen the day before, the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal among them (loads of peacocks, and for some reason, chickens). Right after lunch we went to pick up the car near the airport, and then we left the city to go to Penafiel, the village where the wedding was.

Four peacocks in a single picture, that’s a record.

The village is about 40 minutes from the airport, which gave us enough time in the afternoon to visit the Quinta da Aveleda vineyard, in the Vinho verde DOC area. The Quinta was funded by Manoel Pedro Guedes about 150 years ago, and has been with the same family for 5 generations. They own at least four vineyards in Portugal, one of them in the Douro region as well. They produce many types of wine, Port and brandy. The vineyard is adjacent to a huge and really beautiful Victorian garden, full of stories and anecdotes about the family. We were surprised to find a statue of the green men inside, other than the peacocks (again…noisy, but still better than Leith’s out-of-control seagulls).

Victorian gardens at Quinta da Aveleda.

After visiting the estate and mostly the garden, the guide conducted us in the warehouse where they mature brandy: curious Gianluigi asked, but none of these casks are shipped to Scotland afterwards (d’oh!), although some of their brandy is finished in former Port casks. The tasting comprised 3 glasses of wine: a vinho verde, a white wine from the Bairrada region and a red from the Douro Valley. The latter two were quite exquisite, but we took the first with us: it had some very unusual and interesting citrousy notes, and we could totally see it paired with grilled squids or Scottish scallops. Plus, it was the local one so it made more sense. We also got a tasting box of their brandys (the 5y, 12y and 30y), something we were very curious about (not tried yet, we’ll let you know!).

A small warehouse.
Gianluigi trying to come up with non-whisky tasting notes.

In the evening we had a pre-wedding party with the young attending the wedding, and with “young” meaning 30 to 40 more or less. It was very nice to see Paul and Nelly, Gianluigi hadn’t seen them for a few years, and for Teresa it was the first time.

The wedding was at 4pm on the day after, so we had all the morning to treat us as…old people. We went to a thermal pool near Penafiel, and afterwards to the Castro of Monte Mozinho, a Roman archaeological site.

An unimpressive picture of an impressive archaeological site.

The wedding was celebrated in an old monastery, followed by a luscious dinner at a close by estate and a lot of partying. At the end we tried a J&B blended scotch 15y at the bar, which wasn’t as bad as we expected. It was not the first blended scotch we saw in Portugal with an unusual age statement: Grant’s 8y, J&B 15y, William Lawson 12y, other than the Old Parr (12y), which are not sold at all in Scotland. We were very restrained with drinking, so in the morning we woke up refreshed and we could drive straight to Porto to return the car. The airport, the centre of the city, Vila Nova de Gaia and the train stations are all very well connected by a quick subway train, which allowed us to carve out another couple of hours in the city. Do you really need to ask what we did?

Ooops, we did it again!

This time we went to Kopke (randomly chosen because Gianluigi found an unopened bottle of it in his late grandmother’s basement). They had no warehouse there, but we could choose over a range of tastings in their three-story venue. We chose a nicer one, which started with a dry white port: this is a variant to the regular whites, with the aguardente being added later during formation, after 7-8 days, so the sugars are almost gone (hence “dry”): we found it much better than the regular whites. Then we had a 2004 vintage ruby, a 10y white and two delicious tawny-s, a 20y and a 1978 Colehita. All paired with chocolate, which was a plus!

Delicious tasting at Kopke.

We finally took a train to Lisbon, where we spent the last few days of the holiday, trying wines and sightseeing. The city is a must visit if you’re around Europe (although we liked Porto better!). We walked a lot and did the ‘classics’: went to Belem for its famous tower and monastery and for its even more famous pasteleria, got lost in the charming Alfama neighbourhood, checked out as many miradouros (viewpoints) as possible, and even squeezed in half a day at the beach in Cascais. All this while enjoying great meat and seafood. Wine-wise, we found out that the area near the capital is home of great reds as well, some as good as the Douro Valley ones.

A windy day…
…followed by another windy day.
And just the night before going back home, another excellent wine!

So, the mystery: where do ruby port casks come from? We asked a few times, even the guy at Kopke couldn’t reply. Our best guess is that they are seasoned with ruby port, similar to what they do with sherry in the majority of cases today. We couldn’t really understand if ruby ports could be matured in small casks instead of large vats, maybe for smaller producers? No clue. We will post updates, if we find out! [August 2022 update: a whisky expert told us that yes, ruby port casks are seasoned casks.]

Port can be an excellent type of cask to mature or finish whisky, although still a try-before-buying for us. Similar to what we did when we visited Grattamacco in Tuscany, understanding a bit more the drink that contributes to give a certain character to the casks was very interesting, and we are happy to share some of the little knowledge we acquired with you!

Until the next time, slainte!

Visit to the Quinta de Aveleda and its Gardens, Premium Tasting

Price: 40.00 Euros pp (June 2022)

Duration: 1h 30m

Tasting: Vinho verde Parcela do Convento 2019, Douro Superior Vinhas do Sabor 2018, Arco d’Aguieira 2018

Target: tourists and gardens lovers

Value for money: Ok

Highlights: the Victorian gardens

Link: https://www.aveleda.com/en

Kopke Tasting

Price: 43.00 Euros pp (June 2022)

Duration: 45m

Tasting: dry white port, 2004 vintage ruby, 10y white, 20y tawny, 1978 Coheita

Target: tourists and port wine lovers

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the 1978 Colheita

Link: https://kopke1638.com/

#15.1 Exploring Port(ugal)

So, Port, eh?


With the excuse of attending a wedding, we travelled to Porto, where we were initiated to the magic of Port wines…and many others! 

(Read this already? Go to Part 2!)

This story began many years ago, in 2007, in Madrid. Gianluigi is a young fella, just moved there to study for a few months. Coming from a small and prude city in northern Italy, the bright and incredibly alive 5-million people metropolis provided a life changing experience. After a few unsuccessful attempts to find a room, he stumbled on this ad in a local newspaper: not close to the Autonoma University, but close to the city centre and to Malasaña…oh well, you can’t have it all. It’s here that he met Nelly and Paul, two of his eight (!!!) roommates. Nelly and Paul are French, but she’s from a Portuguese family, so fast-forward 15 years, and here they are: celebrating their wedding in a town half an hour away from Porto. Of course, having witnessed the happy couple beginnings, Gianluigi couldn’t turn down the invitation to the wedding!

It’s all about tiles here.
It’s all about tiles, part 2.

Porto is an outstanding city, a mix of new and old buildings, lively and bright, despite the intermittent clouds. The Douro river splits the city in two, we stayed in the south side which is called Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the Port houses are, as you can very easily guess: their names are written in huge characters on top of buildings and warehouses.

Happy people with port houses behind.

Before our scotch whisky epiphany, fortified wines were not our thing. However, after finding out that casks previously used or seasoned with sherry, Porto, and other wines are used to mature or finish whisky, our curiosity grew. So, obviously heading to Porto was the perfect occasion to start our exploration of Port and other Portuguese wines. After a morning spent strolling in the charming streets of the city centre, we booked a visit to Sandeman for the early afternoon, one of the most known Port houses (as we guessed by looking at various advertisements around the city).

Play ‘where is Sandeman’.

It was founded by a Scotsman actually, George Sandeman, at the of the 18th century, with the first offices based in London. To our surprise, Port wine came to be in a much more recent era than we thought, as a consequence of the many Anglo-French wars which prevented French wines to be shipped to Britain. In order to conserve the wines for transportation, they started cutting them with aguardente vinica, grapes’ high abv spirit (~70% abv neutral grape spirit). Since this is done during fermentation (normally after four to five days), the wine retains a lot of sugars, giving more sweetness than most other wines. Going back to Sandeman, they are selling both Ports and sherry, and in fact their mascot, the Don, has both a Portuguese student cape and a Spanish hat. The tour was a bit touristy and cheesy, but very informative nonetheless.

Sandeman warehouse. Wanna play ‘where is Sandeman’ again?

We understood that there are three main types of Port: White, Ruby and Tawny. In all cases the grapes have to come from the Douro Valley Wine region, and the wine used to be transported to Vila Nova de Gaia with those typical dark and slim wooden boats, called rebelos.


The difference between white and red ports (both ruby and tawny) is the same as for regular wines. White ports are usually light and crispy, used for mixing as well. They spend 2-3 years in large vats (made of concrete or wood), before being filtered and bottled. Ruby ports go through a very similar process, a few years in vats and then in bottle. However, there are two other categories: the Late Bottle Vintage (LBV) and the Vintage. The former comes from a distinguished vintage, and is bottled after 4-6 years. The latter is from an exceptional vintage, and is bottled without being filtered, allowing the fermentation process to continue in the bottle. Vintage ports can mature for decades in the bottle, although once they are open, they don’t last long. The LBV and the Vintage samples need to be submitted to and approved by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto. Finally, Tawny ports are matured in European oak casks, and not in large vats, before being bottled. Most of them have an age statement indicating the average age of the wines. An exception are Colheitas, which are from a single vintage year, and aged for a minimum of 7 years. Easy, eh? There are other categories, like Rose ports (technically ruby, but with limited skin contact for a lighter colour), but these are the main ones we tried.

Those are big vats!

In Sandeman’s warehouse we were shown some huge vats made from wood (European oak), that could contain up to several thousand litres of maturing wine, as well as very ancient vintage bottles, and many casks maturing tawny-s. The tasting included five samples: the Fine White and ruby Founder’s Reserve, the Vintage 2018 and two tawny-s (the Imperial Reserve and the 10 years old). To our palate the latter two were much better than the others, probably because of the woodiness which we are used to because of whisky. We decided to try the 20 and 30 years old by the glass: we couldn’t believe that a measure of the 30y was only 13 euros!

Timidly approaching…
…our very first Port tasting!

After Sandeman, the plan was to visit another port house, but a smaller and less known one. Serendipity stroke: right before the previous visit we were given a flyer for the Quinta dos Corvos, a few hundred meters away. They are a much smaller operation, and all their wine comes from a single estate (quinta means “estate”). The tour guide was extremely well prepared, she explained to us that they tend to focus on red more than white. Also, most of their Ports are aged. We found out that aged whites are as good as tawny-s, although while the latter tend to turn lighter over time, the former turn darker. We even tried the “grappa” they add during fermentation, but to be honest it wasn’t a memorable experience.

Keeping learning about Port at Quinta dos Corvos.
That was interesting…

For a day it was more than enough, so we had dinner and went back to the B&B, happy to have learned something new…with a little mystery, however: since ruby ports are matured in large vats and them bottled, where do the ruby port casks used in whisky come from? We honestly still don’t know the answer, but for a couple of guesses wait for the next chapter of this story. Slainte!

Sandeman 1790 Tour

Price: 23.00 Euros pp (June 2022)

Duration: 1h 30m

Tasting: Fine White Port, Ruby Founder’s Reserve, Vintage 2018, Tawny Imperial Reserve, Tawny 10y (all around 19-20%)

Target: tourists and curious

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the warehouse and the cellars

Link: https://www.sandeman.com/

Quinta dos Corvos Guided Tour

Price: 10.00 Euros pp (June 2022)

Duration: 30-40min

Tasting: White Port and 10y Red Port (both around 19-20%)

Target: tourists and curious

Value for money: very good

Highlights: the friendly guide that made us try their ‘grappa’

Link: https://www.quintadoscorvos.pt/index.php