The natural wine scene in Porto

Exciting developments on the natural wine front


“I think there’s a definite rebel spirit behind it,” says wine expert and author Ryan Opaz on the well-documented rise of natural wine, which has been growing in popularity in Porto in recent years thanks to an ever-expanding cadre of experts, consumers and enthusiasts. As hard-working communities of natural winemakers in the North Region continue to power the scene from the ground up, funky-labelled bottles of cloudy yellows, lustrous ambers and cranberry-tinted reds are finding fans at wine shops and in drinking venues across Portugal’s second-largest city. 

Tucked away down a quiet street in the historic heart of Porto, theLAB is one of a growing number of natural wine hubs helping to quench Porto’s thirst for low-intervention wine. Run by Opaz and Mariana Cardoso, this elevated wine shop champions natural, organic and biodynamic bottles from small, independent producers. 

“I love Casa de Mouraz’s Bolinha, from the Dão. I love Humus [from Encosta da Quinta]. But, my god, every day there’s a new one coming to the shop,” says Opaz, whose new book, Foot Trodden - co-written with Amber Revolution author Simon J. Woolf and voted one of the best wine books of 2021 by the New York Times - gets under the skin of Portugal’s rich and storied wine culture.

He continues: “It’s a natural wine shop, but I call it a sustainable wine shop because I really want the people I put on the shelf – as best I can – to be people who care about more than just what’s in the bottle, but about how it got in the bottle and who was taken advantage of in doing so.”

First launching as a tasting room and art gallery in 2019, theLAB turned into a bottleshop in 2020 and became the first of its kind to open in Porto. 

“I was just looking to do something that my friends weren’t doing, and no one else was doing this at the time,” Opaz says. “We opened to deliberately not be competitive and then we found that the niche was there… I like the wines, but I was even more excited when I found out that people needed and wanted this niche to be covered.”

A string of similarly minded, natural wine-favouring haunts have sprung up in the past few years. Flanked by Porto cathedral and the gothic church of São Francisco in the UNESCO world heritage site of Ribeiro, Mariage à Trois is a self-proclaimed “sensory laboratory” offering a holy trinity of tapas, music and natural wine. Maria Brito opened the spot in early 2020 and predominantly sells natural wines from Portugal, including the Phaunus Palhete from Aphros; the only biodynamic producer in the region. Also located in the centre of Porto, natural wine bar A Cave do Bon Vivant entered the picture in August 2020 and boasts around 250 varieties of organic, biodynamic and natural wines made by small producers, as well as a variety of hearty dishes, small plates and deserts from tuna gravlax and beef bourguignon to lemon meringue pie.

The price of natural wine can often feel prohibitive to many consumers. 

“Wine is expensive to make and to make it by yourself on your farm without huge budgets for mechanisation has a price,” says Opaz. At wine shop Cave Bombarda – which set up in Porto last year and lends its focus to natural and low-intervention wines – you can buy bottles for under €10, including a low-intervention red, Deu Bode (€8.50), and Mainova White (€9.50).

The price of natural wine can often feel prohibitive to many consumers. 

Elsewhere, Café Candelabro is a cafe-bookshop in downtown Porto with an impressive list of around 400 low-intervention offerings, while at laidback eatery Taberna Folias de Baco, owner Tiago Sampaio serves natural wines and food from the Douro Valley. According to Opaz, Ribeira hotspot Prova is the place to go late at night. 

“You always meet some winemakers there who are opening up bottles and exploring,” he says.

Getting back to nature

Prior to the arrival of agrichemicals in the 1960s, all wines produced in Portugal were organic and natural by default. These days, environmentally conscious vintners can be found all over northern Portugal, from Mariana Pala and her sparkling Pét-nats in the Minho region to the skin-contact white wine of Miguel Viseu’s Saravá in the district of Viana do Castelo.

Aline Domingues aka winemaker Menina d’uva (“Grape Girl”) is just one of several natural winegrowers tending to Trás-os-Montes (“Behind the Mountains”); a historic viticultural region in the northeast comprising schist soils and centenarian vines. In 2017, France-born Domingues moved back to the birthplace of her parents – the tiny village of Uva – to concentrate on natural wine production, forgoing additives and artificial chemical fertilisers in her adherence to organic principles. She recovered old vineyards from local inhabitants and nurtured them back to life. 

“My objective is to conserve these vineyards with traditional varieties by planting some with rootstock in order to graft in two years,” she explains. “I think these varieties are very adaptive to this region and it’s important to conserve that; some of the vineyards are as old as 100.” 

Domingues had to win over her grandfather and endure some raised eyebrows from local residents, but eventually began producing her Malvasia whites, Bastardo Preta (Trousseau) reds and other varieties in a small cellar in the traditional way – treading the grapes by foot. She made her first successful batch in 2018 and has been supplying wine sellers in Lisbon and Porto ever since. 

Domingues’s organic approach echoes Opaz’s dedication to sustainability. “A lot of people get so focussed on the sulphur aspect,” he says. “But I want a wine that’s going to think about the community, think about the land, think about the people who make it, and think about the wine, so the whole thing is more healthy for everybody – that’s my philosophy on it.” 

For Opaz, the appeal of natural wine lies in its honest, back-to-nature quality – something which is often eclipsed by the hipsterification of the phenomenon. 

“Is it a fancy superstar wine? No, but it’s solid drinking wine for laughing with my friends around a fire at night. And I think that’s something that the geekery of wine sometimes loses – when people forget that it’s just a frigging liquid, that’s it.”

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