Several wineries in Napa Valley have begun offering port wines at their tasting bars for the first time this year. This is sometimes (but not always) the first stage on the road to larger-scale productions of these wines.
The newly released port at Franciscan Oakville Estate (bottled in 2002) is made from a blend of grapes popular in California and traditional Portugese grapes: 30% Zinfandel, 30% Napa Gamay, 20% Tinto Cao, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Touriga Nacional. It had a caramel nose and flavors of anise and dark plum. It was smooth and enjoyable.
The new port at Beaulieu Vineyards is made from Charbono, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Sirah and Touriga Nacional grapes. I did not enjoy this port at all. Beaulieu should reconsider its attempt to jump on the port bandwagon.
Although Peter Prager, winemaker at Prager Winery & Port Works in Napa, told me he was skeptical about port being the "new Merlot" in terms of trendiness in Napa Valley, the Pragers have definitely seen new interest and exposure for their favorite variety of fortified wine. There is also some objective data to support the emergence of a trend--imports from Portugal to the U.S. (primarily in the form of port) have tripled in the last decade.
I hope interest in port increases because I enjoy offering it as an after-dinner drink. Very few of my dinner guests, however, ever agree to sample a glass. It seems to strike most people as too strong, too sweet and just plain weird. I would like to see that change.