Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Report of the lecture given by
on October 27th 2010
Mc Connell started his unconventional presentation by finding out on a show of
hands, that only a tiny proportion of the hall-filling audience decant their
wine before serving it. He told us that the reason why we should decant wines
before serving them were firstly aesthetic - a decanter on the table is more
attractive than a bottle - and secondly, that decanting the wine and only then
serving it substantially enhanced the wine's flavour.
Apparently, vessels for serving wine were known about 5,000 years BC,
but he restricted his talk largely to glass decanters. He said that glass
decanters were known at the time of Christ. He started by showing us a slide of
a decanter 1,500 years old, but said that the expertise for glass blowing
decanters started much earlier with the Middle Eastern Arabs. Their practices in
this regard were absorbed by the Romans, and it is to them that we owe the
spread of the practice to Western Europe.
Moving to more modern times, he showed us a slide of a so-called
Delftware decanters, which he described as being like white-washed flower pots.
He took us through later Stuart period productions, explaining as he went along
that the British made decanters of the time were inferior to those made on the
Continent. It seems though that our production improved by the adoption of
practices brought here by the Huguenots as they fled here from France.
Improvement was also assisted by a Royal decree forbidding the destruction of
forests for wood burning for glass smelting. Coal took its place, resulting in
stronger glass being produced due to higher temperatures produced by coal
burning. Glass production was also improved considerably by discoveries enabling
smelters to incorporate rock crystal and lead in to their glass.
the early 18th Century decanters with fattened bottoms were usual.
Such bottoms made the decanters more stable. In about the middle of the century
though, glass wine storage was revolutionized by the production of round bottles
with stoppers, thus facilitating the practice of laying down wine bottles for
storage, an event Hugh Johnson, the renowned writer on wine, described
apparently as the event that democratized wine. The problem of wine degradation
through ultra violet light penetrating bottles was overcome by the introduction
into the glass of sulphur from the coal fuel for smelting which turned the glass
green, as it persists today.
It was not until the middle of the 18th Century that wine
decanters on the dining table came to be accepted. Prior to that, the wine
containers were on the sideboards. That in turn led to larger wine glasses and
ever more decorative decanters. Industrial developments in the 19th
Century led to cheaper production methods and more advanced decorative
techniques such as acid etching, while the 20th century saw
strangely shaped decanters being made to satisfy fashion.
Audience questions elicited advice that a decanter stained white with
calcium from the use of hard water should be professionally cleaned, but that 3
tablets of a denture cleaner in hot water should remove wine deposit. Decanters
with wide bottoms are to be preferred, and white wine decanters should be cooled
in the refrigerator before the wine is served. The presentation ended with a
strangled cry from Andy as he responded to a question by saying that one should
never try to remove air from a decanter where the wine has not been fully
consumed. Such wine will keep well for 3 days.
The presentation was marked by excellent slides and some unusual
McConnell is one of Britain's leading authorities on glassware of all types, and
his books have covered the subject from 1650 to the present. He is the first
glass specialist recruited to BBC TV's Antiques Roadshow, for which he has
recorded three series. He lectures widely on glass and has written for journals
as diverse as The Times, Country Life, BBC Homes & Antiques and Glass Circle