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Wine Gadgets

Coravin Reviewed: A “Wine Access Technology”

”I'll bet you I can drink wine out of this bottle without removing the cork?” So begins a party trick. The bottle is then turned upside-down, wine poured into the punt and drunk from it as if from a glass. It’s an amusing trick, but Coravin “wine access technology” has stolen the punchline. Now you really can drink the contents of a wine bottle without pulling the cork.

Coravin inventor Greg Lambrecht faced a challenge when pregnancy forced his wife into a wine-drinking hiatus. Drinking a full bottle in one evening was no longer an option. How do you enjoy a glass or two of wine from a great bottle without the remaining quantity losing freshness in the follwing days?

There are various solutions to this problem: vacuum and seal, gas and seal, transfer to a smaller bottle, floating discs, etc. None worked to his satisfaction. Not one to settle for an easy but inferior fix, Lambrecht spent a decade inventing and fine-tuning something completely different. With his background in developing medical devices, he had the skillset to succeed.

The end product, Coravin, allows you to pour wine from a cork-sealed bottle without removing the cork. Coravin not only extracts the wine but fills the void with an inert gas. Argon is both perfectly safe and heavier than oxygen. It covers the remaining wine like a protective shield, preventing oxidation and preserving freshness.

Coravin wine access device
The Coravin in its stand. Photo: Fred Swan

I’m skeptical of wine gadgets by nature, especially those getting a lot of hype. I accepted an invitation to Coravin’s Napa Valley launch party in order to check the device out myself.

The device looks a little like one of those “Rabbit” corkpullers. Except Coravin clips onto the bottle and, instead of inserting a corkscrew, pushing down on the top of the device inserts a 17-gauge needle through the cork. The needle is made of surgical steel and coated with a Teflon-like substance for easy insertion.

Once the needle is in, you press a small button on the device to begin the flow of argon. Then, tip the bottle over to pour wine through the integrated spout. The process takes a little coordination but sounds more complicated than it is. Check out this demonstration I filmed.

 

Of course the fellow who performed the demo above works for Coravin. He has used the gizmo hundreds of time. It should look easy when he does it. What about someone trying it for the first time? I coaxed him into letting me wield the gadget myself.

It really is as simple as it looks. Pushing the needle into the cork takes very little pressure. You can easily do it with one finger. Pouring is a little awkward at first, but I didn't spill wine or break any glasses. I did forget to extract the needle before unclipping the Coravin, but even that didn't cause a problem.

So the Coravin is functional. What effect does it have on wine? Brand new wines I tasted at the soirée were perfectly fine coming out of the needle/spout contraption. I also tasted a 2008 Martinelli Chardonnay Zio Tony Vineyard first accessed via Coravin nearly four months prior. I'm not intimately familiar with that particular wine but the argon seemed to have done its job. I didn't note any signs of oxidation or other indications of development one wouldn't expect from a four-year old Russian River Valley Chardonnay.

Peter Granoff, a master sommelier and co-founder of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, has been testing the Coravin for about two years. He told me he's left Coravin-accessed bottles sitting half-filled for as long as a year and not noticed any degradation. "The only time it won't work," he told me, "is if the bottle has a dry, crumbling cork that doesn't reseal around the needle hole." He's only experienced that once.

Coravin has a razor-razorblade business model. The argon gas capsules only hold enough to fully displace about 75 ounces of wine, roughly 15 standard glasses. Replacement capsules cost $9.95 each, assuming you buy them in a 3-pack.

coravin capsules
Coravin argon capsules. Photo: Coravin

That said, if you're storing the bottles upright you don't really need to displace the entire volume of wine you pour. You just need to use enough gas to allow the wine to flow from the bottle. You can probably get 25 or so glasses out of a capsule once you've had a little practice.

If you're going to pony up $300 for wine-pouring thingy, you want it to last. I talked to Mike Rider, vice-president of engineering and operations at Coravin, about maintenance. Here's what I learned:

  • The needles have been tested beyond 1,000 insertions. I think that's enough to keep most people happy for at least three years, probably more.
  • Replacement needles are inexpensive and easy to install.
  • You should rinse the Coravin with warm water after each day of use. Just direct water into the pouring spout.
  • If you've used the Coravin with sweet wine, or have forgotten to clean it for quite a while, you can remove the residue with a little white vinegar.

Among the attendees at Coravin's Napa Valley event was Karen MacNeil, a respected wine educator and author of The Wine Bible. I asked her what she thought of the product. "I just think it's terrific. I love the idea of turning the problem around too," she added. "Instead of finding a way to replace the cork, you just don't remove it. That's the kind of thinking we need to apply to all kinds of problems." Well said.

Here are potential benefits I see for consumers in using a Coravin:

  • You can taste whichever of your wines you like without feeling the need to kill the bottle or the worry of oxidation.
  • Consumers may actually drink a little less because they don't have to worry about "wasting" a partial bottle and because pouring with Coravin takes more conscious thought than doing so from an open bottle.
  • Collectors can check the development status of wine in their cellar without having to consume a full bottle. This should lead to fewer wines ruined by excess aging.
  • Pairing different wines with the various courses of a home meal is more practical for couples and singles.
  • If you have friends whose tastes in wine you don't know, you can let them try a few different things and then open the bottle they like.

I also see benefits for the trade in using Coravin:

  • Restaurants and wine bars can significantly increase by-the-glass selections. That can lift both glass and bottle purchases.
  • Consumers may be more likely to buy expensive bottles at restaurants if there's a try-before-you-buy program. 
  • Restaurants sitting on expensive bottles that don't sell can clear them out with by-the-glass sales over the course of a few weeks.
  • Restaurants can use higher quality wines for their food and wine pairing menus.
  • By-the-glass freshness may improve as wines are less likely to lose oxidize after the first couple of glasses.
  • Coravin is much cheaper than expensive auto-pour-and-gas cabinets.
  • Restaurants can offer "half-bottle" options even if they only have 750ml bottles.
  • Winery and distributor sales people can have fewer wasted bottles after pouring samples for buyers.
  • As a wine reviewer, I can try wine samples and then pass the bottles along to other writers rather than dumping the stuff. That's less wasteful and may allow us all to try and review more wines.

As good as Coravin seems to be, there are a few things you should be aware of:

  • If you put too much gas into a bottle, the wine can get a little frothy. That should settle out over time though.
  • Coravin does not work with pressurized bottles (ex. Champagne, Prosecco, sparkling Moscato). Don't even try it. The pressurization could make it a dangerous experiment and the wine won't flow properly anyway. Don't try this at home.
  • The TSA doesn't allow pressurized gas canisters on airplanes. Don't take your argon capsules with you when you fly.
  • Coravin does not work with screwcap wines or bottles with glass stoppers.
  • The more dense the "cork," the more difficult it is to push in the needle. Coravin will work with rubber and plastic corks but isn't ideal and will wear the needle out more quickly.
  • You don't need to remove the foil capsule on bottles before using Coravin. However, I recommend removing capsules from bottles produced in the early 1990's or before as those may contain lead.
  • If you store your wine on its side, you'll need to use more argon than if you leave the bottle upright. However, leaving the bottle upright for a long time risks the cork getting dry which would increase risks of oxidation.
  • I have not heard from anyone who has tried a Coravin-accessed bottle after more than a year, so we don't know the long term effect on aging.
  • In order to pour wine through Coravin you need to turn the bottle nearly upside-down. If the wine has sediment or tartrate crystals, they may wind up in the glass or clog the needle.

I also see two downsides of Coravin that are actually due to its effectiveness. It's now a lot easier for kids to raid their parents wine collection undetected. Selling counterfeit wine by filling expensive bottles with cheap stuff just got a lot easier to do and harder to spot. This could turn out to be a serious problem for collectors.

Conclusion

The Coravin work as advertised. It allows you to pour wine from a bottle without removing the cork. It keeps the remaining wine fresh by injecting argon gas. If stored properly, wines accessed with Coravin will remain good for an extended period of time.

Using Coravin is easy. Anybody with decent manual dexterity can do it. (You may want to lock bottles away from your underage kids, or lock up the Coravin, lest your collection dwindle without you realizing it.)

Coravin is expensive. But, if it lets a serious wine consumer get better use out of their cellar or reduces their visits to wine bars, amortizing the cost won't be be hard.

The Coravin 1000 kit that includes the device, a stand and two capsules costs $299. Additional capsules are $25 for three. Assuming you and a friend combine to drink three glasses of wine a day, that's about 219 Coravin uses in a year. (Once you've poured three glasses from a bottle using Coravin, you'd drink the rest by pulling the cork.) You'll need at least seven supplemental argon capsules. Your total cost per Coravin glass in the first year would be $1.68 (not including tax and shipping). For subsequent years, your only cost would be the gas.

I may well buy one myself.

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Protect Your Wine Bottles In-Transit

It’s always the same story. You buy a couple of bottles of wine while on a business trip. While packing your suitcase for the flight home, you lovingly wrap each bottle in lingerie or your best shirts to avoid breakage. The bottles are then carefully nestled between slacks and shoes and socks and more slacks. Suitcase zipped, circuitous taxi-ride to the airport endured, you check in for your flight with Air Despair. The attendant gloms a destination tag onto the handle of your suitcase and then lovingly heaves it toward the conveyor belt. Your eyes go wide as the bag flies in slow motion to an unbelievably high apex, hangs in the air for a moment and then plummets at full speed into the gray plastic bin which trundles on, unconcerned.

In the back, baggage handlers are practicing for the annual forklift races. They carefully position your bag to mark the outside of turn 3 — a nasty hairpin after the longest straightaway. Driver after driver viciously punts your bag across the room while failing to negotiate the turn. Unaware of all this, you sip on bad airplane water as your bedraggled luggage is finally loaded onto the plane. You daydream about drinking that wine.

After a long relaxing flight filled with bumps in the night, crying children and some drunken business guy who makes Tarzan calls until he’s Tazered by a sky marshall, you skip merrily to the baggage claim. Good fortune! Your bag is first off the conveyor which rises from the abyss! But your smile fades and your face blanches when you see the bag looks as if it had been dragged along the ground for the entire flight, tethered to the plane by an impossibly long cable.

Back at the house, you are agitated and distracted. You kiss the dog, pat your spouse on the head and put your suitcase on the bed. You open it slowly, carefully. Inside, everything you had packed is now the same cheerful color of red. You recoil in horror then carefully start feeling around in the bag to see if anything survived unscathed. But not carefully enough! A shard of wine bottle glass slices your hand, an injury that requires thirty-seven stitches and ends your career as a concert brain surgeon.

But none of this had to happen. You could have used VinniBag. To quote the manufacturer, “VinniBag is a reusable travel bag with inflatable air chambers that protect and insulate wine bottles, other liquids, and fragile items. It’s designed to provide superior protection against impact and leakage, is easy to use, and stores flat, rolled or folded when not in use.”

But when would you not use it? They say it can also function “as a bath pillow, headrest, or great lumbar support while you’re stuck at your desk.” It’s Made in the USA and is recyclable. It’s VinniBag!

By the way, this might be just the thing to go with those stainless steel wine glasses. The perfect gift ensemble for your favorite wine and hiking geek!

I’ve seen them in stores, and now online, but haven’t tried one yet. If nothing else, it should be fun to test. They sell for $28 or $25 each if you buy more than one. If you’ve used one, leave a comment letting everyone know how you like it.

wine

china

For the record, I don't know anyone at the company and am not compensated in any way if you buy a VinniBag.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. Banner photo of Fokker by TMWolf.

Stainless Steel Wine Glasses for Gourmet Backpackers or the Totally Clumsy

Nothing says “back to nature” like sitting down next to a cool mountain stream under a cloudless blue sky and slaking your thirst with the clean, refreshing taste of Sauvignon Blanc. Yet, drinking it out of cupped hands or, even worse, a folding plastic cup ruins the whole experience. And there’s nothing worse than having a giant grizzly bear cry with laughter at the sight of you sipping Burgundy straight from the bottle. Believe me, I know!

Now, we can avoid all these disasters. GSI Outdoors is offering stainless steel wine glasses. Two models are available. For those of you who said “Oh!” to the Riedel “O,” there is a stemless model ($9.95). If you prefer the traditional look and feel of stemmed... stemware, GSI has one of those too ($12.95). The stem and base are even detachable to save space in your backpack for more wine.

These products are part of the “Gourmet Backpacker” line at GSI Outdoors which also includes ultra-light Halulite cutlery and a polypropylene French Press for your morning Joe. The only problem now is finding a good wine pairing for campfire smores.

stainless_glass

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. Stainless steel wineglass photo from GSI Outdoors.

How Lindsay Lohan’s Alcohol-Sensing Bracelet Works

Lindsay Lohan’s new bracelet was big news last week. Despite her foray into the fashion industry, the bracelet has nothing to do with haute couture. It is all about preventing more of her DUI rampages. (Her last DUI arrest was in 2007, but she has repeatedly violated the terms of her parole, hence the bracelet.)

The SCRAM bracelet, made by AMS, will analyze her perspiration as it evaporates between the bracelet and the skin on her wrist or ankle. The device works with levels of perspiration so low that it would be imperceptible to long-lensed paparazzo and even LiLo herself. Readings are taken every half hour.

Once per day, the bracelet communicates wirelessly with a base station that is connected to a phone line in her home. The base station then sends data to a central server. The people responsible for monitoring her can do so from any web browser. The data appear in a graph like the one below where the mountain shape in the black line shows that someone has been naughty.

noncompliance

If Lindsay Lohan needs to leave town to make a paid appearance at some dance club or to play Linda Lovelace in a movie, she will take the base station with her and plug it in at her hotel. Lohan claimed a stolen passport prevented her from returning from Cannes Film Festival in time for her recent court date. I wonder if she'll try "the maid stole my base station" as an excuse in the future.

x2_171daed

Lohan is determined when it comes to partying. There are unconfirmed reports that, when she was ordered to wear a SCRAM bracelet in 2007, she tried to interfere with the signal using a paperclip and confuse it by wearing a lot of perfume, which is high in alcohol, and tea tree oil which is... good for your hair. She might be able to confuse the device by doing all her drinking and metabolizing while standing in a swimming pool, but she can't drive while in a pool so the goal of the device would still be achieved.

The SCRAM devices are said to be tamper proof. The IR Voltage line (in blue above and below) indicates that a device has been removed or that a foreign object was placed between the device and the skin. In the chart below, you can see high plateaus indicating the device was interefered with. AMS says that these devices have been used on 135,000 people and have never been effectively fooled or disabled. Tampering with or removing the device is a parole violation and would land the wearer in jail.

tamper

Monitors such as these are very effective at determining if there has been an episode of alcohol consumption. However, there is a delay between the time of alcohol consumption and the time when it has been sufficiently metabolized to be measurable by the device. Therefore, these devices can't be used in real-time to prevent drinking and DUIs. There will be no dramatic interventions. Even if there wasn't a sensing lag, the device only communicates with the base station once a day in most cases. The deterrent is the wearer's knowledge that any alcohol consumption will be noticed within a day and that such an episode will result in a parole violation and certain jail time.

Typically, the court sentences only call for a person to wear the device for three or four months. One aspect of the device may discourage alcohol abuse even after the courts have allowed it to be removed though. The things are big, ugly and embarrassing. While they may not be visible on a pants-wearing dude, they are a fashion faux pas for ladies who wear skirts or, as is often the case with Lindsay Lohan, even less.

293.lohan.lindsay6.072407

There's a $1,500 penalty for damaging or defacing the devices. That's chump change compared to the fees Lohan gets for party appearances though and she's looking for ways to dress bracelet up a bit. It's too bad for her that leg warmers aren't in anymore.

lohan-tweet

Though Lindsay Lohan and the gossips columns that make sport of her tend to focus on everything except the harm that drunk driving can do, it is a very serious issue. According to the NHTSA, 11,773 deaths resulted in 2008 from U.S. traffic accidents in which one of the drivers involved was over the legal blood alcohol limit of 0.08. That accounted for more than 30% of all the U.S. traffic fatalities that year.

Fortunately, drunk driving fatalities have been in decline. According to MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) that was actually a decline of nearly 10% from the previous year and about two-thirds lower than in 1980. This is due to a combination of awareness campaigns, more strict enforcement, safer vehicles and better medical care. However, it's also estimated that as many as 75% of those people whose driver's licenses are suspended due to DUI continue to drive. That is the reason products such as the SCRAM bracelets are being used.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check outour comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Photo of Lindsay Lohan by Clark Samuels/Startracksphoto.com. The movie poster as published by the photographer, Tyler Shields, on his blog. No attribution to the poster artist is evident. The photo on Lindsay Lohan's Twiiter page are also by Tyler Shields. The SCRAM graphs are the property of AMS. All rights reserved.


Wine Gadget Review: Menu Wine Thermometer

The temperature at which wine is served makes a big difference in how it tastes. If wine is too cold, the fruit flavors and aromas are decreased. When a wine is too warm, the perceived acidity is minimized while perceived alcohol and sweetness are increased. Though finding the ideal temperature for a specific bottle is impractical, there are general guidelines to follow based on the type of wine being served.

Once you know at which temperature you want to serve a wine, you have to be able to determine what temperature the wine actually is. Knowing the ambient temperature of the place in which the wine has been stored is a good start. But, if you don’t want to serve the wine at that temperature, you’re going to need some sort of thermometer to track the wine’s temperature as you cool it or allow it to come up to temperature. That sounds like a job for a wine gadget! Some months ago, I saw the Menu Wine Thermometer in the shop at New York’s MOMA. It seemed like it might be handy, and it looked cool, so I bought it. The price was $36.

The Menu Wine Thermometer was designed by Jakob Wagner of Denmark and manufactured in China. It looks a bit like a wristwatch. It has a circular black plastic face surrounded by a bezel of brushed silver metal. The face is attached to a semi-circular and semi-rigid black plastic band with a nice “soft-touch” matte finish. Integrated into the band directly behind the dial are a temperature sensor and a pressure sensor.

When you slip the band around a wine bottle, it grips the bottle well. The back of the sensor/dial mechanism is curved so that it fits snugly against the curved bottle. Once the Menu Wine Thermometer is on a bottle, the pressure sensor is activated. Then, the device begins checking the temperature of the bottle. That temperature is displayed on the face in large, easy-to-read, gray on black LCD numbers.

Menu-Box

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