Elegant dining with an engraved crystal decanter

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Decanting wine into clear glass or crystal decanters can be traced back to the early 1600s when Renaissance Italy reintroduced glass wine bottles for storage, the French were beginning to use corks with the glass bottles and winemakers had discovered that as wine aged, a sediment was building up in the bottles. The solution was to decant the wine into clear containers. By the 18th Century, this practice was becoming more popular, and a dining table graced with an engraved crystal decanter was seen as a sign of prestige and wealth.

A dual purpose

The initial function of a crystal decanter, to remove sediment, also resulted in allowing the wine to aerate, opening up the liquid to oxygen and releasing flavour. The Venetians are credited with introducing the long-necked, wide-bodied decanter – a pioneering design that increased the surface area of wine, exposing it to the air. By the 1730s, British glassmakers had added a stopper, which limited the exposure to air. Decanters now come in a wide range of shapes, and can enhance every wine-tasting experience. Wine experts agree that decanting wine has an ‘enlivening’ effect, and some believe that even poor quality wine can be improved by decanting.

Not just for wine

Decanters are also a popular choice for serving liquors such as brandy, cognac and whisky. Although liquors do not have a sediment and do not need to be aerated, these decanters are purely for show. Traditionally made from cut lead crystal and usually square-shaped, these type of decanters are generally viewed as a sophisticated and elegant alternative to serving liquor straight from a bottle. Some of the finer and more expensive cognacs, brandies and single malt whiskies come in their own decanters. Nowadays, crystal decanters can be safely manufactured using other metal oxides as opposed to lead, making them much more user friendly.

Always pass to the left

With dining customs and traditions becoming more established, by the 18th Century the decanter was an important part of dining rituals. Bottles were considered vulgar and decanter manufacturers tried to outdo each other with more and more elaborate and ornate designs.

Hand-blown, hand-cut and hand-engraved, they were an elegant addition to the tables of the upper classes. Guests were always expected to pass the decanter to the left, with the exception of the host, who always made sure the guest to the right had their glass filled first before passing to the left. This was to ensure the guest wasn’t waiting for the decanter as it made its way around the table.

A modern approach

With modern wine-making techniques producing almost no sediment, and several bottle top attachments now available that will aerate wine as it is poured, decanting wine is not the necessity that it once was. Unquestionably though, there is a certain beauty to seeing an engraved crystal decanter, showing off the clarity and colour of a good wine as it sits on an elegantly set table. Using decanters as a matter of course in everyday modern life may no longer be practical, but for that special dinner or celebration, breaking out the good crystal is a treat that should always be indulged.

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