Wine decanters, carafes or pitchers – which one is best to use when serving and sipping various wines by the glass? At home and in restaurants we most often pour straight from the bottle, although sometimes using a decanter, carafe or pitcher can be a better choice. Let’s look at each type of serving vessel, how it’s different from the others, and discuss its best use.
Decanters are used primarily to aerate wine, which is the process of oxidation and evaporation that releases sulfites and ethanol. When wine is exposed to air and given time to “breathe” properly, aeration occurs and its best features of aroma and taste are revealed. Aeration is beneficial for bold and medium-bodied red wines and usually not necessary for lighter red wines and whites. Most decanters have a wide base that maximizes the wine’s surface area that comes in direct contact with air.
There are no strict design requirements for decanters, manufacturers can produce any size or shape they choose. The time it takes to properly aerate can vary by age and type of wine, usually 1 to 3 hours is appropriate. Decanters are seldom used for wine storage, since over-exposure to air turns wine flat.
A good glass or crystal decanter can cost $30 to $60, while custom blown crystal is often priced $150 to $250.
We just published our list of Top 10 Best Wine Decanters with recommendations for most types and shapes of decanters. Here are a few examples.
Carafes (sometimes spelled karafe) are glass or crystal containers used to serve a portion of wine that is more than a glass. Restaurant menus often include ordering wine by the carafe to serve a fraction of a bottle, such as a 375ml carafe poured from a standard 750ml bottle. Carafes can be any size or style and may be filled from bottles, barrels, or other bulk packaging. Carafes are not designed to aerate, they are primarily for serving.
Pitchers are glass, porcelain, or clay serving containers larger than most carafes and filled from jugs or other bulk wine packages. Just like pitchers used to serve beer, iced tea, or other beverages, wine pitchers hold anywhere from a few glasses to more than a standard bottle and have a sturdy handle. Like the carafe, pitchers are serving devices that provide moderate aeration.
Photo: Pitcher of local wine at Ristorante La Castagna, Preggio, Italy.
In summary – decanters are best for aerating and stylish serving, carafes are for serving amounts more than one glass, and pitchers are a convenient way to pour higher volumes.