Decanting wine is an old concept born out of needing to separate wine from the soupy dregs of the barrel. Eventually, after the wine bottle was invented, people realized that decanting wine still tastes amazing. 

The elegant glass or clear crystal decanters we know and love today have been around for a long time. At many antique stores and museums, you can still find old decanters that somewhat resemble the ones we use today. 

Most people never think about the history of decanters when they’re adding one to their home glassware collection. But, like many aspects of wine, decanters have a long and interesting history that change wine and wine culture forever. 

Ancient Decanters

When people started making wine thousands of years ago, there were no glass bottles to pour it in. All wine was made in large clay vessels, known as amphora. 

When the Romans marched to battle or the Greeks conquered by ship, amphora stored all their precious wine. To drink it, they needed to ladle it out and put it into everyday containers. 

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There were even special amphora stands which allowed people to stand their amphora upright. Although impractical, heavy, and breakable, these early structures were the typical wineware of the times. 

The rich, however, wanted something smaller. They began to ladle their amphora wine into separate containers to bring to their banquets and events. 

These large containers were originally made from clay or other materials. Soon, however, the Romans figured out that glass makes a better decanter. And from then on, the wine decanter was born. 

Although primitive, these ancient decanters remained common in aristocratic homes across Europe for a long time. Wine for the early Europeans was an everyday drink to replace water and people rarely cared about quality, let alone aeration or letting wine open up.

The First Decanters

After the fall of Rome, Europe went into a decline and so did their decanters. With war and hunger widespread, very few people in Medieval Europe cared for decanting their wine. 

It wasn’t until the Italian Renaissance when people rediscovered the beauty of decanting. This is when the art of glassmaking took off. 

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Europe’s economy started improving and artists and glassblowers started crafting beautiful decanters for the growing elite. These early decanters were made from thick glass. Some even had special designs and decorations. 

Soon, Europe’s economy grew north and places like France and England developed a taste for wine. Decanters, elegant glassware, and artistic glass designs became top fashion, especially with the elite. 

Wine continued to be made and enjoyed locally and was often very poor quality. To serve wine, people would ladle out their wine from barrels and store it in their decanters. Instead of tools to make wine taste better, decanters were simply storage vessels. 

Decanting Reaches a New Audience

In the 17th and 18th centuries, glassblowers started crafting decanters for the growing upper class in Europe’s cities. Empires and capitalism brought a flood of wealth to places like London, Stockholm, and Paris. 

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For the people living in these cities, showing off your wealth and social status meant investing in a decanter. Along with hand crafted wine glasses, decanters took their place amongst people who loved fine wine. 

Artists and glassblowers such as George Ravenscroft pioneered glassblowing and created a style and design that we still use today. After his techniques reached the mainstream, new glassware companies followed and decanters became even easier to find. 

Decanting Stays Strong

When British privateer and inventor Sir Kenelm Digby redesigned a stronger, darker, and more easily manufactured glass bottle, wine was ready to be transported. 

Glass bottles were now easy to mass produce and industrial glass bottle factories replaced glass blowers. Wine was now able to travel safely across borders. 

When wine exporting took off, a handful of new inventions, like the modern corkscrew and butler’s friend, wound up in homes and wineries across Europe and overseas. 

Although the shape of the modern decanters changed frequently, they eventually settled on one handy design: the wide bowl and narrow neck. These decanters were specifically made to hold a standard wine bottle. 

Wine experts noted the difference in wine quality after decanting. After spending years in a glass bottle, many wines needed to open up and breathe. 

With the standard wide base decanter, glass companies could now experiment with variations of the shapes and materials. From high-end crystal to durable everyday glassware, decanters became more affordable and found themselves in homes everywhere. 

History’s Most Famous Decanting Companies

Throughout decanting’s long history, a few companies stood out. Their products frequently became the best in the world for their design, function, and beauty. 

Fortunately, you can still find decanters from these respected glassmakers. From hand crafted specialties to affordable, everyday decanters meant for wear and tear, there are several amazing choices to choose from. 

Riedel

Since 1756, Riedel has been in business, making fine decanters. The company introduced their famous stemware in 1958 and since then they became a popular brand for wine lovers around the world. 

The company’s special Riedel Ultra Wine Decanter is one of the best decanters on the market. No matter if you’re buying it as a gift or for your home wine collection, this special lightweight crystal decanter is worth it. 

Ichendorf Milano

The origins of the famous Ichendorf glassworks go back to the early 20th century in Quadrath-Ichendorf, a small town near Cologne, Germany. In, the respected glassware company moved its headquarters to Milan to create on the hubs for modern decanter design. 

Today, you can add its Ichendorf Milano Alchemy Decanter ($110) to your wine collection. This unique Decanter is as modern and elegant as any decanter on the market. Plus, it’s made by one of the oldest and most reputable glassware companies around.  

Josephinenhütte

Josephinenhütte’s history dates back to 1842 by Count Leopold von Schaffgotsch, who named it after his wife, Josephine. Glassmaker Franz Pohl pushed the boundaries of glassmaking and turned the company into one of Europe’s most respected.  

However, a century later, Josephinenhütte faded into obscurity during war. In 2019, a new chapter started when glassmaker Josef Zalto revived the company and started making its popular decanters again. 

Today, you can find the company’s Josephine Decanter ($150 – $210) on the market. Its durable glass and futuristic bowl will aerate your wine like few decanters on the market. 

The Future of Wine Decanters

Since the 17th century, wine decanters have reached their pinnacle shape and design. Over the years, styles have changed, but the overall wide base and narrow neck design has stayed the same. 

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Today, there are decanters that blend modern technology, including removable filters and extra durable glass with state-of-the-art shapes meant for extra aeration. These futuristic decanters are not only effective, they are beautiful. 

Future wine decanters will probably maintain the same tried and tested design. However, they will be even stronger and long-lasting. 

Thanks to the early advances in decanting technology, by glassblowers such as George Ravenscroft and Sir Kenelm Digby, decanting remains a trusted art. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”