Everything you need to know about wine and spirit carafes
7 May 2020
What does a carafe do? Do all carafes serve the same purpose? Which carafe is best suited to my favorite wines?
These are all questions that come to mind when we think about buying a carafe. They are also questions that our sales consultants at Vinum often hear, which is why the Vinum team has decided to dedicate this post to carafes of all kinds. They can be small or large, round or square, made of crystal or glass, and even take on shapes as original as a work of art.
First of all, it is important to know that there are several types of carafes, all of which have a very specific function. The first type of carafe is used to oxidize the wine, whether it is a white or red wine, while the second is rather used for decanting, i.e. the separation of sediments deposited at the bottom of a bottle of older wine. Finally, you also have spirit carafes.
The decanter: a type of carafe used to serve an older wine
The decanter is useful when opening bottles of old wine. Unlike other types of carafes, the decanter is not used to oxygenate a wine, but rather to remove sediment that has formed in the bottle throughout its aging process. Decanting is only done shortly before serving an old wine, as the purpose is not to aerate it. On the contrary, care must be taken not to over-oxygenate this type of wine, as it will evolve rapidly once opened. Prolonged exposure to air can even damage its aromas. Use with caution!
The decanter has a “duck” shape, which makes it easier to use because it is naturally tilted. Purists will place their bottle in front of a light source (candle), which will allow them to see the deposits in the shoulder of the bottle more easily. This will help them avoid pouring deposits into the decanter.
The carafe used to aerate wine
The carafe used to aerate wine is available in different styles. Each wine glass company generally has its own line of carafes, sometimes going so far as to create one carafe per collection in order to maintain a similar aesthetic. However, regardless of style, all of these carafes serve the same purpose: to eliminate reduction aromas, to soften tannins (in the case of red wines), to release sulphur odours and volatile acidity, in short, to “open” the wine and prepare it for consumption.
Often used when opening young wines, the carafe will allow the wine to let out its real aromas and the best version of its structure. Aeration is done in three key stages.
- Pour the wine into the carafe. You want to pour by aiming at the inside wall of the carafe, because the wine must be in contact with the air as much as possible while transferring.
- Allow the wine to aerate for about 30 minutes. The waiting time varies according to the surface area of the carafe. The larger the carafe, the shorter the waiting time.
- Pour the wine into a glass. Again, when pouring wine into the glass, you want to aim for the side of the glass for complete aeration.
Reading step 2, one might think that the best carafe will be the biggest, with a larger aeration surface. However, you also have to think about the practical side of your carafe. It is important to be comfortable with the one you use. You should pick it up, handle it and test it before you buy it. You also need to think about cleaning and storing it, as well as where it will be placed on the table. A smaller carafe can be much more convenient to handle if you’re not used to manipulating glassware or if you have smaller hands. A small carafe will also be easier to store in cupboards or place on the table without cluttering up the guests. An extra 5 minutes of waiting time will compensate for the smaller ventilation surface.
The white wine carafe
A white wine carafe has the same role as a normal carafe, and one can often substitute the other. The big difference is that a carafe for white wine will have features that allow temperature management.
Indeed, in order not to let the wine warm up throughout the meal, we have to think about keeping it fresh. Some white wine carafes will therefore have a cooling rod in the center, while others will be in two parts, allowing the addition of ice cubes in one of the parts. Others will simply be taller so that they are wide enough to fit in an ice bucket. This is often what restaurateurs prefer.
The raw material of the carafe
Carafes have different qualities depending on their raw material. This will not affect the aeration of the wine itself, as the principle of the process remains the same. On the other hand, the finesse of a mouth-blown crystal will reflect the colours of the wine much more elegantly than a glass carafe will. The glass carafe, however, will be much stronger, which makes it a good option for clumsier users. In between those two materials is lead glass, which is clear and pure while being more solid than crystal. We often turn to this material for an affordable and solid carafe with a pleasant texture and transparency.
The spirit carafe
Since the introduction of TV shows such as “Mad Man”, there has been a resurgence in the demand for spirit carafes. These are a wonderful tool for serving spirits, especially whisky. Often clear and lightly chiselled, they give the connoisseur a better view of the colour of the spirit. However, they are not recommended for long-term storage, as the spirit will tend to fade when kept for several weeks in a carafe. As you do not want to aerate a spirit, the carafe remains a serving tool and will not have a short-term impact on the drink.
Wine and spirit carafes, much more than simple jugs
No matter what your intentions are, remember that it is relevant for anyone to use a carafe, whether you are an expert or a novice. Don’t forget that it’s always a good idea to purchase certain tools along with your carafe for its maintenance. For drying, you need a carafe dryer. As for cleaning, you have several options: cleaning beads, a magnetic brush, a regular brush, etc.
If you wish to buy or offer someone a carafe, you can find the one you need on our site. Don’t hesitate to visit one of our shops for expert advice!