The semantics might seem confusing and their names are often used interchangeably but we’re here to set the record straight – decanters and carafes are two distinct items and, yes, they’re both considered essential to the connoisseur. The two are linked, of course, with the decanter (as we now know it) having been developed from its forerunner, the carafe, in the late 17th century. But what do they actually do other than make us feel so much more refined when we use them?
First, let’s start with what they do differently. Perhaps even moreso than carafes, decanters historically had quite a specialised function. And here’s the technical part. “The original purpose of a decanter,” states London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, “was to receive wine poured from a bottle or cask in order to leave the dregs behind.” Although nowadays most modern wines have eliminated that problem, it’s still nice to know that we’re helping the decanter relive its original life purpose.
And although not restricted to being identifiable by aesthetics alone, there are distinct differences in the make up of decanters and carafes. Whilst the former are traditionally a little heavier and equipped with a stopper (making them ideal for long-term storage as well), the latter tend to be a little finer, easily handled and light enough to be passed around a table. Decanters thick walls make them prime candidates for being given the traditional cut-glass treatment – especially when bought with the intention of being used to house gentlemanly whiskies – whilst the delicate silhouettes of carafes makes for a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to bottles.
Thankfully, in addition to their shared good looks and sanitary purposes, both the decanter and the carafe is still very much needed on the modern dining table or at a stylish bar. With the help of accessories like aerators, they both help to develop the flavour of many liquid refreshments – wine being the most obvious of these. By increasing the air exposure during the pouring process – as the alcohol is transferred from bottle to container – the beverage is allowed to breathe which results in a much fuller flavour.