How much do you know about the history of cork? Not very much, probably. How much do you want to know about the history of cork? Not that much, probably. And yet here I am. I’m in a museum dedicated to the stuff. And I’m drunk.
Concentrating on this sort of thing would be pretty hard at the best of times. But it was even harder after all the wine we’d imbibed as we wandered around Porto’s new World of Wine. This sprawling, 9.6-acre development, which has cost more than €100 million to build, holds seven museums, nine restaurants and much else besides. It’s perched on a hillside opposite Porto’s city centre, and is basically a big theme park for those who like a tipple (or three). We reckon it could become a major draw for vinho experts and novices alike.
It was intended to become both a place to learn and a place to hang out with pals. Built around a central square, with several buildings occupying former port warehouses, it’s easy to imagine balmy summer evenings, grabbing cocktails at bar after bar. That’s what we did, repeatedly – hence my stinging headache by day two. Luckily, we were staying at the nearby Yeatman hotel, meaning there was a (very comfy) bed only a five-minute walk away.
Before the on-site tasting, I was pretty adept at BSing my way through dinner parties with a less-than-adequate understanding of tannins and ‘skin contact’ wines. But now I have real knowledge to back it up. The classes take place in a beautiful, vine-covered cottage. They teach you the useful (if slightly dry) technical stuff plus lots of genuinely cool facts. Did you know that almost all wine is made from red grapes? I didn’t.
So that’s us five glasses down. And then there are the five helpings of rosé we’re handed at at the Pink Palace experience (‘perfect for an 18 year old’s first taste of alcohol’, apparently). Less museum and more endless photo opportunity, the rooms include a huge novelty bottle of bubbly, a fuschia-hued ball pit and a baby-pink Cadillac. It’s very silly, and even sillier when you’re mashed.
Some of the best parts of the World of Wine actually have nothing (or very little) to do with wine itself. Exhibit A: the chocolate factory tour. Master chocolatiers make their own bars, Vinte Vinte, on site, and these are paired with glasses of port. Both were excellent and the neighbouring museum, which chronicles the journey from bean to bar, was properly fascinating.
Exhibit B: the scenery. You’re on the hillside of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto city itself. Boats drift by lazily. The lights on the Dom Luís I bridge twinkle as the sun sets. The views here are phenomenal.
And exhibit C: the steak restaurant, 1828, which proves that the food is just taken just as seriously as the booze. What appears to be a glass coffin is ceremonially wheeled over to the table. Ribeye, tomahawk and T-bone: yours for the choosing. As an avowed vegetarian, this wasn’t the ideal piece of dinnertime theatre – but my carnivorous companions were pretty impressed.
Non-meat-eaters weren’t left out, though. Root and Vine, the plant-based restaurant, has an amazing menu featuring wild mushroom hummus and pickled vegetable bao. The best thing on the menu? The peixinhos da horta (deep-fried green beans), a traditional Portuguese dish that was ideal for soaking up the booze.
If you are looking to come to WoW for its museums, you’re spoilt for choice. It’s pretty hard to pick out a favourite, and I suspect it’ll come down to what your interests are already. The one dedicated to Portuense history – complete with replica tram model – is probably the place to start. But there’s also the fashion museum, the stained-glass gallery, the ‘drinking vessels’ museum – all worth your time. And then there’s the cork museum, which really does detail every damn element of its production. That one’s good, too – though maybe head down before you start on the wine.
Just like the World of Wine as a whole, there’s a heck of a lot to be taken in, and most of it is great. We think.
TAP Air Portugal has two daily flights to Porto from London Gatwick. Prices start from £68 return.
Want to see more of the city while you’re there? Here are the 30 best things to do in Porto right now.