Here in the US, and in other world markets, port wines seemed, for a time, to fall out of fashion. As the stodgy end of a formal dinner party or perhaps your grandmother’s nightcap, port has had a rather stuffy reputation. But the fortified wines appear to be enjoying a “moment.”
Up in the Napa Valley, on a rainy Sunday in late November, the port tasting rooms were still busy. Acting on a tip from Molly at Cult Wine Central, we went to two tasting rooms where port was on the menu, both in St. Helena. First up was Prager, a small, family winery just off highway 29. For newcomers, the first thing that hits you is that the walls, ceilings and even stair railings are decorated with dollar bills. Lots of them.
It started back in the early 1980’s when a visitor wrote his name on a bill and taped it to the wall. Other patrons followed, and now the bills have become wallpaper, each with its own message or signature. On the tasting lineup was a delicious white port, made from chardonnay grapes, a couple of vintage ports and a tawny port. If Prager is all cave-like and cozy, Ballentine, another family winery just up the road, is all elegance with a view. Ballentine makes a port made from zinfandel grapes. It was not quite as syrupy or sweet as most ports, with berry flavors and a hint of spice.
A sophisticated indulgence, port is the perfect complement to desserts, or just on its own. It is also a treat paired with small bites of Stilton, cheddar, goat or many other types of cheese, depending on the sweetness of the wine and the saltiness of the cheese.