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.
Those are lofty assertions, and I approached them with skepticism. Most of the gadgets I've tested over the years either flat-out don't work, or they are expensive 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, because restaurants and wine bars that are using it are looking at how they can offer more -- and rarer -- wines by the glass. Winery tasting rooms that are open only by appointment and don't see much traffic may be willing to open a wider range of wines with the knowledge that the bottles won't go bad before they're empty.
"My brain explodes with all the possibilities," says Jeff Bareilles, wine and beverage director at Manresa in Los Gatos, who has been experimenting with the Coravin for only a couple of weeks.
Here's how the Coravin works. You clamp the device on the neck of the bottle, then 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.
Other wine preservation systems use inert gases, but all require you to remove the cork, which means the wine is exposed to some air, no matter how careful you are.
"I call it transformational technology," says Al Jabarin, owner of 1313 Main, a wine bar and lounge in Napa. He has 15 Coravins and is using them to pour some rare wines by the glass, such as a 1975 Chateau Mouton Rothschild and 1982 Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow Cabernet Sauvignon. "We could not open all these fantastic wines at one time," he says, if the wine bar had to risk the entire bottle just to pour a glass or two.
When Josh Makower, co-founder of the company that developed Coravin, demonstrated the device for me, he poured a sample from a bottle that had been accessed about three months earlier. It tasted fine, but I had no way of knowing whether it had changed. I brought along two wines of my own: 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.
A more definitive test would have been to compare the bottle that had been accessed with the Coravin to an unopened bottle, but a wine like my 1986 cabernet blend might have displayed variation among bottles anyway. I don't argue that this was anything more than a casual experiment, but the results certainly were encouraging.
Master sommelier Peter Granoff, co-proprietor of Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in San Francisco and Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant in Napa, 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."
If a cork has lost its natural elasticity, as can happen with older corks, it won't seal up after being penetrated by the needle, but Makower says he's used the Coravin on wines that are 40 to 50 years old.
For information, go to www.coravin.com.
Contact Laurie Daniel at email@example.com.