American fortified wines are about as idiosyncratic as they come in the wine world. Although they’ve been made here since the late 1700s, no singular style has emerged out of any of the major wine regions. Lacking any guidance from tradition, however, has meant that winemakers have had a free hand to experiment, especially those emulating port. Some producers use traditional Portuguese grape varieties, but you’ll also find port-style wines made from Syrah, Tannat, Zinfandel, even Viognier.
Whatever you do, however, don’t call them “port.” Since 2006 only those wines made in the Duoro Valley in Portugal can use the protected geographical name (those made before 2006 can still use the term). American winemakers, therefore, have had to get creative with their marketing, coming up with names like Starboard and USB. All ports are made by adding brandy to halt fermentation leaving behind some of the grapes’ natural sugars. The different styles come from differences in aging and blending. Most American ports are ruby styles, which means they are bottled after a few years aging in barrel and still show ripe red fruit. Tawnies are aged in barrel much longer and take on dried fruit and toffee notes. Whether you pair them with cheese or sip by the fire, American port-style wines are worth seeking out. Learn about some of the best here at the Alcohol Professor .