Art & Design Interiors & Design Vineyards & Wine

Carafe Culture: Why Wine Decanters Make All the Difference to Your Drink

Find out how handcrafted decanters can help to improve most vintages—and why it should take pride of place on your drinks cabinet

Decanters are to a wine lover what a Japanese Global knife is to a chef or La Cornue’s Grand Palais 180 stove is to a baker. They bring the full potential out of the product they serve. Artfully blown crystal in an array of fantastical shapes takes pride of place in the homes of oenophiles the world over. While the creatively, sometimes gravity-defyingly shaped vessels that are available today are a more recent addition to the wine appreciation scene, wine decanters have long played a part in the enjoyment of wine and entertaining.

Ancient Vessels

The earliest wine vessels date back more than two millennia to artifacts such as the ancient Greek Euphronios Krater, a painted terracotta vessel believed to be 2,500 years old, which was on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art until being repatriated to Italy in 2008.

Glassware and wine decanters on a white table
The 1 Collection of glassware by Jancis Robinson and acclaimed designer Richard Brendon is perfectly formed to bring out the complex character of fine wines.

The Roman Empire then finessed the use of glass, but it was during the Renaissance that Venetians elevated glass-blowing to an art form. This is when artisans introduced the long, slender-necked and wide-bodied vessels we recognize today, taking the decanter from simply functioning as a serving tool to enhancing the wine it holds by increasing its surface area and allowing it to react with air. This became the standard decanter style, with British glassmakers in the 1730s adding a stopper to limit air exposure, making the decanter suitable for preserving wine between pourings.

One reason for decanting is to deliberately expose a young wine to maximum aeration so as to accelerate ageing and make it taste softer and more evolved—Jancis Robinson, O.B.E.

“Wine has been decanted for centuries,” says Christopher Munro, Head of Wine Department, Americas at Christie’s. “In the 19th century, champagne and sweet wines were often served in decanters, and wine was decanted to remove sediment from port and heavy mature Bordeaux.”

Glassware on a white table
The wide-mouthed Young Wine Decanter in Jancis Robinson and Richard Brendon's 1 Collection allows for maximum aeration, while the narrow Old Wine Decanter keeps sediment under control.

Evolving Methods

“Today, along with removing sediment, we tend to decant wines that are young and therefore need some aerating to release the aromas and flavors,” Munro says. “Big robust red wines need time to open up, and older Bordeaux from some of the great vintages such as 2000, 1982, and 1961 also benefit from time in a decanter.” Not all wines will benefit from decanting though, he adds. “If an old wine is particularly delicate, one would want to serve this from the bottle with very little aeration.”

Munro also concurs that as wine styles have evolved, so too have our decanting methods. “For years, Burgundy was never decanted,” he says. “In recent years, as the style of Burgundy has changed, decanting younger vintages has become commonplace, and young white Burgundy or other Chardonnay also often benefit from the decanting process.”

And as wine connoisseurs look for evermore aesthetically pleasing decanters to make the best of their Burgundy, Chardonnay, or Bordeaux, prominent glassmakers have released increasingly creative designs.

Two crystal decanters
Intricate patterns designed in collaboration with artists define the delicate glassware from Vista Alegre, as seen on the company’s Swinging decanter (left) and Soul decanter (right).

The Portuguese porcelain, crystal, and glass manufacturer, Vista Alegre, for example, has established its brand through artist collaborations. This cooperative process has resulted in the Swinging decanter by Brazilian designer Henrique Serbena, distinguished by patterns said to enhance the flavor of the wine; the sculptural Blue Ming wine decanter by Dutch designer Marcel Wanders taking cues from Delft porcelain; and the decorative Soul decanter, which is a reproduction of a piece in Lisbon’s National Museum of Ancient Art (MNAA).

We tend to decant wines that are young and therefore need some aerating to release the aromas and flavors—Christopher Munro

Ultramodern Incarnations

Austrian glassware specialist Riedel, founded in 1756, is another brand that stands out for its creativity. While taking pride in its heritage, the glassmaker releases a steady stream of contemporary glass offerings. In 2020 alone Riedel released the Pop Art-inspired Cornetto Confetti range, along with the colorful Decanter Swan Magnum.

Two wine decanters
Riedel’s Rainbow Swan Magnum Decanter for the Elton John AIDS Foundation (left), which bears Sir Elton's signature, and the 2019 Curly Pink Magnum Decanter (right), which was created in honor of the Chinese Year of the Pig.

These were preceded in 2019 by the launch of Riedel’s Amadeo Decanter by Stefan Umdasch in limited-edition Menta, Rose, and Grigio shades, and with the release of the 2019 Curly Pink Magnum Decanter for the Year of the Pig Chinese New Year celebrations. For brands like these, optimization of the wine-drinking experience goes hand in hand with the aesthetic appeal of these artist collaborations and limited editions. And it’s not just heritage companies making an impression.

Acclaimed wine writer Jancis Robinson, O.B.E., who provides advice for the cellar of Queen Elizabeth II, launched the 1 Collection of wine glassware in 2018. Created in partnership with the Walpole-championed designer Richard Brendon, the thoughtful set encompasses two different decanters designed specifically to suit old and young wines.

Five modern, curly wine decanters
A playful and modern approach to traditional glassblowing techniques makes Riedel’s eye-catching decanters as artistically pleasing as they are functional.

“There are two different reasons for decanting,” Robinson explains. “My tall, thin, stoppered Old Wine Decanter is for when the wine is sufficiently mature that there is sediment in the bottle and you want to pour the wine off the sediment so none ends up in a glass, but you want to expose it to minimal oxygen.

“The other reason for decanting is to deliberately expose a young wine to maximum aeration so as to accelerate ageing and make it taste softer and more evolved. My broad, open Young Wine Decanter is designed with this in mind. It’s ideal for swooshing the wine around when you hold it by the neck,” she concludes.

Whatever you’re drinking, young or old, whether you’re “swooshing” or merely removing sediment, and whatever your preferred style of glassware, there’s a carafe to suit.

On the Market

French chateau
While the lush vineyards and two wineries at this stunning château offer endless business opportunities, the park-like setting with its tranquil pool and lake make it the ideal family home too.

A classic château dating back to the late 18th century, this home on the market with Vineyards-Bordeaux has six bedrooms and five baths, plus two additional structures. Fifty-two acres (21 ha) of vineyards currently feature Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, while 15 acres (6 ha) of non-planted AOC land allows for expansion. Extensive wine-producing facilities span two wineries, a barrel store, and tasting rooms.

Courtyard with tables made of wine barrels
Set in the heart of Orange County, the ranch boasts stunning views over the surrounding countryside, and offers the ultimate privacy for both winemaking and equestrian pursuits.

This four-bedroom, five-bath residence, on the market with First Team Real Estate, is accessed via a driveway flanked by bronze horse statues and wine barrels. A custom solid wood front door and a 1,500 sq ft (139 sq m) courtyard then lead to the main house, guesthouse, and an organic vineyard and orchard. Set on 4.3 acres (1.7 ha) zoned for commercial use, it could be an equestrian center, event venue, or bed and breakfast.

Banner image: The Cornetto Confetti range of wine decanters by Riedel