Articles included in this series:
James Mayor, Founder Grape Discoveries
A buzzing neighborhood bar you’ll want to go back to, tucked behind Praça Carlos Alberto. Aduela has a great after dinner vibe or, if you want a more peaceful moment, you can sit outside in the afternoon under the olive tree and watch the locals go by. Extremely good value Portuguese wines, with delicioso small plates.
One of the best wine bars in town, where knowledgeable staff propose a stimulating selection of Portuguese wines, many from the Douro, with tasty snacks. Café Candelabro has a great playlist and you can watch old movies on a screen above the bar while the moustachioed barman chills your glass. A cool crowd, warm enveloping interior and pavement tables too.
This elegant but unpretentious restaurant may sound Japanese… it’s in fact Portuguese and offers the best of contemporary Portuguese gastronomy, twisting classical local ingredients to perfection. Beautifully presented food and delicious Portuguese wines, with friendly service. Centrally located, not far from the famous Infante Sagres hotel, Mito is excellent value, so you will need to book.
Truly a hidden gem, to be experienced now before it gets ‘discovered’. Charming staff in an intimate space, serving delicious food for sharing, with mouth-watering Portuguese wines. Fresh, flavorsome fish or meat choices, yummy desserts, all fantastic value, Coupage is located half-way between our two favourite wine bars, Aduela and Café Candelabro (see above), for pre-and-or-after-dinner drinks!
We felt we had to include a more traditional place in this short selection. Solar Moinho de Vento is a popular mid-town classic with crisp white tablecloths, huge pots of fishy rice, squid or prawns and friendly service. It also has a good Portuguese wine list.
Not far from the romantic, peacock-roamed Jardins do Palacio de Cristal, Epoca is the perfect place to go for breakfast, brunch or lunch, or to just chill among the cool crowd of young mainly Portuguese, with a smattering of other nationalities.
Friendly and passionate staff explain the daily menu of fresh and seasonal vegetarian delights, all produced locally, some from the owners’ farm. Creative soups, luscious salads, heavenly eggs, melty cakes, dreamy juices and wine…. You are in a perfect place somewhere between Northern Europe and the Near East.
Closed on Sundays and Mondays, open until 17.00.
James Mayor visits the cooperage at Cockburn’s with Paul Symington. Cooperage is the ancient craft at the heart of Port wine production.
Most Port lodges, as Port wine cellars are called, are places of peace, where Port serenely ages in row upon row of wood barrels or giant vats. Not so the cooperage at Cockburn’s, where I meet Paul Symington, the recently retired Chairman of Symington Family Estates, owners of Cockburn’s since 2010. The conversation begins with Symington shouting to make himself heard above the hammer blows being inflicted on a huge barrel by a burly cooper.
The cooperage is one of the most poetic moments of the fascinating process of Port production. Cockburn’s cooperage is spacious and high-ceilinged. Sawdust swirls in the light streaming in through its windows. Under the eye of the Master Cooper, Senhor Antonio, a man with a handshake not for the faint-hearted, a team of seven coopers work here, maintaining and repairing the barrels and vats for the Symington portfolio of prestigious Port houses. Many of these barrels and vats are over one hundred years old and need to be maintained in optimum condition, dismantled stave by stave with titanic mallet blows, repaired and then once again reassembled, to provide the best environment for ageing the wine.
Today, this is the only remaining working cooperage in Vila Nova de Gaia, the town facing the city of Porto where the great Port wine brands have their ‘lodges’. Paul Symington recalls as a boy he would hear the sound of coopers at work all over town, but, with the exception of Cockburn’s, all the Port companies have now sub-contracted this work. Maintaining a cooperage is not an anachronism, however, and Symington explains with passion that it is at the very heart of Port winemaking. Cooperage expertise is an essential factor in the quality of the Port, providing the ‘envelope’ within which the wine will age and develop its specific characteristics. If a Port house can control the upkeep and maintenance of its barrels, then it is closer to influencing the character of the Port these contain. Symington’s brands have one-third of the total premium Port market.
The cooper’s work is physically demanding, and highly skilled. The craftsmen here are using the same tools and skills that have been employed for centuries. An apprenticeship takes four years. Symington tells me the youngest member of the team, currently mid-way through his apprenticeship, is the third generation of his family to practice this trade. You get some idea of how much work there is to do, when you discover there are a staggering nine million litres of Port ageing at Cockburn’s. And that does not include the stocks at the Symington’s other Port wine brands, Graham’s, Dow’s and Warre’s.
At the entrance to the cooperage stands a Robey steam engine, manufactured in Lincoln, England in 1921. A beautiful piece of industrial design, until the end of the twentieth century it was used for making barrels, the steam shaping the wooden staves. I am reminded of the cooperage at Hennessy, in Cognac, where I once witnessed the dramatic spectacle of casks being built.
Vila Nova de Gaia is a coastal city with a maritime climate favorable to maintaining the Port at cooler temperatures in the days before modern cooling technology existed. The Cockburn’s lodge is built in granite, and this ensures that the temperature remains more or less constant throughout the year, providing a gentler ageing environment for the wine.
As soon as you’ve dropped your suitcase off, why not head out for a glass of wine or try one of the great Port wine brands! Wine lovers will find any number of places in Porto to get you in the mood, from hip wine bars to splendid hotels. The city provides a spectacular backdrop for tasting Portugal’s huge variety of exciting new ‘table wines’ or the great eponymous fortified wine – Port – snug in a wine bar in the winter, or chilling on an esplanade in the fine weather. Here are six of the best spots.
Aduela, on Rua das Oliveiras, is one of my favorite Porto wine bars. Located in a converted sowing machine warehouse, close to Praca de Carlos Alberto and the Rua Miguel Bombarda art gallery district, Aduela is a good place to mingle with the local hipster crowd on Friday and Saturday evenings. Late afternoons tend to be more peaceful with laptop types indoors and girls behind shades on the terrace. They have a good wine list and choice of ‘petiscos’, including traditional Portuguese cans.
As its name suggests, Capela Incomum is a re-destined chapel and one of the most original watering holes in Porto. Tucked behind the Cedofeita shopping area in a cobbled back street, small tables surround a wooden altar. Bacchus can be worshiped with the aid of an extensive list of wines, paired with tasty cheese and cured meat platters.
In the Rua das Flores, a stone`s throw from Sao Bento railway station with its great azulejos decorated hall, Pateo das Flores has a strong selection of Douro wines as well as ports. They also have a terrace and good service.
Vinum is an exciting new venue on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the River Douro, housed in Graham’s port wine ‘lodge’, owned by Symington Family Estates. You enter through one of the enormous warehouses: to your right, the dramatic sight of rank upon rank of ageing port wine casks, and to your left a conservatory built to house the new restaurant with a great view across the river to the city. The cooking is excellent, the service friendly and the wines, as you would expect from the Symingtons, terrific. I drank a Quinta do Ataide 2014 red on my visit with wonderful aromas of forest fruit and dark chocolate and masses of fruit on the palate. There is also a wine bar, if you only have time for a copo. To avoid disappointment, you should reserve.
No review of wine spots to visit in Porto would be complete without mention of the Yeatman Hotel. Owned by The Fladgate Partnership, the Yeatman, like Graham’s, is located on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the River Douro. This sumptuous wine hotel has an incomparable view across the river to the city tumbling down the opposite bank. The Yeatman`s cellars house an extensive collection of Portugal’s best wines, a selection of which you can taste in the bar while gazing out at the city turning golden in the setting sun.
Possibly Porto’s most stimulating wine shop is to be found in Matosinhos, the city’s ocean suburb which also has a must-visit fish market and the fabled Casa da Cha, a beachside restaurant designed by the great Vieira da Silva and now part of the portfolio of top chef Rui Paulo. Garage Wines is well worth the trip as the talented Ivone Ribeiro has curated a discerning selection of Portuguese wines, showcasing in particular – the Douro. Garage Wines also host frequent tastings and wine events.