After bumbling around Porto’s morning market, we delve into the Port history of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto (and offering better views!).

A ruby port from Taylor's, paired with dried figs and pears from the market.
A ruby port from Taylor’s, paired with dried figs and pears from the market.

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The Port-producing region sprawls across the Douro Valley on the banks of the Douro River. The Douro has Portugal’s highest wine classification as a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC), and the oldest classification in the world. The various vineyards and wineries ship their goods in barrels down the river, where they rest and age in the port lodges before being shared with the rest of the world.

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The port houses are ancient and certain labels, like Sandeman, dominate.

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We set off up the cobbled roads, kept in order by the looming stone walls. The town feels cold and deserted, the lodges well protected. Inside Taylor’s, we find a welcoming sky of color.

Taylor‘s is the oldest family-owned port producer in the Douro. Before we tour the cellars, we taste a fine Chip Dry White Port.

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We learn some intriguing facts from our tour guide. See the mini door on the bottom right of the big barrel? Believe it or not, that is how someone enters the barrel to clean off the resin! It fits the widest part of the human body, the hips, leaving the cleaner to wriggle his shoulders and feet in however he can. Not a job for the claustrophobic!

On the bottom left barrel, the cross and numbers represent an Arabic measuring system for quantity. The four crosses represent 550 liters, or, the amount of barrel weight four oxen can draw on a carriage. The top, centered number represents a 25-liter pitcher used by women to carry water on their heads. In this case, the quantity refers to two of these pitchers. The right-most number refers to a small barrel (I believe around 5 liters), the suggested amount of wine for a man to drink per day. So, this particular barrel holds 550 + (9 x 5) + (2 x 25) = 645. You get the picture.

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Taylor’s biggest barrel for late bottled vintage ports, a vintage taste that’s meant to be opened sooner than later.

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We stop Croft‘s port lodge for another sample, this time of a white and then a rose (rarer to find). We settle in by the fire place – these port lodges are freezing!

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After snacking and sipping all day, we are famished! With our car, we decide to investigate the beach-side villages of Foz and Matisinhos. In the dark, navigating quickly becomes a challenge, and we’re hopelessly lost for some time before we stumble on this gem!

We find our chef loitering outside by the open-air grill – a good sign. The place is deserted, but as soon as we take our seat it fills with other families as well. The host greets us with an ear-to-ear smile, and starts us off with olives, bread, cheese, a fresh salad with roasted peppers, and a tuna pate.

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We order fish which is grilled with just a sprinkle of salt. It is divine. Crispy and lightly dressed with lemon juice. Broccoli rabe and sweet potatoes. Yum!

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Grilled squid with parsley, lemon juice and onions. DELICIOUS! Crisp and wildly flavorful.

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A happy feast.

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We finish off with a biscoito dessert, biscuits married with a rich frosting and topped with toasted almonds.

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