In a hotel conference room in Dublin in February 2015, I witnessed a zeal wash over a gathering of the finest wine minds in Ireland in a way I’ve never seen before. And all for a new wine gadget called Coravin.
By now a lot of us will be familiar with Coravin, a ‘wine extraction system’ that uses a medical-grade needle to pierce a bottle’s cork and allow the wine to flow out. It replaces the liquid with argon, an inert gas, thus the remaining wine will not have touched oxygen, which is what spoils wine. Effectively, the wine can continue on as though unopened, meaning that you can ‘access’ (that’s the word Coravin uses) a wine a number of times over many years.
It sounds very sci-fi, and it is, but all bluff aside it is the most revolutionary technology to affect the wine world in at least 20 years (and that’s according to his wine highness Robert Parker).
That launch was over two and a half years ago – as anything changed since? Quite a lot, as it happens. Restaurants have taken to Coravin like a duck to water, and on the retail side buying a Coravin is more attractive than it’s ever been…
Traditionally, the wines by the glass offered in most restaurants were – well – pure muck to the honest: the problem is that once a bottle is opened, it will only last a day or two before losing most of its flavour.
This meant the potential for quite a lot of waste, which meant vital margins literally down the drain each night. As a result the cheapest – and therefore most boring or nasty – wines were offered by the glass, to cut their losses.
But with Coravin, not any more. Now any wine with a cork can be offered by the glass, given they don’t spoil: you could feasibly have the one ultra-expensive bottle of wine on the ‘by the glass’ list for the entire year – and indeed some restaurants do.
Wine-oriented outlets spotted this potential instantly: Chapter One was one of the earliest adopters, as well as Ely Wine Bars. Since then any restaurant or wine bar worth their salt now has a Coravin.
These are some of the venues that use the system around Ireland: Piglet Wine Bar, Forest & Marcy, Rosa Madre, Restaurant Forty One, Ashford Castle, The K Club, The Shelbourne, West Restaurant, Old Street in Malahide, Marcel’s, Le Bon Crubeen, The Woollen Mills, Montys of Kathmandu, Cleaver East, Pichet, Olesya’s Wine Bar and The Port House.
The lauded Amuse restaurant on Dawson Street is one such convert; their wine consultant Jean Baptiste Letinois is an ardent fan: “Coravin obviously gives us the opportunity to offer a wider range of wine by the glass in general, but it also to gives our customers the chance to enjoy a taste of wines which might be too expensive to buy by the bottle, such as the Château d’Yquem 2006 which is on our list here at Amuse [at €95 a glass].
“We normally have 5 white and 6 red wines of offer by the glass, which I rotate, but the flexibility that Coravin gives means that on any one night I can allow customers to ‘discover’ a wine on a whim if I wish.”
The benefits of Coravin are clear, but how do the customers react, and what would a wine pro say are its downsides? “It’s not perfect, of course: it can be slow to dispense and sometimes the gas runs out half way through a pour, which isn’t very aesthetically pleasing. But overall it’s an excellent addition to our wine offering, and the customers are really curious about it too: we always explain what it is we’re doing and they often engage and ask questions. It’s now just another part of our wine service.”
But Coravin isn’t just for the pros. If you’re someone who would sometimes buy wines costing, say, €15 and above, then you’re definitely in the demographic for one. If you haven’t been convinced yet, here are more reasons you should get a Coravin this Christmas…
It’s More Affordable
When I got the first version of Coravin it was an eye-watering €299, but this year, thankfully, the far more affordable Model One was launched for a much more reasonable €199. Since it uses the same medical-grade needles and argon gas capsules, the only difference is in the body materials, which are now completely plastic versus the more robust metal of Models Two and Eight.
That said I’ve used one and, to be fair, it’s very solid and does the job with exactly the same efficiency. So if you want bling, go for the new Model Two, a sexy number for €299 (and above, depending on extras). But for function over form, you can’t go wrong with the Model One.
It Can Pour Faster
One of the downsides to being a first mover with a Coravin was that it needed some amount of patience when it came to pouring the wine. It could take between 30 seconds and a whole minute to get your desired glass, which is not an insignificant amount of time when you’re gasping for a drop. Now there is a ‘faster pour needle’ however, which claims to pour more than 20% faster but which actually feels like half the time.
It Can Finally Aerate Wines
One criticism of Coravin when it launched was that there wasn’t the opportunity to decant wines in the same way as when a full bottle is opened – i.e. the wine can be chucked into a decanter to leave breathe for a time. But the guys at Coravin have come up with a very novel solution: a cool accessory that sprays the wine out of the Coravin. It sounds odd and it is, so perhaps watching this video would explain it better.
It’s Moved Beyond Corks
When Coravin inventor Greg Lambrecht wowed his Irish audience way back in 2015, there was still two elephants in the room: Coravin couldn’t work on screwcaps or sparkling wine corks.
Now though, those two issues are down to one: a few months ago Coravin released accessories to allow you to access screwcapped wines. The solution is a workaround: the screwcap has to be removed first, then replaced with a sealed cap which is a silicone membrane in a plastic ‘coat’. I must admit that the result is slightly inelegant, and not without compromise: the wines will only last 3 months max, having being exposed (briefly) to air, and the silicone membrane itself can only last up to 50 punctures from the needle. The pack contains 3 ‘standard sized’ screwcaps and 3 ‘larger sized’ screwcaps.
What isn’t explained is how you can identify that the system has been accessed 50 times, unless you keep a physical record. Also since the ‘standard sized’ system “fits 95% of screw cap bottles”, then why are half the devices in the box suitable for only 5% of the bottles?
Either way, if you have an ultra-premium wine from a New World country – such as the Katnook Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon like I do – then it’s a great way of making it last longer than the typical day or two.
Three Wines by Coravin to try at Amuse Restaurant
Bernard Bonin “Baby Meursault” Bourgogne Chardonnay
€19 per glass at Amuse
This is classified as a ‘regular’ Bourgogne Blanc, but Bernard Bonin’s “Baby Meursault” (which is Amuse’s own moniker for the wine) is, as the name suggests, a Meursault in everything but (legal) name.
Citric and mineral at first, with a slow slide into balanced, buttery, hazelnut richness, it’s an excellent food wine and an affordable way to get your fine Burgundy kick.
Bel-Sit “La Turna” Barbera D’Asti
€11 per glass at Amuse
Barbera D’Asti wines from Piedmont in Italy are usually fun and fruity affairs, normally designated to weeknight sipping or weekend quaffing.
But this expression by Bel-Sit is a superior version that still maintains the style’s signature freshness, albeit with a depth of flavour and complexity that puts it head and shoulders above the rest of the region.
Antiche Terre del Salento Aleatico
€12 per glass at Amuse
A sweet wine from Puglia, the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot’, this exudes a balance and elegance that you wouldn’t normally expect from a parched, hot region that historically has made chunky, punchy wines.
It’s not cloying nor overbearing, making it the perfect coda to a full-on meal: a souciance of sweetness.
When not writing for TheTaste.ie, Richie Magnier blogs at themotleycru.com and shares his thoughts via @RichieMagnier on Twitter. Don’t ask him what his favourite wine is though – that’s like asking what his favourite song is (although the latter would most likely involve U2).
Richie is also an avid food lover willing to give an opportunity to all cuisines: instead of getting carried away by trends or gimmicks, he cares about real food, that’s tasty and made with pride. Richie has been involved in the wine industry since 2008 and is currently studying the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines & Spirits.