The invention that turned the wine industry on its cork

Tasting aged wines no longer requires uncorking the bottle, thanks to a wine-preservation innovation.

By Christopher Morrison 11/05/2017

As a sommelier and wine buyer, over the past two decades I have seen significant changes in the way that wine is purchased and served. We’ve entered an era of drink-now, “push-button” wines. Today, most wines are opened within one day of purchase. Consequently, wines are being made to be drunk young or upon release. The global wine industry is awash with soft, fruity, gluggable wines.

Restaurants and wine bars are some of the last safe-houses for wines with interest, diversity and food-compatibility. But the cost of building and running a restaurant or wine bar has increased dramatically. The notion of buying wines that “need a few years” to reach their potential, or having a broad selection of wine to offer by the glass, has become akin to a self-inflicted wound to the hospitality business model.

At least, it was until 2013, when one Greg Lambrecht, a graduate in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, launched the Coravin wine-preservation system. The Coravin is a device that inserts a hollow needle through a wine cork and injects a small amount of argon gas into the wine bottle. As the gas enters and pressurises the bottle, wine is forced up into the needle and out via a pourer into your glass. Once you’ve finished pouring, you remove the needle and the cork’s elastic nature will naturally re-seal and protect the wine from oxidisation. Throughout, the cork never leaves the bottle.

Argon gas is heavier than oxygen and, once injected into the bottle, it will settle across the wine, sealing it and protecting it from oxygen. This can extend an “opened” wine’s lifespan by weeks, months, or sometimes even by years. What this has given restaurants and wine bars is the opportunity to build wine lists and by-the-glass selections with few boundaries. Sommeliers can offer tastes of wines that would normally be off-limits due to cost. They can offer diners insights into some of the great wine regions and wineries of the world for a fraction of the price of the full bottle. Importantly, it means that aged wines, some of the rarest but not always the most expensive items on a wine list, can be appreciated via this technology.

All of which is fine for wine under cork. Coravin is currently conducting trials with a screw-cap-compatible unit in selected venues across Australia, though they’re still tight-lipped about this product’s release date.

Stuart Knox (above) is an award-winning sommelier and has owned and operated Sydney’s Fix wine bar for more than 10 years. One of the first in the city to start using the Coravin system, Fix wine bar has a selection of more than 20 wines under Coravin – wines that are eclectic, stylistic, fun and all offered in 50ml tastes. “I can buy small numbers of rare bottles that normally wouldn’t make commercial sense,” Knox explains. “I can open two or three bottles from the same region at once for tasting. It improves the entire wine experience for my customers.”

Matt Dunne is another award-winning sommelier, currently governing the wine program for the rapidly expanding Solotel hospitality group. The flagship for the group is Matt Moran’s glittering, Sydney harbourside fine-diner ARIA, which for the past dozen years has housed Australia’s most awarded wine list. Australian wines, and especially aged and mature varieties, have been the cornerstone of the restaurant’s collection.

Coravin has allowed the ARIA team to share their passion for this great wine legacy. “Being able to pour aged Australian wine allows us to showcase our country’s wine history and heritage,” says Dunne. “We have opened up a new door for not only our customers, but the sommeliers and staff who work at ARIA, who can also try these wines as part of their training.”

There’s no doubt that Coravin is suited to wines at the pointy end of the aeroplane. The very nature of its technology suggests you’d use it with a wine that has great value to you, either sentimentally or financially. But consider the confidence it might also give in enabling the tasting of wines already in your cellar, with a view to investing in more of the ones you like. This clever technology has changed static wine collections to wonderful, working cellars, in which wines give forth their experience and enjoyment – after the anticipation.

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