When the Coravin was released nearly a decade ago, it changed the wine game. Previously elusive high-end, rare and aged wines became within reach for a wider swath of consumers, if not by the bottle, than by the taste or ounce.
The device uses a hollow needle to penetrate a bottle’s cork and siphon out wine, replacing it with inert argon gas. Natural cork will then reseal itself, which ensures the wine doesn’t begin to oxidize. This allows for as much, or little, wine to be poured as desired, without opening the bottle.
But as Coravins and similar wine preservation devices appear at more bars and restaurants, there’s an inevitable chance of misuse. When is this technology needed, and when is it too much of a good thing?
In Hamburg, New Jersey, Restaurant Latour’s cellar houses more than 45,000 bottles. It was an early adopter of the Coravin, says Susanne Wagner, its wine director. Currently, she uses it to offer two-ounce pours of spendy bottles like a 1961 Conterno Barolo, as well as older vintages of Rioja and Super Tuscans. These are wines that list for more than $1,000 per bottle, and she considers them special pours that warrant the use of a Coravin.
Wagner isn’t enthusiastic, however, about using if for young offerings or those sold by the glass. For these wines, it’s less about them not warranting the spectacle, and more about the bottom line. “The [argon] capsules are expensive, and you need to factor that into the cost,” she says.
Away from the eyes of guests dazzled by the wine world’s latest gadget, Wagner sees a more practical use. Much the same way that a producer uses a wine thief to taste barrel samples to determine how a wine has developed, she reaches for the Coravin.
“We have over 6,000 labels and about 4,500 reds, so I have to make sure they are in the optimum window to drink,” says Wagner.
The performance of seeing wine served through a high-tech, hyper-regulated dispenser can create the impression that a bottle is something precious.
“If guests are paying premium prices to enjoy a fine wine, then this adds to the overall experience,” says Charles Brun, area head sommelier for Soneva resorts in the Maldives. He oversees concepts like Out of the Blue, a restaurant built over the water at Soneva Fushi, where there are 250 by-the-glass options.
Brun says the Coravin comes in handy for magnums, whose larger size makes them a dicey bet to be finished before the open bottle begins to deteriorate.
Though the Coravin is used usually for cork-finished bottles, the company has recently created an add-on for modern closures.
“Most guests have seen the Coravin used before, but they are intrigued more and more with the adaptation of screwcaps,” says Robert Bowe, restaurant and wine program manager at Ashford Castle, a 13th-century hotel in Western Ireland.
It allows for up to 50 insertions and adds a little flair to the usual underwhelming process of serving a screwcap Sauvignon Blanc or entry-level Pinot Noir. “We can’t wait for the same to be done with Champagne,” he says in reference to an upcoming solution perfect for vintage bottle and prestige cuvées.
Private wine clubs, where bottles are stored for members at the proper temperature under lock and key, have also turned to the system so customers can sample bottles and hone their technique.
“We make the Coravin accessible to our members if they just want to have a glass of a special bottle from their locker,” says Ron Wright, partner at wineLAIR, a members-only club that opened its first U.S. location last year in Washington, D.C.
But for some guests, a somm using a Coravin is the wine equivalent to a Caesar salad prepared tableside. The ritual itself is not often terribly exciting, just an awkward, slow, unavoidable drip of wine passing through the device.
“I like to joke about it,” says Wagner. “When we first got it, I used to say, ‘This is the prototype. From here, it’s going to get better.’ ”
Amy Racine, beverage director for JF Restaurants in New York City, uses the Coravin for high-end wines and those that don’t move quickly. However, she believes it should be kept out of sight of guests. It spares diners to feeling obligated to watch the process out of courtesy, and it also keeps the device’s overuse in check.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to pour tableside,” says Racine. “It can, and I think should, be done away from the table.”