The decanter and carafe are having their design moment.
Decanters and carafes have been enjoying their moment of late, a kind of drink-fueled renaissance laced with our national love affair with design. Note Liviana Osti’s Cuore series, which features two carafes assembled in the form of a human heart and Esque studio’s Skull Decanter.
The vessels make for creative imbibing, but do you really need either on your shelf? The finer points of that question are best left to the oenophiles to debate. Dealing with it on a very basic level though, here a few distinctions that will add a new swill and swank to your wine habits.
The first distinction between one vs. the other is minimal: a decanter has a stopper whereas a carafe does not. As for their one true purpose in life, what they share in common is rather twofold: they class-up a bottle of wine and they aerate the ambrosia by allowing it to mingle with oxygen.
A carafe or decanter also gets you to the essence of the variety, no matter how fermented. For some, to decant or not to decant is like sharing a bottle of Château Margaux with someone you love or a bottle of Boons out of a paper bag.
Jim Meehan, managing partner of the East Village speakeasy PDT, ought to know. On a recent outing with the New York Times, he revealed that upon his grandmother’s death, he was bequeathed with 16 decanters.
“It boils down to style and ritual,” he told the Times. “The style of the decanter reflects the person drinking from it.”
Decanters and carafes are usually made out of glass, though the ancients have been known to use bronze, silver, gold and ceramic. They typically feature a long slender neck gaping into a wide body so air can find its wiggle room and more effective for highly tannic varieties, like Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon and Rhône wines. More delicate wines, your Chiantis and Pinots, run the risk of being ruined by decanting, or so argued the most famous of famed oenologists Émile Peynaud. For Peynaud, wine was not only an art and discipline but a field of research.
For the lay drinker – one with a bigger eye for design than a stomach for alcohol – investing in a decanter is an aesthetic choice, as well a coy way to hide an unsightly label grabbed last minute for unexpected company.