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Dear Dr. Vinny,

While I agree that stemware can significantly enhance the wine consumption experience, I'm curious about decanter shapes. Are there specific shapes for different varietals, or are different shapes primarily due to aesthetics and presentation?

—Brandon R., Seattle

Dear Brandon,

The purpose of a decanter is to maximize the surface area of wine so that it has exposure to oxygen. Beyond that, it's all about aesthetics.

My advice is to look for a decanter with a wide base, which offers stability (also, a carafe-shaped decanter isn't going to let the wine breathe much more than it does in the bottle). Thin glass offers more clarity than thick glass, but it will also be more fragile. Consider the balance of the decanter and whether it might hurt your wrist to slowly pour wine from it when it's full. If you abhor greasy fingerprints, consider some of the models with handles. And as beautiful as some decanters are, if the only way to get the last few drops out is to completely invert the thing, well, that's not the best idea if you have a white tablecloth.

Lately, I've become enamored of those "duck-shaped" decanters. The incline makes it easy to pour the wine, down to the last drop. Oh, and if you have trouble cleaning stains out of your decanter, consider using some well-diluted bleach with lots of hot water to rinse.

—Dr. Vinny

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