The Grapevine

Gadget can tap a wine bottle without pulling the cork

Special to The TribuneSeptember 13, 2013 

The world is awash in wine gadgets, and the gizmo of the moment is called the Coravin. It purports to allow you to “access” your wine without pulling the cork, which safeguards the remaining wine from oxidation.

“Now wine lovers can enjoy and share the same wine during multiple occasions, over weeks, months or even longer without wasting a drop,” Coravin press material says.

I approached such claims with skepticism. Most of the gadgets I’ve tested over the years either don’t work or are pricey and silly. But based on interviews and my own modest experiments, the Coravin appears to be a winner.

Even if you’re not willing to pay nearly $300 for a Coravin, you can benefit from the technology. The restaurants and wine bars that use it are looking at how they can offer rarer wines by the glass. Winery tasting rooms that are open only by appointment may be willing to open a wider range of wines with the knowledge that the bottles won’t go bad before they’re empty.

Here’s how the Coravin works. You clamp the device on the neck of the bottle and depress a plunger, which inserts a thin, hollow needle through the foil and the cork. Push a button, and the bottle is pressurized with argon, an inert gas that won’t cause oxidation in the wine. Tilt the bottle, release the button, and wine pours out. The needle leaves only a very tiny hole, and when it’s removed, the cork reseals itself. You can’t use it on most synthetic corks, because they don’t have enough elasticity, nor can you use it on wines sealed with screw caps.

There are other wine preservation systems using inert gases, but all require you to remove the cork.

“I call it transformational technology,” says Al Jabarin, owner of 1313 Main, a wine bar and lounge in Napa. He is using the Coravin to pour some rare wines by the glass at his business, like 1975 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. “We could not open all these fantastic wines at one time,” he says, if he had to risk pouring out a wine before it was all sold.

When Josh Makower, co-founder of the company that developed Coravin, demonstrated the device for me, I brought along two wines of my own to be accessed: a current release pinot noir and a 1986 cabernet-based wine from my cellar. We poured a glass of each, and I made my notes. A month later, I opened the bottles and retasted the wine. My notes reflect that the wine tasted virtually the same. I don’t claim that this was anything more than a casual experiment, but the results were encouraging.

Master sommelier Peter Granoff was so impressed by the device that he became an investor in the company. “At home, we have about a dozen different wines in different stages of consumption,” he says. He cautions that the technology is “only as good as the quality of the cork that’s in the bottle.”

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