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For a city famous for making one of the best-known wines in the world, it took Porto a long time to catch up with viable options for bars offering good glasses. But Portugal’s second-biggest city has finally reached an effervescent wine peak that lives up to its worldwide fame – not to mention the country is now the world’s leader in wine consumption, at around 58 liters per capita. Today, bars in Porto are wildly different from days past: their wine-by-the-glass lists feature many small producers and venture away from conventional bottles, they have young chefs in the kitchen taking a more international approach to their menus (with influences from the Middle East to Latin America), and offer service that is both professional and welcoming. Now, in Porto, you can find not only Port wine, but also enticing wax-sealed natural bottles, fizzy pet-nats and an array of organic whites and reds.

Genuíno is an authentic representative of this new moment boosted by the pandemic (and consequent search for more casual and affordable venues) and by the city’s younger, cosmopolitan tourists. When Brazilian couple Gabriela Johann and Gustavo Schmidt arrived in Porto ready to open their own place, they hadn’t entirely defined their business concept; they just knew from the beginning they wanted to unite good food and good natural wine – a world they fell in love with while still in Brazil.

After six months searching for a space, they found a potential venue on Miguel Bombarda, a street known for its art galleries and studios. In less than two months, they inaugurated Genuíno, which opened doors last June. “During the renovation, people passed by and asked what it would be. When we said we would serve quality food and natural wines, they usually asked: ‘is it a bar or a restaurant?’ When we answered it would be a mixture of both, they were very skeptical about what we were doing,” Johann laughs. “But from the beginning, we were very convinced of our idea,” she explains.

Joining a sharp wine list focusing on organic and natural winemakers, mainly from Portugal, along with comforting yet creative dishes and few cocktails proved to be an assertive bet. Genuíno’s menu changes weekly, always showcasing the freshest and highest quality ingredients in dishes such as cod fritters, baked potato with salmon and sour cream, and moqueca (a Brazilian fish stew). The wine list, written on a blackboard, offers less than one dozen options, and depends on the wines they receive every week. Since the wines come directly from small producers, some take a while to arrive due to logistics, while others sell out earlier than expected.

Many of these producers the couple knows personally. Occasionally, they try to take a few days off during the harvest to spend some time harvesting and processing the grapes, getting closer to the process in the field. “Gabriela spent a month at a winery, and whenever we can, we visit our suppliers. It is a way for us to be more connected and to get to know better who we work with. Even when explaining the wine to the customer, the discourse is different when we get to know it more deeply,” Schmidt explains.

Genuíno paved the way for the new branch of wine bars that soon followed. “There was an inevitable wave [of wine bars in the city], and we were lucky enough to get it early on; now there are other interesting concepts around us,” Johann adds.

Gito, also run by a Brazilian entrepreneur, opened only six months ago but has already become a local reference point. Bruno Gouvea’s bar has an even more minimalist approach (Gito means “tiny”): with no more than 20 seats and low lights, the venue in the Baixa neighborhood serves only wine – from a list encompassing bubbles, orange, white and red options from all over Europe that change daily – and no more than a few cheese and charcuterie boards, accompanied by bread and olives.

Gouvea pours wines as if he were in his living room: he talks to customers and explains all the wines, and the atmosphere is very cozy and welcoming. “I’ve always wanted to venture into having my own space, and I found Porto to be the ideal city for a first step. When I moved here in May 2021, the wine bar scene was limited, and I realized there was an opportunity in this niche,” he says.

He still sees great potential for expansion in this field. “Porto already has a bit of everything: more classic wine bars, others more informal, some with decades of history. Still, it’s a market in full development, with more and more people interested in going out and consuming by the glass or bottle,” he says. “A lot of people are willing to look for offers beyond Port wine,” he adds.

A few meters from the Clérigos Tower, one of the city’s postcard scenes, Gharb opened its doors precisely for this purpose: to show that there are more modern options for consuming wine other than the traditional and touristic cellars that line the pier of Vila Nova de Gaia, where all the Port wine companies can be found. Tucked in Campo dos Mártires da Pátria, one of the areas that receives the most visitors in the city, the bar mixes wine and food in a surprising combination: with national wines, but dishes ranging from labneh to kebab and sardine durum, all part of the menu created by chef Tiago Curi, a Brazilian of Lebanese origin.

The dishes want to pay homage to the countries of the Middle East, with Moroccan pancakes (beghrir), Turkish eggs (çilbir) as well as lots of options for sharing and dipping with their homemade bread, such as hummus, babaganoush or menemen. “Porto has always had a more informal atmosphere and a more cosmopolitan aura, which explains the success of the wine bars around here,” says Gustavo Guimarães, one of the owners and the architect of the space, which has two terraces to offer guests an outdoor experience.

The wine list is short, but the options are solid: the wines are all from small producers around the Mediterranean, always with options from Portugal. “We only work with producers who make wines without intervention, who are more selective,” he explains. There are vinhos verdes from the North of Portugal and Italian orange wines, as well as rosés, reds, and even dessert wines. “We work hard to have an interesting and differentiated selection.” Guimarães explains that there is a new wave of customers in the city – locals and tourists – who are increasingly looking for wines of this kind. “And Porto is ready for them,” he concludes.

Rafael TononRafael Tonon

Published on September 18, 2023

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