California winemakers are riffing on Port-style wine, creating fortified versions that pay homage to the original, but with a decidedly American spin.
One the finest examples is Quady Winery’s Starboard Batch 88. It’s not made in Portugal’s Douro region, so it can’t technically be called Port. But it’s as close as an American cousin can get, using traditional Portuguese grape varieties grown in Madera, California. A blend of several vintages, it combines the fruity characteristics of ruby Port with the nutty tones usually found in tawnies.
California’s Charbay (St. Helena), known for its whiskies and flavored vodkas, released two terrific variations on ruby Port in late 2013.
The Still House Port (2006 vintage) is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Zinfandel, fortified with six-year-old Syrah brandy. Meanwhile, Charbay’s Distiller’s Port is Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, fortified with Cabernet Franc brandy and barrel-aged for six years in French oak. Both are delicious and complex, full of rich, jammy fruit, chocolate and spice.
As a whole, most American versions tend to be “more fruity and approachable,” says Matt Meyer, winemaker for Meyer Family Cellars. They’re also meant to be sipped when released, rather than cellared for decades, like many Ports.
That said, because America’s winemakers don’t have to follow any strict Old World rules, the flavors and characteristics vary widely from brand to brand—which makes the category ripe for exploring, he says.
“It’s like the Wild West,” Meyer says. “There’s not a specific recipe that people have to use.”
The Meyer Family Port blends several old-vine Zinfandel vintages, using a modified solera method. It shows baked fruit, spice and a long, concentrated finish.
How to drink these Cali-made wonders? Just as you would an authentic Port, as a slow, thoughtful sipper alongside after-dinner cheeses and desserts, especially those made with chocolate.