THE BEST WINE TASTING EXPERIENCES IN DOURO VALLEY
I must admit before moving to Portugal 3 years ago I hadn’t really experienced ‘wine-tasting’ and I actually had no idea Port came from Portugal. During my first solo trip to Porto I visited a port cellar in Gaia for an obligatory port tour and tasting which led to me learning about the Douro Valley.
Since that trip I have visited Porto and Douro Valley multiple times and discovered the world of wine tasting.
WHY DOURO VALLEY?
Without a doubt, Douro Valley is home to Portugal’s best wine tasting experiences. In fact with its UNESCO World heritage status it will give any wine region in the world a run for its money. Most famous for its Port wine Douro Valley became demarcated in 1756 making the area the first of its kind in the world. This means no drink may be classed as or called ‘port’ wine unless its is created in the Douro region. Although Port wine is particularly famous in Douro, this region (and Portugal in general) also offers some world class table wines.
On top of its wonderful wine selection Douro Valley is home to a diverse collection of vineyards boasting unique experiences and truly magical views.
The wide variety of quality wines and stunning vineyard experiences ensures Douro Valley an excellent choice for wine tasting.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST WINE EXPERIENCE?
There are lots of variables involved when deciding which wine tasting to choose in the Douro Valley. The biggest consideration is time; are you visiting for an afternoon? 3 days? 2 weeks? If you only have a short time it is better to fully immerse yourself in just one or 2 experiences rather than trying to squeeze too much into your time. If you have longer to explore then enjoy the process of slow travel; plan a route that allows you to really experience wine tasting in Douro Valley.
Another thing to consider is what you would like to gain from the experience. Maybe you are new to the world of Port or even wine tasting in general and just want to know the basics? Or you could already be big into wine and are now looking to further your knowledge. Maybe you just want to take part in a unique experience related to wine. Under each experience I have listed a ‘best for…’ section which may help you decide.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO GO WINE TASTING IN DOURO VALLEY
Most vineyards are open year round but always check with the specific vineyard ahead of your trip if you can, especially in the depths of winter. Some wine tasting experiences will need to be booked up in advance. Summer is a beautiful time to visit the Douro as the vines are full of colour but keep in mind temperatures in Portugal during mid summer can be scorching. For the widest range of wine tasting experiences the best time to visit the Douro Valley is harvest season. Harvest season usually starts around mid September and lasts for a few weeks – this varies slightly year to year depending on how the grapes have developed through the year. During this early autumn period you will witness the vineyards come alive with activity and have the highest chance of taking part in unique experiences such as grape crushing. This is the busiest time of year so expect higher hotel prices and some accommodation options need to be booked up earlier. However even at this time of year you’ll find the roads are still quiet and there are plenty of opportunity to enjoy off the beaten path vineyards to yourself.
HOW TO GET TO DOURO VALLEY + THE BEST WAY TO EXPLORE THE REGION
There are several ways in which you can get to and explore the Douro Valley but if you want to make the most of what is on offer you should strongly consider using a hire car.
BY HIRE CAR
The majority of vineyards and wine tasting experiences are isolated and often far-away from the populated towns. This means you will have to endure some potentially long, expensive taxi rides to make the most of the experience. The biggest reason I advise visiting the Douro Valley region by car is it is the absolute best way to enjoy the stunning scenery the region has offer. Driving the steep and hilly roads can be daunting but it is on these cobbled streets and crazy bends you will get to experience the real Douro Valley.
TIPS FOR HIRING A CAR IN DOURO VALLEY
Get fully comp – Driving round teeny tiny roads has potential to cause bumps and scratches. Save yourself the paranoia and pay for fully comp with no excess. Then go fourth and enjoy those wiggly roads.
Drive slowly – It sounds obvious but its amazing how we get so used to driving fast at home. Take your time navigating the roads here and benefit from the gorgeous views they reveal.
Fill up the tank – Petrol stations aren’t that easy to find once you’re out in the wild of the Douro Valley so make sure you’re not on empty. Fill up in the bigger towns such as Peso da Régua, Lamego or Pinhão.
We hired a car with Avis via RentalCars.com and had a great experience from start to finish. There are loads of pick up and drop off locations to choose from and and the process was super easy and quick. We paid the extra for fully comp with no excess to avoid the risk of any sort of fee on our return. We had so much fun exploring the Douro with a car and 100% recommend this as an experience for anyone visiting the area.
If you don’t have time to hire a car or don’t fancy driving around the Douro Valley don’t fear there are other options.
If you are coming from Porto an easy option is taking the train direct to Pinhao. This takes around 2.5 hours but the scenery as you wind through the valley is just as just as stunning as you can imagine. Once you reach Pinhão there are a number of vineyards within walking distance or just a short taxi hop away.
There are also boat tours available from Porto which I haven’t experienced personally but many do. Just bear in mind these types of tours can be quite regimented and often do not give you the same freedom to explore you have with a hire car or even the train.
However you choose to travel to and around the Douro Valley there are of plenty wine tasting experiences to enjoy.
SO WHICH ARE THE BEST WINE TASTING EXPERIENCES IN DOURO VALLEY?
I would like to start by saying although I very much enjoy drinking wine I am far from being an expert in wine tasting. However, after 5 trips to Porto and 3 to the Douro Valley I have had the chance to experience many different types of wine tastings and feel more than comfortable to recommend these experiences to you. I am not a tick box kinda gal, I like to really explore an area when I get the opportunity which is why I have waited until after my third trip to Douro Valley to write this guide. I have personally paid for and taken part in all of the wine tasting experiences in this guide so you can guarantee an honest account of what’s on offer at each place. I have massively enjoyed getting to know the Douro Valley and I hope I can encourage you to go give the region some of your time.
I have also included an accommodation option for each experience. As I mentioned previously access to most of the vineyards are often difficult and even the shortest of distances can take a long time to navigate. Obviously we would never advise driving after a wine tasting so choosing accommodation close by will ensure taxis are quicker and cheaper. Options include hotels, Quintas, vineyards and guesthouses. Many of these I have stayed in personally too.
WHERE Quinta do Pôpa. Just off the N222 towards Adorigo
EXPERIENCE A tour, wine tasting and private picnic.
This small scale vineyard boasts a beautifully manicured garden and breathtaking views over the river. Take part in a short but interesting tour where you can learn about the history of the vineyard and family. You’ll then enjoy an informed tasting of 3 wines. If you book a picnic in advance you can then enjoy a romantic, private picnic overlooking the Douro with a bottle of your favourite wine from the tasting. I’m a big foodie travel fan and the Quinta do Pôpa picnic was one of my favourite food and drink experiences I’ve been lucky enough to discover.
BEST FOR A romantic experience for couples. Informative tour but not an overly detailed tasting.
WHERE Quinta do Jalloto, Casal de Loivos
EXPERIENCE Self-guided tasting with stunning views.
We accidentally came across this Quinta whilst looking for another one and I’m so glad we did as the views of the Douro here are some of the best I’ve seen. There is a small menu of wine and some delicious sharing platters including bread, cheese, meats, nuts and fruit. The small scale vineyard also make it’s own olive oil and honey which you can buy on site. The staff are happy to answer any of your questions on the delicious wines available and then it is up to you to kick back and enjoy the view.
BEST FOR A simple and relaxed experience. There is no tour.
WHERE TO STAY I found this traditional country house just 1/2 a mile away which would be the perfect place to stay.
WHERE Quinta do Porto, Cambres
EXPERIENCE Sleep in a traditional Quinta at a working vineyard and taste a local family port.
A unique chance to stay in a private traditional house in a small vineyard. Quinta do Porto is located just a 10minute drive from Lamego but is a true glimpse of real Portugal and a brilliant way to experience the Douro Valley. This family run vineyard produces it’s own port and wine which you will be able to taste during your stay. On arrival you will be have the chance to try the family’s port in the armazem and choose any bottles you wish to buy for your stay. We only spent one night here but the house has everything you need for a week’s stay and it would make a great base for exploring the Douro. There is also a fantastic natural swimming pool filled from a waterfall and an abundance of fruit trees.
BEST FOR A quiet and secluded experience. This would be perfect for a family or group of friends as there is four double bedrooms.
WHERE TO STAY At Quinta do Porto of course!
WHERE Casa Cimeira, Valença do Douro
EXPERIENCE Stay in the family home of a local wine producer.
The stunning Casa Cimeira is based in the impossibly charming village of Valença do Douro. The Casa offers vintage styled rooms with comfy beds and a gorgeous pool and outdoor area. The owner Miguel will happily chat to you about their impressive selection of wines (including a delicious 10 year old port) and will instantly make you feel at home. Pay the extra €20 euros for dinner and you’ll be treated to a typical Portuguese dinner and as much wine as you can drink.
BEST FOR A wine tasting with all the comforts of a hotel. Great for couples, families and friends.
WHERE TO STAY At Casa Cimeira
WHERE Bomfim, Pinhão
EXPERIENCE Informative tour and tasting from a famous producer.
Bomfim producer of DOW’s port and part of the famous Symington family so provides a well oiled tour and tasting. I found the tour particularly interesting and the tasting room very enjoyable. There is a lovely outside are where you can enjoy gorgeous views of the vineyards and river. The staff here were really knowledgeable and more than happy to answer any questions we had.
BEST FOR An informative tour and great wine when you have little time or no hire car. Great for both first time port tasters and experienced wine tourers.
WHERE Quinta da Pacheca, Lamego
EXPERIENCE Grape stomping, wine tasting and a mini tour.
Enjoy four wine tastings (2 wines, 2 ports) and a short tour around the barrel room. You’ll then be given the chance to take part in the unique (and fun!) experience of grape crushing. As a bonus you can explore the stunning vineyards solo after the experience. You’ll need to book the tour in advance and the grape crushing is only available over harvest season.
BEST FOR A unique experience and fun! I didn’t learn loads from the tasting or tour but the experience was really worth the trip to Pacheca.
EXPERIENCE Self guided local bar/restaurant hop.
I spent my 30th birthday afternoon local bar and restaurant hopping in Provesende and we had a fantastic time. This is less about tasting “quality” wines and more about experiencing the local tipple. This is a real local experience and learning a little Portuguese will help you enjoy it even more.
BEST FOR Solo exploring off the beaten track and rogue wine tasting.
WHERE Valença do Douro or any small village
EXPERIENCE Authentic port tasting experience.
Visit any small, local snack bar in Douro Valley and request Vinho de Porto Regional and you’ll be offered a wine glass of non-commercial ‘under the counter’ port. This is the port the locals drink so you can enjoy an authentic tasting. Our favourite local bar is this typical bar in Valença do Douro which has the most insane view.
BEST FOR A unique experience. Most small bars in Douro don’t speak any English so learn a few key phrases in Portuguese before you go.
WHERE TO STAY Pick a small village to taste and stay.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BIG PLAYERS?
With the exception of Bomfim (producer of DOW’s port and part of the famous Symington family) I have chosen not to include the big players in the port world in this guide. There is plenty of information on some of the larger vineyards on Google should you wish to add these to your wine tasting itinerary. Instead I have chosen to showcase some unique wine tasting experiences that are truly special. Some of these places I have found through pure research, some from local recommendations and others completely by chance.
FORGE YOUR OWN ROUTE | THE BEAUTY OF SLOW TRAVEL
The above wine tasting experiences are the best I have found in the Douro Valley so far but by no means is this list exhaustive. There are dozens if not hundreds of vineyards you can visit in this region and if you have the time, you should go hunt them down. I’m a planner at heart so I always do a tonne of research before a trip so I can ensure I’m finding some of the best spots. BUT I also love to get off the beaten track and explore too – some of the coolest wine tasting experiences I found in Douro were completely be accident. We actually found the amazing Quinta Do Jalloto on a random drive around the vineyards and I never would have found this place by solely looking online. So if you have the luxury of time in Douro Valley go search out your own unique wine tasting experience and I would love to hear about it. I am already planning out my next trip!
So what is the best wine tasting in Douro Valley? The search is on!