“You saved my marriage”, a devoted Coravin user told Greg Lambrecht. “I don’t like the wines my wife likes but now we can drink whatever each of us wants”.
Coravin is neither a joke, nor witchcraft. Long available in the United States and now also in Europe and Spain, it can change the way many wine lovers and professionals approach a bottle of wine.
But how on earth can you pour wine without uncorking the bottle? This invention cannot be understood without his creator. American Greg Lambrecht is a serial entrepreneur, as well as a wine lover and an inventor with a long career in medical surgery. When his wife became pregnant and stopped drinking wine, he realized that he couldn’t possibly finish many of his favourite bottles, so he began to think how technology he had developed in certain minimally invasive needles could help him make the most of his cellar and maximize his experience as a wine consumer. Fifteen years later, he presented Coravin to the world.
Wine preservation is an issue that has already been solved thanks to the use of different types of gases that refill the bottle just after a certain quantity of wine is poured. This enomatic system, increasingly present in wine bars and retailers, allows both the first and last glass from any bottle to taste the same and taste equally fresh. The gas used by Coravin is argon; the novelty comes from the needle that passes through the cork and accesses the wine to pour the exact amount you may feel like drinking. The cap doesn’t need to be removed. Once the wine has been poured, the cork, which is elastic, reseals naturally and continues to protect the wine.
Coravin sources its argon from Austria, its needles are supplied by the US medical industry and steel parts are made in Hong Kong. Coravin headquarters in Europe are located in The Netherlands. The gadget can be bought online at the company’s online stores worldwide and at wine shops like Lavinia where Coravin was launched for the Spanish market yesterday.
One of the first and most enthusiastic Coravin user is the all-powerful American wine critic Robert Parker. Most unusually, he interviewed Lambrecht in a series of two videos (Part 1 and Part 2) that can be watched on Youtube.
Many US sales reps now visit their clients armed with a Coravin, significantly reducing the number of samples needed in their day-to-day activity. And about 1,000 restaurants are already using it in most cases as part of their wine by the glass service.
I really cannot imagine how Spanish consumers would react to a sommelier approaching their table bottle in one hand, Coravin in the other. Undoubtedly, the gadget is obviously useful for trade professionals (wineries, distributors, even for us tasters in order to check the way many wines develop ¡in the same bottle! over a relatively long period of time) and for consumers who own a home cellar. The ultimate in sophistication would be to taste several wines in order to choose the one showing at its best.
To date roughly 50,000 Coravin units have been sold worldwide. Lambrecht estimates that 70% went to private consumers and the remaining 30% to the trade. It costs €300 including VAT, although argon gas capsules must also be purchased at about €10 per unit, each one capable of generously filling 15 glasses. The more capsules you buy the better; the 25 pack costs €215. Presumably this gadget, which includes a two year warranty, will only be profitable for aficionados with a relatively high wine consumption.
Lambrecht explained that a kind of mathematical equation has been developed to find out when Coravin can be really profitable. According to some members of his team, the cost of a glass of wine served with Coravin is about 50 cents, but Lambrecht is convinced that the decision to purchase it is based on other, more passionate factors, such as "being able to organise a vertical tasting or just having the opportunity to explore a lot of different bottles." He adds: "I do not want to waste my wine. The real value is that I can get home and pour five different wines."
A great wine lover himself, he stocks around 600 bottles in his cellar. Burgundies, red wines from Piamonte, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and grape varieties like Italian Aglianico or Garnacha (in fact he is very fond of the wines made in Spain's Sierra de Gredos) are his favourites, although he recalls that one of his best vinous memories is a 1981 Cvne from Rioja.
Lambrecht has traveled all over the world showing how Coravin works. He started with winemakers and then jumped to restaurants, distributors, wine shops and, of course, consumers. Those who follow his or Coravin's tweets will notice the vast number of tastings carried out in different cities with the same bottles (often signed by critics, consumers and professionals) being successfully retasted several months later. Yesterday I had the opportunity to comparatively taste a Viña Ardanza Reserva 2004. I found that the bottle that had been poured with Coravin in early October was more expressive, with soft round tannins -as if it had been decanted, while the one poured for the first time yesterday was slightly closed.
Lambrecht has also successfully reacted to critics after it was revealed that in rare occasions when bottles are damaged, Coravin can result in bottles exploding. Almost immediately, the company introduced a protective sleeve and intensified their rollercoaster of tastings and presentations to explain clearly how Coravin works.
Coravin doesn’t work with sparkling wines since carbon dioxide adds an extra difficulty. Tests show that once the needle passes through the cork, wines lose their bubbles. However, the company is currently researching a “Coravin solution” for this type of wine.
When it comes to old wines, cork condition is a key issue to determine whether or not to use Coravin thus a “vintage needle” has been specifically designed for this purpose. Sommelier Lucas Payá told us that the oldest bottle that has been poured with Coravin dated from the 1920s, but insists that each bottle is different. His advice: “Before using Coravin I slightly push the cork down with my thumb. If it slides, best not to use Coravin and drink the bottle as soon as possible!"
Coravin will likely be useful for wine lovers sharing Lambretch’s view that “the bottle is just a package which contains something you want”. That is probably why Lambrecht’s second favourite feedback from users -after the man that saved his marriage- comes from sommelier students who are now able to taste far more wines thanks to Coravin and share bottles with fellow students.