If you know Mihir and me you might be surprised that we would ever go on a wine tasting anywhere in the world. Indeed, we are not big on wine. But when we were in Porto we simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore one of the best wine regions in the world, the Douro Valley. The Douro Valley makes a perfect day trip from Porto and wine tasting in the Douro Valley is a great way to fill a day. Whether you enjoy wine or not, you will love this tour, if only for the beautiful views! In this post, we have also included some practical tips as well as a map of some of the most popular vineyards in the Douro Valley. Saude! 😉
How to Reach the Douro Valley from Porto
One of the most popular ways to get to the Douro Valley from Porto is by boat. Cruises depart from Vila Nova de Gaia and take you on a six-hour tour around the wine growing region, up the Douro river.
Another option would be to take the train which departs several times a day from Porto’s main railway station, Sao Bento. The journey one of the most beautiful train rides in the world.
However, the best way to explore the Douro valley and the best way to make the most of your time there is to go by car. This is particularly true if you are not big on the wine because the views alone will take your breath away. Once called the most scenic road in the world, driving through the Douro Valley is a special treat. So if you have the chance, follow in our footsteps and rent a car before heading into the area. You won’t regret it!
Driving in the Douro Valley
Note: Do not drink and drive. We recommend sharing the responsibility of driving and to closely watch your alcohol intake during your visit. If you are planning to visit several vineyards and try several glasses of wine, please consider using public transport instead.
In order to reach the Douro Valley from Porto by car, get on highway A4 and follow it in Eastern direction. After about 100 km you will merge onto A24 in Southern direction. Around Regua, follow signs onto N222 in Eastern direction. The stretch between Regua and Pinhao is the road which has been called one of the most scenic drives in the world. Most wineries open to the public are located in this area and the sides of the road are dotted with beautiful viewpoints (miradouros), so keep an eye out for them (PS: we have also marked some of them in our map below)!
Although beautiful, I would not recommend this drive for inexperienced drivers, as roads are narrow and winding. In addition, most Portuguese drivers are not there to take in the views, but to get from A to B, and have little patience for slow speeds. People WILL overtake on the narrowest parts of the street and tail you at incredible speeds. If you are in this situation, it is best to remain calm and simply let the car behind you pass at the earliest opportunity.
Douro Valley Wine: What’s It All About
Most wine produced in the Douro Valley today is the infamous port wine. Portugal grew in importance as a wine exporter when the British started looking for alternatives to their French rivals. The Douro Valley was the ideal location as wine could simply be transported downstream on the river and loaded onto bigger ships in Porto.
Port Wine in Portugal
The wine mostly associated with Portugal is port wine and today, port wine production in Portugal is strictly regulated. Only about five varieties of grapes are used for port production, including Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tempranillo, Touriga Francesca, and Touriga Nacional. Although the latter is the most desirable variety of grapes in port production, Touriga Francesca is easier to grow and more commonly used.
Port wines are generally sweeter and richer than regular wines and stand out because of their high alcohol content. Typical port wines range between 19-20% in alcohol. Although often consumed as a dessert wine in the Anglo-Saxon world, in Portugal port wine is often served as an aperitif.
Douro Valley Wineries: Which Ones to Visit
There are literally dozens of wineries in the Douro Valley and choosing which one(s) to visit is no easy feat. Most of the bigger wineries, also known as Quintas, will have information on how the wine is grown, its history, and more. Pretty much all of the Quintas offer wine tasting, which is often included in the tour. On our trip, we decided to stop off at Quinta do Panascal, but there are several more.
- Quinta do Panascal (one of the most renowned properties)
- Quinta do Popa (the most accessible property and one of the most popular ones)
- Quinta da Pacheca (a large variety of wine experiences)
- For more Quintas check out our map below!
Wine Tasting in the Douro Valley
We chose to visit Quinta do Panascal as it was one of the first wineries to open its gates to the public. It is also one of the most renowned properties by the prestigious company Fonesca, often referred to as the Bentley of port wines.
Not far from Pinhao, the property overlooks the Tavora river and makes the perfect gateway Quinta to the Douro Valley due to its excellent infrastructure. Although the drive up to the Quinta itself is a bit shaky (mostly along a narrow and unpaved road), once there parking is relatively easy. Then, the visitor center is only a few steps away.
The visitor center at Quinta do Panascal offers self-guided audio tours of the entire property, including the vineyard and the production facilities indoors. We probably rushed through the outdoor part a bit too quickly. It was burning hot even in September, but we still enjoyed the striking views of the wine hills. Finally, the tour ends in the tasting room where you can choose between several tasting packages. A good idea would be to start with the “Classic”. It will give you an idea of what port wine in Portugal is supposed to taste like 😉
Where? 5120-496 Valença do Douro (see map)
Opening Hours? Monday-Friday, 10:00-18:00. During summer daily, 10:00-18:00
How much? 10€ for the audio-guide and Classic Tasting Package
Please check their official website for further information.
One of the best times to visit the Douro Valley would probably be during the grape-harvesting season. During the harvest in late summer, you have the chance to watch the traditional grape treading. Other Quintas even let you volunteer during harvesting season.
Tips for Your First Wine Tasting
If it is your first time you’ll be doing a wine tasting, we thought we’d give you a few quick tips on how to make the most of it. First off, try to get past the smell of alcohol by taking several sniffs of the wine and alternate between deeper and smaller sniffs. Secondly, in order to identify more flavors, alternate between bigger and smaller sips. Try to coat your whole moth with the wine. It will take you time and several different wines to develop your palate. But most of all, remember the four main steps of wine tasting:
- Look: Check for things such a color and viscosity.
- Smell: Try to identify the big scents (primary aromas) first before diving deeper into the wine’s profile. Primary aromas are derived from the grape, secondary aromas are introduced during the winemaking process, and tertiary aromas come from the aging process.
- Taste: All wines will taste slightly acidic, but try to look beyond that.
- Conclude: What makes the wine stand out? Did you enjoy it?
Where to Stay in the Douro Valley
If you are planning on trying wine at several properties, why not stay overnight for one or two days? Many quintas open their doors to visitors and who wouldn’t love to wake up to the beautiful views of the Douro Valley? Find the perfect place to stay below and don’t forget to scroll down to see our map of the best quintas in the Douro Valley!
Map of Douro Valley Wineries
Now, what do you think? Which is your favorite winery in the Douro Valley? Or your favorite viewpoint? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!