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Coravin Reviewed: A “Wine Access Technology”

Wine Gadgets
Written by Fred Swan
Saturday, 24 August 2013 06:19

”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:

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:

I also see benefits for the trade in using Coravin:

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

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.

 

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