The fact that wine goes bad after only a couple of days—three if it’s particularly sturdy—is wine’s ultimate, inexorable truth. Oxygen is the villain: once exposed to air, wine immediately begins its transformation into vinegar. Humans have experimented with various means to slow this process since we started making the stuff some nine millennia ago, yet the majority of the world’s wine bottles are still sealed with a hunk of tree bark—effective, but certainly not perfect; once that cork is removed you’ve got to drink fast.
However, the most recent innovation in wine preservation depends on that piece of tree bark. The Coravin Wine Access System allows you to remove wine from a sealed bottle without ever removing the cork. It sounds like a parlour trick, but it’s the product of advanced technology developed not by a member of the wine industry, but by a business executive and inventor of medical devices.
The Coravin works by passing a thin, hollow needle through the foil capsule and cork in a sealed wine bottle. The bottle is pressurized with argon—an inert gas that creates a barrier between the wine and oxygen—which causes the wine to flow through the needle, out of the bottle and into the glass without allowing any air into the bottle. Cork is naturally springy: this is why it is used to seal wine bottles, as it expands to form a tight seal—so once the needle is removed, the cork reseals itself. The remaining wine continues to evolve naturally—the Coravin’s founders developed the device over several years and conducted many blind tastings. Supposedly the wine will last indefinitely with no ill effects other than what would have occurred naturally in a non-accessed bottle.
The Coravin was released less than a year ago, but a couple Edmonton restaurants have already begun to use it: Daniel Costa’s Corso32 and Bar Bricco.
“The Coravin gives us the opportunity to really showcase amazing wines by the glass, and it keeps them at pristine quality,” Costa says. “Usually restaurants can’t do that because you get waste, because not enough people are ordering those expensive wines by the glass.”
Costa brought the Coravin to Corso32 and Bar Bricco about four months ago; he also has one at home for his personal use. Each restaurant’s wine list notes the wines that are accessed with the Coravin; these are all higher-end offerings that cost well over $100 a bottle and would never normally be available by the glass, because they would simply go bad before all the wine was sold—wines like Barolo, Brunello, Amarone, Bordeaux and Burgundy.
“I have nothing but amazing things to say about it,” Costa adds. “We use it constantly and we haven’t had any major problems with it.”
“I’ve also never really liked the Enomatic System,” he continues, speaking of another major innovation in wine preservation. The Enomatic system was released a few years ago and several restaurants in Edmonton have invested in it, as it allows them to essentially pour wine “on tap.” The Enomatic pumps wine from the bottle and dispenses it from a spigot, using argon gas internally to keep the wine fresh for up to a month. The Enomatic’s main drawback is its price tag, which runs to several thousand dollars (the price varies based on the size); in comparison, the Coravin retails for $299 USD. Both the Enomatic and Coravin must also be resupplied with argon gas, so there is an ongoing cost to using both systems; Costa notes that it works out to about a dollar for each glass that uses the Coravin.
Costa also suggests that the Enomatic has another drawback that hasn’t been widely publicized.
“I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’ve spoken with other people that are really interested in wine and they all seem to say the same thing: I can always kind of tell when it’s coming off the Enomatic system,” he says. “I’ve never used one myself, but somebody told me that the problem could be because the lines are dirty.”
Only time will really prove whether wines accessed by the Coravin will actually hold up over the long term. There’s ample evidence to show that the wines are fine when left for a couple of months, but what about a couple of years? Costa also notes that they also reach a “point of no return” when the bottle is two-thirds to three-quarters empty, at which time it’s pointless to pay for another shot of argon, so they just open it. The Coravin also doesn’t work with bottles sealed by a screw cap, which is becoming increasingly common, even among higher-end wines, especially those from Australia, New Zealand and other New World countries.
Time will tell if other Edmonton restaurants invest in the Coravin. Enomatics have appeared at enough restaurants that they are no longer the curiosity they were a few years ago, though they’re still far from commonplace.
“I would suggest that any serious restaurant owner, who wants to offer good-quality wine, should definitely use it,” says Costa of the Coravin, though he also notes that it is perhaps more beneficial to the home user. Obviously collectors with many premium wines could make use of the Coravin to monitor the evolution of their investments; it also allows you to pair multi-course meals with several different wines for less expense and potential waste (or drunkenness).
“I really think that it’s a revolutionary thing in the wine world and people are going to be jumping all over it once they really get to know what the ability is,” Costa says. “There are some amazing restaurants that I highly admire in New York, and they’ve been using it for much longer and they stand by it, 100 percent.”