Porto Tasting in Vila Nova de Gaia

You can’t go to Porto without tasting the famous Portugese aperitif/digestif right?! Before our visit it had been years since I last had a taste of Port wines. Truth be told I never been much of a fan of the drink; to sweet and strong for my taste, but I figured when in the land (and city) of Port, why not give this drink another try!

All the major Port houses are located accross The Douro river in Vila Nova de Gaia. And what better way to learn about Port is there than to visit one of the cellars. If you are a Port enthousiast, you will have your favorite in mind and pay that one a visit. I however don’t know much about Port and decided to go with one of the most famous ones: Sandeman. Other options can be: Taylor’s, Graham’s, Calém, Offley and many more. But for now let me take you away in the mystic world of Sandeman Port.


Sandeman’s story started in London back in 1790 when young Scotsman George Sandeman bought his first wine cellar in the city and started trading in Port and Sherry from Tom’s Coffee House. In 1811 Sandeman purchased an aging cellar in Villa Nova de Gaia on the banks of the Douro River.

Sandeman’s has always been an innovative and brand focussed company. In 1805, they were the first company to fire-brand their trademark on all pipes they sold in order to assure quality to their customers. For the same reason Sandeman became the first Port House to export bottled and labelled wines in 1880. The Sandeman brand has been registered since 1877 and is one of the oldest brands in the world.

Sandeman was also the first wine company to use a logo as part of their branding. The Sandeman Don was created by George Massiot Brown in 1928. The dark cloak refers to the black cape worn by students in Porto and the Sombrero is worn by the caballeros in Jerez. Since the 1930’s the Don has been an integral part of both bottle labels and advertising and is nowadays what immediately comes to mind when thinking about Sandeman’s Port.

Tour & Tasting

There are several tours and tastings available at the house of Sandeman. We decided to go for the ‘Premium Tour’ in which a guide, dressed as the Don, leads you through the cellars and unravels the secrets of Port Wine and its traditional aging process.

Afterwards we had the chance to taste the three classic Port wines that are made by Sandeman: White, Ruby & Tawny. Sandeman describes the wines as follows:

  • White: Sandeman Porto Fine White is produced by the traditional Porto Wine method white grape varieties from the Northern Portugal’s rugged Douro valley. This White Port is dry yet keeps his natural sweetness, making it a perfect aperitif.
  • Ruby: Descended from the fiery ruby Porto Wines originally shipped by George Sandeman in 1790, Sandeman Porto Fine Ruby is still made traditionally to be rich and robust yet with a special depth of flavour and the finesse.
  • Tawny: Selected from the lighter wines of each year, these Portos are chosen for ageing in small oak casks to develop their style. Sandeman Porto Fine Tawny has the fruit and style of great Porto but with an added finesse.

After the tasting I still find Port Wines very sweet and strong, but I learned to appreciate it better now! I even bought a bottle of White Port to bring home, as nowadays Port is also used to make cocktails (now we are getting somewhere I know :p)! During my time in the city, I drank a variation on the ‘Sandeman Splash’, a yummy highball cocktail that combines White Port with tonic.

Here’s the recipe for an Apero Porto Style: aka Sandeman Splash. Tested & approved!
🌻 Put ice in a tumbler glass, add 450ml of Sandeman Porto White.
🌻 Top up with Tonic Water.
🌻 Garnish with two slices of lemon.
🌻 Cheers!

Make to check out the website of Sandeman for more cocktail recipes with Port.

The George

All that tasting got us hungry, and a bit typsie (told ya there were strong…) so we decided to have a very late lunch at The George, Sandeman’s restaurant. In a unique riverfront location right next to the Douro river and overlooking the Ribeira, The George Restaurant & Terrace present a selection of typical flavours from the north of Portugal.

The George restaurant looked really hip, and I absolutely loved the mint green interior of the place. The food itself was good, but it wasn’t the beste meal we’ve had in Porto, but it was fine for sure. I had the Beef sirloin with grilled vegetables and chips (yes actually chips, please serve this with fries) and my friend E. ordered the Rissóis de Berbigão (Cockle rissoles with season broth rice).

The Neighborhood

After lunch we went for a quick stroll around the area, which consited mostly of Port Houses. However we stumbled upon some very nice street art too. Doing some research afterwards I discovered that ‘Half Rabbit’ is a popular work by Bordala II. This was a nice break from all the Porto related things to do. 

Porto Cruz

As we still had the tasting voucher that was included in our boattrip we did the day before, we made a pitstop at Espaço Porto Cruz before heading back to the Porto side of the river. We decided to go for the rose Port ‘Porto Cruz Pink’, as we had not tried a rose one yet. This port had a very fruity and fresh taste.

The main difference between Espaço Porto Cruz and the other Port houses, is that there aren’t any cellars to visit here. On the 1st and 2nd floors you will find a small, free, port-related exhibition, the highlight of which is the 360-degree wine journey – a virtual flight over Porto and the Douro. So this was nice as an extra, but I would advise you to visit a house where you can spent some time in the cellars aswell. You will learn a lot more doing so. 

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