Porto is of course synonymous with its namesake grape and fortified wine. But the city—and Portugal overall—has so much more to uncork. And WOW, The New Cultural District in Porto’s Vila Nova de Gaia, is pouring a hearty glass.
“WOW … emphasizes that Portugal is a microcosm of world wines,” says Adrian Bridge, CEO of the Fladgate Partnership, which operates the establishment (with its seven museums, 12 restaurants, wine school, and numerous touristy destinations), as well as the adjacent Port label Taylor Fladgate and The Yeatman boutique wine hotel. “We’re a geographically small country with an enormous diversity of landscape and terroirs.”
WOW’s interactive approach has raised the bar for wine museums since its April 2020 debut. Built into former Port wine cellars, with a courtyard boasting views of the Douro River and the Dom Luís I Bridge, the destination is a choose-your-own-adventure for oenophiles and neophytes alike. The evidence? My husband, who doesn’t drink wine, left with a new appreciation.
Much of that had to do with the Wine Experience, which provides an immersive look at winemaking, growing, and production in Portugal. In one area, different soils, such as loam or volcanic, are displayed in clear tubes. In another, guests take a quiz to discover what kind of grape they are. (I was the “fashion-forward” acidic white arinto of Lisbon.) There’s even a sensory element that requires guests to identify 12 aromas commonly found in the drink, a challenge I succeeded at.
Planet Cork, meanwhile, sheds light on its eponymous cork oak tree—a crucial element in wine aging. Museum elements include a life-size replica tree and walls lined with cork so you can feel the bark. We learned that Portugal is the largest cork producer worldwide, with 1,800-plus acres of the globe’s cork oak forest. Once the bark is harvested, it regenerates; it’s a circular ecosystem. We even discovered that cork was used in NASA’s Apollo 11 mission.
Lighter fare comes via The Pink Palace, where five rosé tastings, like Croft Pink—the first rosé Port—are paired with Instagram-worthy photo-ops. Among them: a retro California vignette with a pink 1965 Cadillac.
It’s a lot to take in, but WOW presents its material in a comprehensive, entertaining way that makes you want to continue your Portuguese wine journey.
Luckily, the aforementioned 109-room Yeatman (from 265 euros per night) can help you out once your time at WOW ends. The hotel puts Porto on grand display, with panoramas of the city and river visible beyond the garden and outdoor infinity pool. Every room presents a different angle from its own balcony or terrace and is themed around a Portuguese partner winery (ours was Tapada do Chaves).
Those brands also fill The Yeatman’s 30,000-bottle cellar, curated by wine director Elisabete Fernandes, and boutique, where you can pick up selections priced from 5 euros (Portugal has some phenom wines at affordable prices) to 7,065 euros. Still thirsty? Some of these sips are served by the glass at on-site Dick’s Bar & Bistro, whose terrace offers stellar sunset scenes—though the view from your room is just as sweet.