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How to Drink a Wine Without Removing the Cork

The Coravin, invented by a medical device specialist, makes it easy to drink just one glass

Esther Mobley
Posted: August 1, 2013

Anyone who’s kept a bottle of wine open for a couple of days understands the problem of oxidation. Oxygen can turn a wine brown and bitter, strip it of its vibrancy and aromatics, and eventually turn it to vinegar. Now a medical device inventor has offered a potential solution to the problem: the Coravin System, a new device that promises to enable wine drinkers to pour wine from a bottle without removing its cork.

According to inventor Greg Lambrecht, the Coravin was inspired by his wife’s pregnancy, which left him drinking wine alone. At the time, he was developing a device for regularly accessing the human bloodstream through a needle inserted into the skin. “It was for people who have kidney failure,” said Lambrecht. His father had suffered from the condition. “I wanted to develop a foolproof access system that sat beneath the skin and didn’t get infected—both ways. Blood out and blood back in.”

“Then my wife stopped drinking,” he said. How could he enjoy a glass of wine without committing to an entire bottle? “I had all these needles in my hand and I thought: Cork’s a septum. I can get through that [and] push the wine out.” More than a decade later, Lambrecht launched the 15th generation of his solution on July 29.

Here’s how the Coravin works: You clamp the device around the neck of the bottle, then push a thin, hollow needle through the cork. You tilt the bottle and press a small pump that pressurizes the bottle with argon, which causes wine to flow through the needle, into a glass. Lambrecht describes it as accessing the bottle, rather than opening. According to Lambrecht, the cork reseals once the needle has been removed, and the argon replaces the wine that has been poured out, preventing oxygen from coming into contact with the wine.

An inert gas, argon is heavier than air, so it won't react with the wine and it will prevent oxygen from flowing in. Winemakers often use argon to prevent oxidation during the bottling process. Other wine preservation systems, such as Wine Saver Pro and Enomatic, employ the gas as well; these two systems, however, require the extraction of the cork, which increases the chance of eventual, albeit delayed, oxidation.

At $299, Coravin is pricier than a corkscrew, but it could make consumers more willing to open a bottle and could make by-the-glass programs more attractive to restaurants. Working as test sites, three restaurants in New York City and two in San Francisco have begun offering reserve wines by the glass thanks to the Coravin. At New York's Eleven Madison Park, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner, guests can order a glass of Domaine Fourrier Les Petits Vougeots 2000, a premier cru Burgundy, for $80 (the full bottle is listed at $295). “If you’re only going to sell a glass once every couple of days, the wine’s going to go bad and you lose product,” said Dustin Wilson, the restaurant’s wine director. “This allows us to pour higher-end things with confidence.”

At the Jug Shop in San Francisco, European wine buyer Floribeth Kennedy uses the Coravin to introduce clients to regions or styles of wine before inviting them to purchase large amounts. For example, with Barolo, “we taste 10 Baroli, so the client learns to distinguish the elegance of La Morra [from] the power of Serralunga,” she said. By enabling clients to learn and find their preferences, Kennedy said, she's found they're more comfortable buying a case rather than one bottle to try at home first.

Lambrecht believes the greatest potential of the Coravin is for consumers who drink at home. A collector could pour just a few ounces of an aging wine to see whether or not it’s ready to drink this year, without emptying the entirety of a rare and valuable bottle. A couple could each drink different wines with dinner. Kennedy recalls a recent Tuesday night when she dined alone, pairing her steak for one with a vertical of Monfortino Barolo, of which she poured herself 2 ounces from each vintage. “You don’t have to feel guilty for opening that great bottle of wine,” she said.

Reviews from those who have tried Coravin have been positive thus far (look for a complete Wine Spectator review in an upcoming issue), but those who have tested the device point out a few relatively minor glitches. Wilson has noticed clogging of the needle, possibly due to crumbling cork. Kennedy finds that the more wine she accesses from a bottle, the faster the remaining wine will evolve. Only time—and consumers—can tell whether the Coravin will prove as effective and revolutionary as its inventor hopes it will be.

Michael Twelftree
Malvern, South Australia —  August 1, 2013 4:39pm ET
Great to see such an interesting contraception entering the wine market, what scares me is that they have just made Rudy’s job even easier, what will this mean for counterfeit wines in the future.....loads of bottles with perfect fills, great labels, great condition, but vin ordinare in the bottle!
My biggest concern is how do you know when the canister is out of argon and the reverse happens, you start filling your bottles with oxygen. It looks like a lot of work for a glass of wine and one of my great pleasures is watching a wine evolve over a few hours once opened and sharing the experience with friends

MT
Robert E Healy Jr
Paoli, PA, USA —  August 1, 2013 5:24pm ET
I have the same issue as the inventor - wife does not drink wine. I have a bunch of half empty bottles that are just not so tasty, in some cases despite using nitrogen gas dispenser. The key is not having to take out the cork. Fragile wines will not take much time to oxidize and even a little O will do that.
I bought one of these to try. Pricey but worth it to me if I can save a few prized wines for selfish indulgence.
This sounds like the real deal. I am grateful for the solution to an age old problem.
Scott T Koppel
florida —  August 1, 2013 8:45pm ET
Michael,
I have read actually, that the Coravin is designed to only allow for one way flow of wine-out. So the Rudy's of this world will still need to be creative in their endeavors.
Michael Haley
Eugene, OR —  August 3, 2013 2:22pm ET
For us wine-loving chemistry geeks, what is being described is cannulation, where you pressurize a flask with an inert gas and "push" out/over the liquid contents into another flask or container - in this case a wine glass.

I am not surprised the needle sometimes clogs, as this is a problem in the chemistry lab too. Still, if there is sediment in the bottom of a bottle, it will need to be avoided. A larger gauge needle might help, but then the larger hole in the cork will not self-seal as well and might allow in O2.

Just curious - Ar is expensive compared to N2. How long does an Ar cartridge last (i.e., how many bottles)? How much is it to replace? I guess if you plunk down $299 for the device, you should should be ready to shell out plenty more for the replacement cartridges....
Joseph Byrne
CA —  August 3, 2013 3:12pm ET
Michael,

No better way to tell if a wine is "vin ordinare" than with a Coravin. Also the wine your pour from the Coravin in the glass can still evolve and be enjoyed by your friends. Pulling a cork for a whole bottle is as much work as a Coravin is for a glass.

Only down side seems maybe Wineries sell less wine?

Joe
Jeff Smith
Seattle, WA —  August 4, 2013 9:55pm ET
Hopefully the test that WS does follows this device long term (over the years). Both from a durability of the device and the impact on the wine over time (over a year) that has been "accessed".

Will also be interesting to see how the patent plays out. Can we see similar devices that will help add competition and drive the price down for the device as well as the cartridges ($1/pour).

Has a lot of potential.

Jeff
Lucie Sweda
Napa, Ca USA —  August 5, 2013 11:01am ET
The Coravin is being used at 1313 Main Wine Bar & Lounge in Napa, California. Their "Flight of your Life" includes 1978 Petrus, 2010 DRC Eschezeaux and 2000 Harlan. And there are another 20 legendary brands. All that because of the Coravin...Impressive
Lucy L Hey
ballwin, mo —  August 5, 2013 9:09pm ET
Fascinating solution. Here's a more pedestrian approach. I keep empty half bottles around. When it's unlikely that we'll finish a bottle, I fill the half bottle as soon as I open the full bottle and cork it tightly. I use one of the vacu-seal type closures too but I think the full half bottle retains the original character better.
Richard Hewitt
Malvern PA —  August 6, 2013 1:32pm ET
Very interesting alternative domestic device to displace/dispense still wine by pressurized inert gas . - For commercial by the glass requirements we find people looking for the very best wine experience like to have their optimally fresh wine hand poured with craft from the bottle . Difficult to do if the bottle is shackled to a device or dispense system. Our focus is commercial / professional grade wine & Champagne preservation solutions, but we are seeing more and more home enthusiasts investing in commercial grade solutions for the home. The initial investment may be higher, but the lower cost per pour, and higher preservation performance greatly enhance their home wine-by-the-glass experience for less outlay in the longrun. Also systems like the commercial grade Le Verre de Vin-Dual - Still & Champage preservation system also preserve Champagne and sparkling wines, elevating the home by the glass experience to a new level.....If you come from the school "That life is too short to drink bad wine" you will probably agree that "That life is too short to drink good wine badly served". Cheers RH
Ned Osborn
Phillydelpia —  August 8, 2013 1:31am ET
Good point Michael. So I checked the website and aside from mentioning that the canister is good for about 15 5-ounce drinks, there's no mention how to determine reliability. So, doing the best I can:

Canister:
15 x 5 ounces per canister = 75 ounces per canister
1 ounce per 29.57353 milliliters
1 canister = 75 ounces x 29.57 ml = 1918 ml/canister

Bottle:
750 ml per bottle

Canister/Bottle = 1918/750 = 1 Canister = 2.56 Bottles

Never more than 2 1/2 bottles per canister. To be really safe no more than 2 bottles.

How do you track your usage? Carefully I guess. I still looked neat though, so I ordered one.

In the worst case, for a business the loss would be minimal and the profit great. For a rich person, I'd open the whole bottle anyway. For the average Joe, too bad so sad in the worst case. But on the upside, maybe it's an opportunity to finally taste a wine as it evolves. At least that's my intent anyway. Sucker or satisfied customer? I'll find out.
Lynn Chambers
Vancouver, BC, Canada —  April 29, 2014 3:42pm ET
I am just wondering if anyone has tried the Coravin in a bottle of Vintage Port? Would the sweetness or viscosity of the port clog the needle? Thanks for any feedback anyone may have.

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