Small glasses just fine for port and sherry

Posted: January 17, 2014

Buzz: Hey, Marnie - my brother gave us some tiny wine glasses. What the heck can I do with those?

Marnie: I bet those are pony glasses, Buzz, used for serving fortified wines or dessert wines. Sometimes called sherry or port glasses, they're for wines best enjoyed in smaller servings.

Buzz: You wine people are so weird. Everyone knows bigger is better. Who would choose to drink less instead of more?

Marnie: This is the norm for wines that are either very sweet, very strong or both. You don't need much of liqueur-like dessert wines, like port or sauternes.

A serving can range from 1.5 to 3 ounces - a third to half the size of a standard wine glass. This same mini-portion applies to all fortified wines. Since dry sherries, like Finos or Amontillados, contain up to 20 percent alcohol, too, just like ports, their serving size is reduced as well.

Buzz: Fortified wine? Extra nutritious and higher alcohol? Sounds good to me.

Marnie: No, that's not quite right. Fortified milk or cereal may have vitamins added, but a "fortified" wine is one that contains added alcohol in the form of distilled spirit.

Buzz: Distilled spirit? You mean like vodka?

Marnie: Not vodka, but winemakers start with a base wine and spike it with raw grape brandy like grappa, but stronger.

These days, most fortified wines are also sweet - like all ports and most sherries, Marsalas and Madeiras. But, historically, fortified wines were often dry, and many still are, like sherries made in the Fino or Amontillado styles.

Buzz: I guess I'd go for strong and sweet, like espresso.

Marnie: Try a port wine, then. They're great for coffee drinkers - dark, intense and delicious - but they do taste best slightly chilled. Port tastes like a blend of equal parts spicy red wine, potent vodka and the best damn grape juice you ever had.

Be sure to get a real one from Portugal, though - the American knockoffs are essentially cheap cooking wines. The price on the real ports might look steep at first, and I know you rarely look at anything over $20. But once you realize that each bottle contains two or three times as many servings as a dry wine, it's clear that ports rank among the world's cheapest fine wines.

Buzz: OK, but I'll be drinking it from two tiny glasses at the same time.

Marnie Old is a local sommelier and wine author known for practical advice with real-world relevance. Her newest book, Wine: A Tasting Course, is an illustrated crash course for the wine curious. More at or @MarnieOld. Buzz's musings are interpreted by Daily News Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph.

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