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.