Until the 17th century, wine was served straight from the bottle; then it gradually became customary to pour it into a special serving bottle or jug before carrying it to the table. In addition to being more decorous, the new procedure had a practical advantage: if the wine was poured slowly and gently into the serving jug, all of the sediment was left behind in the bottle. This process was known as 'canting' , and as early as 1710 the vessel that received the wine was being referred to in advertisements as a 'decanter'.
Originally it was fortified wine such as port, Madeira and sherry that was served in a decanter, a practice extended only much later to whisky and other spirits. Another popular drink was claret, which had a different meaning in the 18th century. Today it refers to dark red wines, but formerly it was a general term for the light red wines of Bordeaux, which Englishmen had been drinking with their meals since the Middle Ages (when this area was ruled by England).