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January 2018

t to Decant...
and What and Why
 
Some months ago, there was a survey conducted on behalf of Decanter Magazine, by an august body of experts into what wines were most improved by decanting - was it old or young, and was it red or white?  The result surprised many serious wine aficionados - ('oenophiles' does sound somewhat pretentious doesn't it?).
 
Of course, one of the reasons for decanting is to separate wine from any sediment; that shouldn't surprise anyone.  However, that is far from being the only reason to decant.  Young red wines develop by being decanted; it 'knocks off the rough edges' as one wine writer put it; it gives them the properties of a wine with a little more maturity and shows them at their best.  The same can be said of older red wines that have been decanted, but it is the older red wines that may have thrown that sediment which needs to be discarded.  And of course,  vintage Port needs to be decanted because it usually has sediment.
 
According to the tasting panel, the wines which improved most were young white wines - and this was the result which most surprised the judges.  From a personal perspective, I find that most white wines are served far too cold, both in restaurants and in domestic situations because traditionally they are put in a refrigerator, bringing the temperature of the wine to 3-5 degrees C, which is much too cold; most white wines are at their best between 7 and 12 degrees.  Restaurants usually have special refrigerators to keep wine at the correct temperature, so then to immerse the bottle in a bucket of ice beside one's table is doing nobody any favours - just the opposite in fact.   However, by decanting a white wine that has been in a domestic refrigerator, will raise its temperature sufficiently to correct the problem.  Do try it and see!  Our pale green decanters are perfect for white wines, but clear decanters do an equally good job in this respect.
 

Two Pairs of High Quality Pale Green Decanters c.1830
Incidentally, none of the panel recommended aerators which have become quite the fashion over the past couple of years or so.
A Set of 'Bristol Blue' Decanters
an interesting question...
 
Every so often I see something in my sphere of interest which perplexes me. It doesn't happen every day, week or even month, but I have just come across such an instance.   I did a valuation 20 years ago and the daughter of the valuee (I'm sorry - I know that is a non-word) and she has asked me if I would sell what I valued.   The object was a set of four 'Bristol' blue decanters in a Sheffield plated frame.  Sets of decanters in frames were made for spiritous liquors and usually come in sets of three, being Brandy, Rum and Hollands, the latter being the word before about 1830 for Gin.  Where there is a fourth decanter, it is usually for Shrub, a concoction of rum and citrus fruits which tastes somewhat like Pimms.  This set of four was different.
A set of four Bristol Blue Decanters in  silver plated frame. c.1800
 
The four decanters I was asked to value are gilded to indicate the contents being Brandy, Rum, Gin and Whiskey.  What perplexed me at first, is that whiskey and gin were not considered in England  to be 'gentlemanly' drinks in around 1790 - 1800 when the decanters would appear to have been made and decorated.   I see many decanters of the type, but I have rarely seen those two names.  (Incidentally hallmarked wine labels are an excellent source of what was being drunk and when but English silver gin and whisk[e]y labels very rarely pre-date 1820.  Also the standard reference book on wine labels asserts that the two different spellings of whisky seems not to have differentiated Scotch from Irish Whiskey.  However, I am beginning to doubt that.)
I was talking to a colleague who told me that he has had Gin and Whiskey decanters in the past and which, significantly, were Irish and are now in the National Museum of Ireland.  This fact had me thinking... .
 
So what of the set of four 'Bristol Blue' decanters in their frame?  A reasonable interpretation of their origin could be that they were made in England for a well-to-do Irish customer.  The decanters are typical of good English examples at that time, but would an English gentleman want to advertise the fact that he was drinking Gin and Whiskey?  The Sheffield plated frame may also hold a clue as it was made by the most famous maker of Sheffield plate - Matthew Boulton.  He was massive 'name' in the later 18th century - a pioneer of manufacturing with the world's first mass-production techniques.  His factory was at Soho, Birmingham and was world famous and  considered, at the time, to be a visitor attraction.    Birmingham is close to the glasshouses of the west midlands and it is known that there was collaboration between the glass and metal trades.  All this is food for thought.
 
Finally, the use of the term 'Bristol Blue', merely reflects that fact that the colourant used to make the glass that particular shade of blue was sourced from Bristol; it does not mean that 'Bristol Blue' was made there, but that is another story.
 
 
 
 
 
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Robin Butler
Butlers Antiques

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