We’re just back from a few days in Porto, Portugal’s fascinating 2nd city overlooking the Douro River and a key centre for the port and local wine industries. It’s been almost a decade since we last visited and, though much of the old city remains unchanged (as befits a designated World Heritage site), there’s building work wherever you look and international tourists have caught onto the city’s delights in a big way.
Thinking about our trip in advance, it was the Douro red wines and the delicious tawny and premium ruby ports that I was anticipating. But, with the Portuguese autumn still warm enough to eat dinner outdoors every evening and the variety and quality of fresh fish on offer in the restaurants, we found ourselves mainly drinking the local white wines. And, as for port, our hotel had an excellent example of white port from the formerly French-owned Rozes house that I hadn’t tasted before: clean, fresh, not too dry or too heavy. White port is made in exactly the same way as red – by stopping the fermentation with grape spirit while some of the fruit sweetness remains – but uses local white-skinned grapes such as Codega, Viosinho and Rabigato rather than black varieties.
It’s those same grapes, along with other native varieties like Fernão Pires, Arinto and Alvarinho (better known at home by its Spanish name Albariño) that are used for the white wines although, on Portuguese wine lists, you often find whites divided into Vino Verde (‘green wines’ – light, aromatic, fragrant young whites) and Vino Branco: whites with a little more depth and complexity, possibly some gentle oak ageing and often a year or two in bottle.
Many of the wines we enjoyed are not easily available outside the region, but, if you see bottles bearing the names of the well-known port houses (including the various members of the Symingtons group plus Noval, Ramos-Pintos and Niepoort) you won’t go far wrong. But, above all, don’t think port and Douro wines are all red, there are some delicious whites just waiting to be explored, too.
And, as for the city of Porto, go soon, before increasing tourist numbers cause real difficulties at the iconic sites and in the narrow streets.