See both sides of the debate about whether the new wine preservation device Coravin will revolutionise the way we drink wine, taken from our 'burning question' feature in the Decanter October 2013 issue...
A gadget that sells for just under US$300 is promising to answer that most vexed of wine-related questions: when to open that special bottle that’s been in your cellar for years? Now, if we’re to believe the makers of the Coravin Wine Access System, you can enjoy that bottle, glass by glass, over a period of months – even years – without any deterioration in quality.
Coravin inventor Greg Lambrecht, an engineer and medical device developer, was inspired to come up with the gizmo when his wife was pregnant, and he wanted to go on enjoying his favourite wines without finishing off the bottle. He took 13 years to refine his idea, testing various gases and pressures on samples drawn at different times from the same bottles.
Coravin works by inserting a hollow needle through the bottle’s capsule and cork (so it doesn’t work on screwcaps) then drawing off the desired amount of wine into a glass. As the wine is removed, the bottle is pressurised with the inert gas argon, protecting the remaining liquid from oxidation and naturally. ‘I want to eradicate the phrase “too good to drink” from the English language,’ said Lambrecht, who claims he typically has several bottles ‘open’ for years at a time. ‘I drank a bottle of 1961 Château La Mission Haut-Brion with about 14 people over the course of four years.’
The $299 (£192) Coravin device has already won over US wine critic Robert Parker as well as New York restaurateur Joe Bastianich, a Coravin investor, while former Christie’s Hong Kong wine chief Charles Curtis MW is a Coravin advisory board
If you’re trying to convince the American wine-drinking public of the merits of your new invention, it helps to have Robert Parker onside.
The US critic’s testimonial is unequivocal, describing Coravin as ‘a killer device’ that is going to ‘revolutionise drinking wine’.
Early adopters in the US restaurant trade are also enthusiastic. Gianpaolo Paterlini, wine director at San Francisco restaurant Acquerello, was given one of the gadgets a couple of years ago as a ‘tester’, but said he ‘would absolutely buy one’ anyway.
‘Diners are interested and amazed by the technology,’ he told Decanter. ‘In more than six months of using it in the restaurant, not one diner has had a negative reaction…. It has had a huge positive impact.’
According to Dustin Wilson MS, wine director at New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park, other wine preservation systems ‘don’t hold a candle’ to Coravin. He said: ‘The potential that I saw in Coravin was to allow us the opportunity to pour amazing wines – wines that we could never normally pour by the glass – without any worry or concern about spoilage if the entire bottle was not sold in a timely fashion.’
Coravin has been met with a more critical reception on this side of the Atlantic, although few people in the UK have used one of the gadgets so far.
At wine merchant The Sampler, which uses Enomatic sampling machines, co-founder Jamie Hutchinson reckons Coravin wouldn’t interest retailers. ‘I can see it being possibly of interest to a small number of collectors, but it’s harder to see a mass appeal,’ he said. ‘Personally, when I want to have a glass of wine, I open a bottle and if we don’t finish it that night, I stick it in the fridge and finish it off the next day.’
Fellow London retailer Vagabond also uses Enomatics, and managing director Stephen Finch reckons the Coravin technology is ‘broadly speaking, very similar’.
But, he says, avoiding oxidation isn’t the only issue – as bottle levels fall, the diffusion of dissolved gases in the wine can result in it ‘deadening’. For this reason, Vagabond removes bottles once their levels fall below a certain point.
Finch describes Coravin as ‘fascinating and commendable’, but has his own doubts about the preservation capabilities.
And Hutchinson sums up: ‘Are there that many people who only want one glass? Do they not have any friends?’
Written by Decanter