Similarities and Differences Between Wine and Liquor Decanters
Written by Benjamin Norris
As a younger man, I used to love collecting various bottles of liquor and wines, using them to decorate my less-than-salubrious London student flat. There was something almost glamorous about having old bottles of Bordeaux on my writing desk – sometimes with a dripping candle stuck into the top of it – or having half-empty bottles of artisanal gin, Scotch whiskey, or brandies picked up on foreign holidays lined up on the mantelpiece. That love of showing off my passion for quality spirits and wines hasn’t faded, but has evolved. I’ve long since learned to express my appreciation of such treasures differently: with the use of a set of stunning glass and crystal decanters.
Most of us own at least one decanter. However, all too often, they stay hidden away in cupboards; a forgotten memory of a wedding or anniversary, only brought out on special occasions. This is a shame for many reasons. First, decanters possess an air of sophistication that is hard to beat; they look great sitting on top of a home bar, or as the centerpiece of your table. Second, both wine and liquor decanters have a valuable purpose…and have the power to take the enjoyment of your drinks to a new level.
Let’s take a deeper look into the world of decanters, and stop for a moment to think about what they’re used for, why you should use them more often, and to consider the difference between wine and liquor decanters. Sit back, pour yourself a drink, and enjoy…
Wine Decanters: What’s the point?
Despite what many people might think, wine decanters do have a practical purpose. They’re not just a formality or a ceremonial piece of etiquette, and they can boost your wine drinking experience. Here are three reasons why you should be dusting off your decanter, and using it for all your future bottles.
Engaging the eyes
Ask any wine expert, and they’re sure to tell you that wine tasting comes in three parts. Of course, you need to sip the wine and get your taste buds involved…but before that, there is the smelling of the wine, and before that, you need to use your eyes.
Wine comes in a gorgeous array of colors and tones. From the inkiest purple, through bright and vivid scarlets and reds, and all the way up the scale to pink, gold, yellow, and pale green. Appreciating the color of your wine is an essential part of the overall tasting experience, and this is made all the more satisfying with the use of a quality decanter. A decanter makes your wine the center of attention; it draws the eye and shows it off in the best possible light – something that’s rarely possible when it’s trapped inside a bottle.
Let it breathe
Looking at your wine is only half the story. Wine decanters have another vital purpose: they give your wine the chance to breathe. When a bottle is opened (and this is especially the case when it comes to full-bodied, tannic wines, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Malbec), the acids and tannins can be harsh on the palate, and get in the way of your enjoyment. Twenty minutes or so in a decanter, however, and voilà! Your wine has softened through a process of light oxidation, and the exposed air will have rounded out those rougher edges, making it smoother, and more enjoyable.
A historical purpose
Another reason for the existence of decanters is one which may not have as much relevance today but is certainly connected to the history of red wine. In the past, red wines were made unfined and unfiltered, and contained loads of sediment at the bottom of the bottle. There were mostly dead yeast cells, or bits of grape skin and stem, and were not harmful…but you wouldn’t want a mouthful of it, either. People think that decanters were so commonplace in the past as a way of serving wine without much sediment getting in the glass, and thus ensuring a more pleasurable drinking session.
Interestingly, unfined and unfiltered wines are very much coming back into fashion again, and more of us are drinking ‘vin naturel’. As such, it wouldn’t be too surprising if decanters are also starting making a comeback on their own – after all, natural wines might well be on trend, but coughing on gritty sediment is never going to be popular!
Liquor Decanters: A touch of real class
If the point of wine decanters is partially a practical one, when it comes to whiskey, gin, brandy and other spirit decanters, we move into a far more visual realm. The simple fact is that liquor decanters – in all their shapes, forms, and styles – look damned cool.
Whether you’re entertaining guests or simply enjoying a quiet drink alone after a busy day, pouring your Scotch or another spirit from a crystal decanter is a sophisticated joy that’s tough to beat. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to be in possession of one of Pappy Van Winkle’s world-beating Bourbons, chances are you’re going to prefer to show off the label and keep the whiskey in the bottle. However, 99% of the time (and for the 99% of us with more modest budgets), liquor decanters do the job with panache and style. There’s something timeless and effortlessly chic about a classic cut-crystal liquor decanter set…and who wouldn’t want to feel like Cary Grant or James Bond while enjoying their favorite tipple?
That being said, while there are differences between wine and liquor decanters, there are also clear parallels between them which shouldn’t be overlooked. Just like wine, liquor comes in a range of beautiful colors, and a decanter is the perfect way to boost your appreciation of those different tones. (Why else would they invariably be made of clear glass or crystal?) What’s more, liquor too can benefit from a little breathing and oxidation to increase their smoothness, although the effect is far more subtle than it is with a tannic wine.
How Long Can You Keep Liquor in a Decanter?
Here’s where wine and liquor decanters start to differ. Wine decanters will always be open-topped and without a stopper. Why? When it comes to breathing and oxidation, a little goes a long way. Leave your wine in a decanter (even one with a stopper) for more than a few hours – or forget about it overnight – and the oxygen will have wreaked havoc, leaving the wine flat and tasteless. Spirits, on the other hand, are far better at preserving themselves and can be kept in a decanter with a decent stopper for as long as you wish.
Even decanters with loose fitting glass stoppers are fine for storing spirits long-term. There will be some slight oxidation, and some evaporation, too, but this won’t have any significant effect on your enjoyment of your brandy, etc. when you are ready to drink it.
So, there you have it – a brief guide to the similarities and differences between wine and liquor decanters. Stylish, elegant, and beneficial to your drinking experience, decanters add a certain flourish to your dining table or home bar. If you’re one of many with a forgotten-about decanter hidden away in a cupboard, what are you waiting for? Get it out, and get it back in its rightful place for all to admire and enjoy.
Benjamin Norris is a writer and spirits aficionado based in London England.