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Port, as most of us know it, is a sweet wine blend fortified with brandy that goes well with dessert and cigars. But some small California vintners are refining the art of port-making by creating cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfandel, and other varietal ports. With 4% to 8% residual sugar, the single-grape ports are far less sweet than the syrupy Portuguese versions, with 12% or more. That lets the distinctive fruit flavors shine through, making the new ports suitable to serve with many foods.
Napa's St. Barth?lemy Cellars (www.stbartwine.com), a varietal port specialist, is about to introduce its first pinot noir port ($20), which is lighter bodied and a bit sweeter than its other varieties. For rich caramel and walnut tones, try the $45 Zinful Delight zinfandel port from Hunt Cellars in Paso Robles in central California (huntcellars.com). Croze vineyards of Yountville in the Napa Valley (croze-cab.com) fortifies its cabernet port with top-notch aged cognac instead of run-of-the-mill brandy to enhance the grape's dense blackberry notes ($20). All the ports are available online or from distributors in select states. By Jane Black EDITED BY Edited by Toddi Gutner