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04.19.2008

Wine Decanters Aren't Worth the Money or The Hassle

I'm sure that by the end of the week, Georg Riedel will have a contract out on my life, but no matter. This needs saying, and I'm ready to face the consequences.

Fancy wine decanters are a waste of your money. They are also a royal pain in the neck.

Oh sure, they're beautiful and elegant. They exude class and sophistication. Some of them even rise to the level of art. But when it comes to what they're actually good for, 97.9999% of them are a complete waste of money.

Don't get me wrong. This is not a rant against decanting wine. I love to decant wine, both to eliminate sediment in older wines, as well as give air to some wines that dramatically improve with a little aeration. I always decant Italian Sangiovese, for instance, as I believe those wines literally require air in order to be enjoyed fully. I've also learned to decant especially complex (and old) white wines, as these also seem to blossom with some time and air.

Decanting is great. But decanters suck. I've completely given up on them as a wine accessory. Here's why:


decanter-2.jpg

They are nearly impossible to clean.

At best, they require a special, flexible brush that can help you get down that narrow neck into the bowl. But most of the time you can't get enough leverage to actually get that crystal completely scrubbed free of the sediment and deposits of the wine. Then when the darn thing dries, you can polish the outside, but getting water spots or deposits off the inside is like trying to lick the inside of a coke bottle. And as with all good crystal, the dishwasher is not a good option (though that is what a lot of restaurants do).

Which is why my wine decanter these days looks like this:


decanter.jpg


Less than $20. Easy to clean. Easy to swirl. Easy to pour.

A work of art it is not, but it is the best damn wine decanter I have ever used.

Comments (42)

04.19.08 at 11:43 PM

They are a Pain to clean but give wine such great expression that I will continue to use them.
Just put very hot water (not boiling) and leave for a while and that, I find, does the trick.

Dave wrote:
04.20.08 at 4:14 AM

Throw out the brush...it is useless.
What I received for christmas this year, was cleaning beads for the decanter.
put these beads into the decanter with some soap and water, twirl around like you would some wine for about 5 minutes, and the decanter looks new again.

http://www.wineenthusiast.com/E/details.asp?Ep=An/0//A/16250&uid=B9EEF2CB-44A7-4335-8A80-B2C7EE15F4EA

pour the decanter out into a sieve, to collect the beads again.

Greg wrote:
04.20.08 at 6:18 AM

I am so with you about expensive decanters. Great post. We tend to get way to pretentious about wine. I simple carafe or pitcher as you have shown works great. I picked up some really cheap (read free) 1L flasks used for chemistry that make great decanters. Still has the cleaning problem but at least I didn't spend a fortune on them. People comment a lot on my decanters. You can see a picture on this blog post:

http://gregdrinks.blogspot.com/2007/12/south-of-equator-on-winters-evening.html

Dan wrote:
04.20.08 at 7:06 AM

I'm totally with you there, Alder. For a while now, I've been using the vase that they send free when you order floweres on line. Looks kind of like the one in your picture but without the handle.

breezy wrote:
04.20.08 at 7:51 AM

I recently bought a round bottomed flask similar to something from a chemistry lab with a wooden concave base. Really easy. If i need a second then I use a glass jug. Aesthetically i think they are fine. I was at a friends the other week and the decanters were so elaborate that I deliberately didn't mention them. Inside I wanted to ask why/if/how/can you be bothered/etc. to clean the bloody things?!

Arthur wrote:
04.20.08 at 11:46 AM

This happens with certain kinds of glass and may be unavoidable. It may be an irreversible reaction between the glass and wine. I've experimented with commercial lime scale removers and other chemicals to no avail. It's all about the material - crystal vs glass.

The $20 Riedel decanters from Target do not have this problem. The simple blown glass decanters from places like Pier 1 or Cost Plus are notorious for this problem. It is definitely a characteristic of the glass, not the shape of the vessel or the liquid stored in it.

I find that rinsing out all glassware with water at the end of the night makes cleaning easy, cuts down on the amount of soap I use and subsequently reduces any residue or dulling of the glass.

Also, I use a bit of distilled or filtered water for a final rinse. You'd be surprised how much soap remains after rinsing with tap water.

04.20.08 at 12:51 PM

i suggest trying denture cleaner. it does a great job, no scrubbing, cheap and works like a charm.

04.20.08 at 12:53 PM

i suggest trying denture cleaner tablets. it does a great job, no scrubbing, cheap and works like a charm.

Arthur wrote:
04.20.08 at 3:43 PM

John,

That sounds like a good idea. I'll try it.

Joel wrote:
04.20.08 at 4:41 PM

I use a decanter when the wine has sediment, so the shape of the decanter is important. A beer pitcher probably wouldn't work as well. When I am drinking wines that are 10 years or less, I generally use the bottle which allows popping the cork back in the top if it's getting too much air or needs to spend the evening on the counter or in the frig.
If getting lots of air to the wine quickly seems to help the wine, the pitcher sounds great. The wine will probably be gone in an hour or two.

Saint Vini wrote:
04.20.08 at 5:15 PM

HA! That's EXACTLY the same pitcher that I use to decant. First exposing the myth of wine and food pairings, now this. You're really coming around! What next? The absurdity of Riedel's multiple wineglass shapes?

Alder wrote:
04.20.08 at 5:29 PM

Joel,

Thanks for the comments. While I understand your point regarding sediment, my practice is generally to keep the sediment in the bottle by careful pouring into the decanter. With very sediment rich wines, some does get into the decanter as well, but I haven't had much problem keeping that in whatever vessel I'm using to decant, regardless of the shape.

As for air, I'm not sure what you're getting at. My pitcher has a lot less surface area than many decanters, certainly less than the standard wide-base decanter. Wines that I decant in this pitcher are certainly not gone in an hour or two.

Also, younger wines (at least those meant to age) tend to need more air, not less. The "in bottle" aeration is a technique that has been recommended to me by authorities on the oldest wines (e.g. 50+ years).

JB wrote:
04.20.08 at 8:31 PM

Alder,

You are absolutely correct on all counts. I have a Reidel crystal decanter and it is so hard to clean that I basically just rinse it out and I am watching the red wine residue build up on the inside of the decanter with each new decanted bottle. I tried an wide glass flower vase but interior cleaning was still as problem as was getting a proper pour. Your solution, perhaps "inelegant to the eye", is certainly functionally elegant. Maybe I won't use it for guests but for momma and me its a no-brainer.

Richard Fadeley wrote:
04.21.08 at 5:45 AM

I'm in complete agreement, but take it one step further, with a little multi-tasking. I use a Pyrex measuring cup/bowl, and I get most of the sediment going in, then cover with cheese cloth. After the desired decant I pour back into the bottle, and the last 1/2 ounze will often contain the fine sediment that you missed the first time(it's easy to see). Clean up in 30 seconds. I often find it helpful to rinse out the bottle with water, if there was any heavy sediment.

Bill Schimmel wrote:
04.21.08 at 6:40 AM

I second the suggestion of denture cleaner. It works quite well, but am in general agreement regarding decanters.

joel wrote:
04.21.08 at 8:09 AM

Alder,
Your friends must be more considerate than mine--with a bottle of great wine on the table (whether it's in a decanter, beer pitcher, or the bottle) it almost always seems that with two or three of us around that the wine disappears within an hour or two. I really don't attribute this to evaporation, rather it's the sort of folks I hang around.

I agree with you on overpriced decanters, although I do appreciate a great glass.

Arthur wrote:
04.21.08 at 8:42 AM

Richard you've just describe a method called "double decanting" - modified with the cheese cloth.

John Skupny wrote:
04.21.08 at 8:54 AM

An overnight soak in baking soda and water usually takes care of the problem. Be sure to rinse very well afterward.

Alder wrote:
04.21.08 at 9:36 AM

Joel,

I just realized I totally misinterpreted what you said. I thought that when you said "gone" you meant "over the hill" i.e. oxidized! But you meant gone as in CONSUMED.

Oops :-)

Audrey wrote:
04.21.08 at 10:52 AM

I hardly ever decant, because I simply do not want to bother with cleaning the thing. Good suggestions on cleaning from everyone, but maybe i'll get myself a very classy beer pitcher as well.

Yuji wrote:
04.22.08 at 5:21 PM

I have to admit I am highly affected by presentation. If I am using a fancy, over-the-top decanter my taste buds will subconsciously be affected for the better.

I imagine an extreme of this tendancy is the thought of opening a nice bottle at the hospital waiting room.

Then again I hardly decant as well. I always have more than enough time : )

Nice water jug!

Tish wrote:
04.23.08 at 6:19 AM

For speed decanting, I use two plastic beer pitchers, and toss the wine back and forth for a few minutes, then let it sit a few more, and then pour easily back into the original bottle. I prefer a wine's own bottle to a crystal/glass decanter every time.

Anonymous wrote:
04.23.08 at 12:56 PM

Alder,
I have been out of the loop for some time. Irony is I took a wine rep job and it took my entire life away with it. Saved all unread newsletters, still hoping I will make time...soon.
Agree on the Wine Decanter hassle. Would love to read about glasses shapes some day.
As for today, I am wondering what you think of the "Perlage" CO2 system for preserving Sparkling wines supposedly up to weeks and months.
Won't the wine be old after a few days regardless of the bubbles being kept alive?
Also, if for Sparkling made with Method Champenoise (OK "traditionelle")
Doesn’t injecting CO2 affect the superior nature of the second fermentation?

John wrote:
04.23.08 at 1:36 PM

we sell laboratory beakers as decanters. $40 and you still get some unique style on your dinner table.

John Skupny wrote:
04.23.08 at 8:36 PM

mmm, not to be thought of as a total snob or clean freak, but 'plastic beer pitchers'?... you mean the kind from Pizza Hut? I hope you never serve beer in those and wine 'splashed' in them, sometimes, may benefit from the massive oxidation that will take place. Plastic is a convenience and by it's nature decays and pits much faster than glass [that is why the foam head, of beer, often looks so much better than in glass pitchers]. For beer it is an oxidative and microbial diaster [beer is alcohol challenged that way]. For wine the same biological clock is ticking but slower. Make sure it is a young, sturdy and not too precious wine. As a maker and marketer, I agree that it is nice to have it in the 'original' bottle, shows the label and all!... invest in a couple of glass beer pitchers, even if the are deadly in they kitchen.

Big Daub wrote:
04.25.08 at 1:56 PM

Best decanter in the world??? A Braun coffee carafe. About $20. With this beauty you get
1. Dripless pouring, 2. Wide bottom, narrow top for good aeration. Love those wide bottoms.
3. Fits in the top rack of any dishwasher. 4. A handle!
Doesn't look that bad either. See an example at: http://www.theessentials.com/jump.jsp?itemType=PRODUCT&itemID=169

"Do we seek out things to covet? No, we covet the things we see every day."
Hannibal Lecter

Gail wrote:
04.28.08 at 2:23 PM

I agreee with you about some decanters but I found this great decanter...The Rojaus Grapevine and it is easy to clean, looks like a piece of scupture and works amazingly every time I use it. Would love to see what you think!!

Alder wrote:
04.29.08 at 5:21 PM

Gail,

Several wineries I've been in have had that decanter. Seems like a waste of space to me. But if you love it, then that's all that matters.

Arthur wrote:
04.29.08 at 6:58 PM

I agree, Alder. More gimmicky than practical. Then there is this:
http://www.moriluggage.com/DSN/wwwmoriluggagecom/Commerce/ProductImages/mn002217.jpg

04.30.08 at 11:49 AM

I am afraid that you 'just don't get it'. Serving wine-like life-is 'all in the presentation'. The only thing your 'jug' brings to mind is Jimmy Jones ( and I don't mean the guy who sang 'handy Man' in the early 60's)

Alder wrote:
04.30.08 at 11:58 AM

Robert,

Thanks for the comments. Well, to each their own. I drink wine for the taste -- so I'm perfectly happy drinking it out of a coffee mug, too.

Daniel wrote:
05.29.08 at 1:31 AM

I agree, but love the fun decanters. Yes the beads work well. The problem is not with the wine and glass but is with the hard water you use to clean with. A simple vessel will do and works as well as a 300 dollar decanter and I use the cheap ones all the time. When I open something really nice,,,,,,,,I do like the flashy expensive decanters...Its fun
Daniel Jackson
Wine Director, Brix 25
Gig Harbor, Wa

Daniel wrote:
05.29.08 at 1:43 AM

Hey Joel........ever had a 7 year old wine after three hours decanted?
Wines over 10 years may need less air, but under 10? Please, I spend up to 8 hours with some wines ( syrah ) the longer the better. Penfolds Grange..............min 6 hours.

Daniel wrote:
05.29.08 at 1:48 AM

Hey Robert........you dont get it. The wine needs air. It does not care how it gets it.

Daniel wrote:
05.29.08 at 2:13 AM

ooops. Not Robert
Alder
I agree with your decanter thoughts
but glassware is huge. It makes a big big difference. I have had winemakers sit with me and poured thier wine in two different glasses and they were stunned. I get the WOW factor every time.

Alder wrote:
05.29.08 at 9:43 AM

Daniel,

Thanks for all the comments. Glassware is certainly important, but I do not and have never bought the "it changes the way wine tastes" line. I've been to a Riedel seminar and came away knowing what I knew before I went in: that the shape of the glass can dramatically affect the aromas of wine in the glass, and the aeration of the wine over time as it sits in the glass, but other than that that it does not affect the way it tastes.

Drinking from proper crystal glassware is a much more pleasurable experience aesthetically as well, so I definitely encourage proper glassware, but the notion that people have to have different glasses for different varietals, or that some glasses are more "breathable" than others is 100% marketing as far as I am concerned.

Daniel wrote:
05.31.08 at 11:21 AM

Alder,
If the glass dramatically affects the aromas, and our smell-taste sence works hand in hand, then the wine will taste different.
Think about it.

Alder wrote:
05.31.08 at 11:54 AM

Daniel,

I've thought about this. A lot. It's true that what we taste is a combination of aromas and flavors. But as far as I understand things, those aromas for the most part don't come from outside the mouth (i.e. they are not inhaled into the nose from outside) they originate in the oral cavity and pass up into the sinuses and nose through the back of the mouth. The glass has virtually no bearing on this process which is a function of the composition of the thing we are eating and drinking and our own particular physiology. Riedel also makes a big deal of how the glass "changes the way the wine hits the tongue" which is equally BS, because we do not pour wine onto our outstretched tongues. As soon as wine passes our lips, our mouths channel it the same way into our mouths no matter what vessel we're drinking from, and when we close our lips and lower our soft palates to "taste" what we have in our mouths, the wine coats the inside of the mouth in ways that the glass could never control.

There are plenty of wine professionals who disagree with me on this fact, and swear that they can taste a real difference in the same wine poured into two glasses.

But if research shows that simply listening to different music changes our perceptions of wine, then certainly the marketing hype of a wine glass company could likely do the same.

At the end of the day, I've got nothing against the wine glass industry, it's a good business, and on the whole they make good products. I DO however consider it my duty to whenever possible destroy the anxiety and uncertainty that people feel about drinking wine, which includes the feeling that there's a "right glass" and a "wrong glass" to drink every wine out of, and that if people somehow don't have the right glass they are both robbing themselves of a full experience, and somehow revealing themselves to be unsophisticated or un-knowledgeable wine lovers. THAT, in my opinion, is an example of one of the worst aspects of the wine world, and one that cannot go away soon enough for me.

Carl May wrote:
01.25.09 at 11:54 AM

Your glass pitcher idea is pure, practical genius. In France, the perennial wine jug (pitcher) has been around for many, many years. They are typically made of ceramic and thus are opaque. The traditional handled shape and spouted exhibits a rather spherical lower half, but with a narrower, rather wide fluting upper half, flaring wider as its height increases. Such a wine jug is pictured in Larousse Gastronomique. The closest product available, and almost identical to it, is made by Emile Henry...the French firm that makes such excellent ceramic wares from fine Burgundian clay with a superior multi-layered hard glaze...search their website to find it. Personally, I would prefer clear glass jugs/pitchers so to better admire the wine,and particularly ones wide enough to get your hand into for ease of cleaning. Actually, i came here searching for the best shape for decanters and ran into this blog...a fortunate happenstance for me. A pitcher it will be then (maybe a squat one).

Alexandra Clarke wrote:
03.17.09 at 11:07 AM

I am a huuge fan of decanting but totally agree that buying big fancy decanters is a waste of time, space and money....... I just got recently got a new little mini-decanter/aerator called the Soiree. Ever heard of it? Anyways, I love it, it decants the wine as you pour so I don't ever to plan out when I want a good glass of wine! Plus, it was so cheap! I bought it online for $25 and it came with this nifty little drying rack so I just rinse it out with water and stick it on the rack and its good to go for next time. Definitely recommend it to anyone who is fed up with big expensive, hard to clean decanters.

Gyan wrote:
09.12.10 at 11:41 PM

Some times we found few whitish spots in our antique Wine Decanters, that looks ugly and could not removed by washing with soap. This spots were due to additive added to wine for the flavor and test. These are organic compounds and less soluble in water and soap, but freely soluble in alcohol. So these spots easily can removed by washing with alcohol solution followed by water.

Art wrote:
04.24.12 at 7:01 AM

Last year I spent a week in Napa and Sonoma Valleys. It was too short a trip, IMHO! Anyway, all the tasting rooms pretty much agreed with you. But, they did use a simple and inexpensive decanter with a slanted upward (angled like this \ ) opening. They would rest the neck of the bottle in lower end of the slant and the opening of the bottle against the upper end of the slant. They would then tip the bottle and allow the wine to stream down the side of the decanter in order to aerate.

They would first pour the wine directly into our glasses and let us taste after a few minutes. Then, they would pour the aerated wine. The difference was tremendous!

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