What’s With Weird Wine Decanters?

I recently wrote a blog entitled “What’s in a Glass” which describes the aesthetic beauty and noticeable improvement in the wine drinking experience by using proper glassware.  I am certain for most of us who care even a little bit about improving our drinking experience, that the investment in good glassware is well worth it. 

However, I do not believe that applies to wine decanters.  There is, of course, real aesthetic value in using a decanter that borders on being a piece of art.  Reidel has a great selection of different and unique decanters to be able to choose from, and I was gifted a beautiful Reidel Black Tie Smile decanter for my last birthday which I use to distinguish that special bottle of red, different from all the other ‘more common’ wines for the evening.

The presence in this decanter says “I am a special wine!”  And I have seen some really over the top decanters which sell in the $4,000 range such as the Etienne Meneau Album Caraffe #5 available from
Top Australian Wines.  This decanter is certainly unique and a conversation starter, but not sure of the practicality of it for decanting – or pouring into a glass!

I know several people have bought these and I expect they are getting great joy from them.  However, I must question how useful they are for decanting when the air – wine interface is so limited.  The whole purpose of decanting is to oxidize the wine and bring it to completion for drinking.  Initially, removing the cork from a bottle will allow some pent up smells to evaporate, and unless it is a very old and fragile wine, further decanting continues to improve it slightly.

While decanting, I love to put some wine immediately into the proper glass and to test it every few minutes to see how quickly it changes during the initial decanting.  I find it interesting as to how for some wines, the change is noticeable and almost immediate, yet for others – for example the 1987 Lindemans Pyrus – the wine needs to sit for 6 – 8 hours or even longer before the process is complete.

The main purpose of decanting is to expose the maximum amount of wine to air for the agreeable amount of time to optimize the wine’s flavor and character.  And for this, I find the most traditional wine decanter shape does the job best.

This is the most sensible shape for a decanter, and this one is the Maxwell and Williams Diamante Decanter for $29.95.  I have found this on sale previously for $19.95 at Meyers.  I have about a dozen decanters which come in handy when you are having a larger dinner party with multiple wines, or doing a vertical tasting of multiple wines.  For such an evening, I am glad to have my set of decanters and to have only paid $20 for each one instead of $250 – $700, let alone $4,000!  Again, there are some great decanters out there and some have magnificent character and are aesthetically appealing.  Yet, unlike the glassware from which you are drinking the wine and where the shape of the glass makes a significant difference in taste, a $20 traditional decanter, used as an interim vessel for holding the wine while it mixes with air, is as good or better solution than more expensive decanters available.

I am not trying to steer you away from more expensive decanters, especially if you get joy from the embedded art and aesthetics.  I love using and get great pleasure from my Reidel Black Tie Smile decanter, but to get the job done as well as with any other decanter, you don’t need to spend more than $20.

(The decanting  process, what types of wines to decant, and the timings will be discussed more thoroughly in a future posting.) 

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