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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Are you able to shed some light on the history of the small vessel used to drink Porto? Today, glass manufacturers make small glass vessels with a sipping pipe. I have read that this is a re-creation of a ceramic vessel that dates back to the 1700s. Is this true? What is the benefit of drinking Port from a Port pipe verses a standard tasting glass?
Port sipping pipes look something like large clear glass tobacco pipes. The “stem” of the pipe is like a straw coming from the bottom of the glass, which means you sip the Port from the bottom up. The idea is that you drink the Port that hasn’t been exposed to the air on its surface first, though I’m not sure I understand the logic behind that. I’ve seen that current manufacturers of Port sipping pipes claim, as you say, that the current models are based on glasses dating back to the 17th century, but I wasn’t there, so I can’t confirm.
While Port sippers seem like a nice gift and a harmless novelty, I’ve heard that the straw part of the glass is difficult to clean, and that they can be fragile and unstable. I’ve been around a lot of Port lovers, and I’ve never seen them pull these glasses out—they tend to have specialty Port glasses that look like smaller versions of wineglasses, or they just serve Port in small wineglasses.
There’s also something known as a “pipe of Port,” which has a completely different meaning than these Port pipe-like sipping glasses. If you’re interested in Port and all its mysteries, check out my Port primer.
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