Wine columnist Michael Austin: ‘I cannot think of a cooler wine gadget’

One of the most frustrating things I heard when I was growing up was, “You can’t have that because it’s not open yet.” I heard it in my own kitchen, at friends’ houses and, occasionally, in my nightmares.

Every time I heard it, I thought, ‘Well, I could have told you that — let’s open it!’

The idea went past the physical impossibility of tasting food through cellophane packaging. What my opponents were really saying was, “If you open that package of fudge striped cookies and eat only 14 of them, the remaining contents will spoil within minutes.”

I don’t like to waste food, but I just cannot hear myself saying, “You can’t have that because it’s not open yet.” Except with wine. Some bottles just needed a little more rest before I felt ready to call them into action. Other wines, opened and beaten by oxygen when I wasn’t able to finish them soon enough due to my thoroughly complicated social schedule, ended up swirling down my drain, sadly, wastefully. With wine, “can’t have, not open” was an issue.

I say “was” because now we have Coravin.

I cannot think of a cooler wine gadget than the Coravin system, which basically makes that troubling statement of yore obsolete. Not since I was a boy in possession of a handheld Mattel Electronics Basketball game have I been so enthralled by a device. Developed by a wine lover with a science background, the system allows you — home wine drinker, restaurant professional or wine shop operator — to extract wine from bottles without removing corks. You may have heard about it, since it is not exactly new, but there is an updated version out now, a slight variation on the original.

Coravin says the new version gets wine out of a bottle and into your glass quicker, but in this case, we are talking about, literally, mere seconds. The original Model Eight sells for $300, and the new Model Two costs $350. They’re like two Porsches that are the same except that one of them goes 2 mph faster and has a nice racing stripe on the side. I have the original Model Eight, and I can’t remember the last time I spent $300 so wisely. Even my ticket to Rush’s final tour was only $200.

Briefly, here’s how Coravin works. A hollow needle passes through a wine bottle’s foil and cork, and a spritz of (natural, perfectly safe) argon gas allows the wine to travel through the device and into your glass. When you remove the needle, the pinprick is so slight that the cork reseals itself instantly, much the way skin heals after a paper cut (only far faster), and the wine in the bottle is safe from the thing that kills it the fastest: oxygen.

You can get 15 pours at 5 ounces each from every replaceable argon capsule (there are about 25 ounces in a standard 750-milliliter wine bottle), but the longer you lay on the gas, the more wine you draw out. The Coravin system doesn’t work with sparkling wine, synthetic corks or screw caps. I feel kind of dumb even mentioning the part about screw caps. It’s true, but forget I said it. Synthetic corks don’t work because they can’t seal themselves like real corks.

The Coravin, as I see it, has three main uses for a home consumer.

First, to sample a killer bottle, an expensive bottle. The Coravin will pull out as much or as little wine as you like, and you’ll be able to put that bottle back in your cellar as if it has never been opened (because it hasn’t). This also works for ordinary bottles when you want just one glass of wine and don’t want to see the rest of it staining your sink.

Second, to monitor bottle development. Let’s say you have a case of an age-worthy wine and you want to keep tabs on it through the years. Designate a test bottle and extract a few ounces from it each year. Jot down notes. You’ll know when the rest of the bottles are on the rise and when they’re starting to level off — in which case you could consider pulling all remaining corks and pouring freely before your great wine goes south.

Third, to drink from multiple bottles. Say tomorrow is your day off and you want to drink several glasses of wine tonight but you want to drink different wines and don’t want to open (and inevitably waste) a bunch of bottles. If these wines were all from the same vintage but different wineries or regions, we would call this a horizontal tasting. If the wines were all the same but from different vintages, we would call this a vertical tasting. If the wines were different styles from different vintages, we would call this whatever you choose to call it. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that with the Coravin, you can do it.

For a restaurant, the Coravin means by-the-glass offerings of more expensive wines, the ones sommeliers would typically fear popping open for a single pour, in case no other customer was game for a pricey glass before the wine oxidized. Wine shops can use the Coravin to offer samples. It’s a revolution, friends.

That someone could come up with this idea is not so hard to understand (we’ve been to the moon, for crying out loud), but the fact that it works so well (um, we’re going to Mars) is the thing that is still a little beyond me. Knowing that I can easily, casually drink wine without pulling a cork has me wondering: What’s next?

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