Wine is a time bomb that you set off by opening. If you drink only a glass or two from a bottle the night you open it, chances are the remaining wine will be undrinkable, or at the very least not worth nearly what you paid for it when you get back to finishing it. And the more expensive your wine, the worse this phenomenon—both because better wines seem more vulnerable to the ravages of the demon oxygen, and because every glass of the pricy stuff wasted is that much more of a hit to your investment portfolio than if you settled for Two Buck Chuck.
And settle for Two Buck Chuck is what medical device entrepreneur Greg Lambrecht found himself doing when his wife became pregnant. She wasn’t drinking any wine, and he thus found himself wasting half a bottle or so of each he opened. Being an Impending Father™, he found himself saving money by drinking the Chuck instead. Being a Certified Wine Snob™, he found himself very unhappy about this. Being an American Entrepreneur™, he did something about it.
His solution is the Coravin. You simply clamp it to the neck of any bottle of wine and press down. This forces a thin, specially-treated, hollow needle through the foil and the cork. Tilt the device over your glass and trigger the argon gas capsule, which releases enough gas to displace a five ounce pour through the needle. When you tilt the bottle up, it releases the pressure and you simply lift the needle free from the cork. The cork, being the magical material it is, will reseal itself. The unpoured wine in the bottle remains totally protected from oxygen and as well sealed as before you had your glass or even just a taste. You can put the bottle back in the cellar for as long as you like, as if it had never been opened… because it hasn’t. Here’s a video of Lambrecht demonstrating his device for the Boston Globe:
Given all the health benefits of red wine, I’m tempted to say he should call it a medical device like all his other products! But there is a hefty tax on those with ObamaCare, so best keep that on the QT….
Learning about this product caused many questions to leap into my brain, the over-arching one being, “Should I buy one? Right this second?” The rest of the questions were steps to answering the first.
First off, in this video, the needle seems to go in and come out awfully easily. I used to have one of those wine corkers that consisted on a big needle that you forced through the cork, then you pumped air into the bottle through it to force out the cork. It looks like this:
I thought that was the coolest thing ever when I bought it, but I hated it quickly. Getting that needle in, and then getting the cork off it was always a giant pain in the ass. In the video above, the needle just seems to slide in and out effortlessly.
There are two factors that I think account for how well this appears to work. First, this comes from a medical device maker, and there have been some pretty good advances in needle technology in recent years. Have you had a shot or had blood drawn lately? It just does not hurt as much as it used to. And the Coravin needle is based on those used for spinal taps, with which you really do not want to have any difficulty inserting or removing. Second, my old pressure opener was a freehand device and getting the angle just right for maximum leverage was very tricky, and I always worried about snapping the needle. The Coravin clamps to the bottle neck and uses a slide to keep the needle exactly aligned. That way, all force in inserting or drawing the needle is perfectly in line with the needle.
Assuming the product works, the next question is whether it is financially a good idea. The Coravin costs $279.00, which is a pretty pricy gadget. More, the argon capsules are not cheap either, costing on average about $10 apiece. Scarily (this is a booze blog after all), I resorted to math. First, that ten buck cartridge will last about 15 five ounce pours. That is three bottles. In practice, you’d likely not use the Coravin on the last glass, and just open the bottle, so I added an extra 3 glasses to the capacity to represent those last glasses in our three bottles. That works out to about $2.25 a bottle added cost to each bottle of wine you pour using the Coravin. That is a not insignificant cost of operation, depending on what kind of wine you like to drink.
The question is how many bottles of wine must you drink using the Coravin before you pay off the device? This will depend on two things about you. First, what is the average cost of a bottle of wine that you drink? Obviously, the more expensive your grape, the better deal the Coravin is. Second, how many glasses are you currently wasting, or at least not enjoying to the fullest? For my analysis, I took the default wine snob contention that a bottle is ruined or degraded after one night. At five pours per bottle (a pretty small glass in my personal practice), if you have two glasses from a bottle, you are pouring three down the sink.
I set up a spreadsheet and show several outputs below the fold. They show the payoff quantity for various bottles for values of unspoiled glasses drunk per bottle of 1, 2, and 4. (I omit 3 for brevity, and 5 because you don’t need this expensive device if you are going to kill the bottle.)
Obviously, if you are wasting 80% of each bottle you open, you need to buy a Coravin right now. Even if you are buying nine dollar wine, and having one glass a week, it will still pay for itself in a year. But you don’t exist, so this scenario is unlikely to happen. Unless you are a restaurant, and want to offer lots of very expensive wine by the glass….
Here’s the most likely scenario, I imagine. Either you are a couple who are light, but discerning drinkers, or a father-to-be like Coravin’s founder who just wants a responsible night’s dinner accompaniment. If you like the good stuff, the Coravin will pay for itself in months or weeks. If you buy $200 a bottles of wine on average, tell your butler to go buy the damn thing today, it’ll pay for his salary in a year.
If you are regularly having 4 out of five glasses of wine from a bottle, the numbers start to get a bit more problematic. With super cheap wine, you would lose money on each bottle. Not that anyone would use a device like this on super cheap wine, as we’ll discuss below. But even at an average price that is pretty high for most well-off Americans (and remember, by world standards, we are all the 1%), such as $35-$40, it will take well more than a year or even two to pay it off. If you average leaving one glass in the bottle at the end of dinner, may I suggest simply pouring you and the husband an extra half glass each while you watch Duck Dynasty together on the couch afterward?
There are a few other issues to look at here with the Coravin, if your financial analysis leaves you on the cusp. First, it will only work with real corks, obviously not screw caps, and less obviously, not synthetic corks either. And I seriously doubt that those recycled corks will properly seal well either. Second, if you didn’t watch the whole video, the pour is quite slow, since it is flowing through a thin needle. I also read in another review that it can be interrupted with bubbles or spurts which can make a bit of a mess. Also, the speed could become a consideration for a bar or restaurant who wants to employ the Coravin to expand its high-end wine by the glass. Finally, if you are a white wine drinker you can usually get 24 hours of undamaging open time through resealing and the refrigerator. The full value of the device will only be realized by red wine drinkers, I would imagine.
All in all, I want one, because I am a booze geek and my genetic code demands I covet such a magnificent piece of alcohol technology. But I won’t buy one because our wine consuming habits dictate otherwise. We drink lots more cocktails than wine. We drink white wine. And we drink $12-$17 bottles with screw caps whenever we find acceptable product offered therein.
Yeah. So why are you even writing about this thing, since you are a liquor guy?
Well, my first thought was that this ought to have some bar applications beyond wine. For most cocktail people, vermouth should immediately come to mind. It is actually wine, you know, and goes bad quite soon after opening. Not as fast as wine, but still too damn fast for any normal person to get through whole bottles without liver damage. The problem is, who uses five ounces of vermouth in a drink? (If you use less than the full five ounces, you’ll waste a lot of that expensive argon gas) Most people don’t make whole pitchers of Martinis or Manhattans anymore, alas. If you do, and use good, corked vermouth, the ancillary benefits of the Coravin will go up considerably.
I do have one area where the Coravin would be of exceptional value to both wine types, and more adventurous cocktail types alike: good port. I love port cocktails, but seldom make them. Because I seldom want to make port drinks for days on end, the bottle almost always goes bad before I’ve gotten 20% in. People tend to use more port than vermouth when mixing, so the argon use will be more efficient. A single bottle of quality port could last the creative, unfocused mixer a year, given that it won’t go bad with the Coravin.
Maybe I will buy one….
Wonder what the hell he’s talking about, making cocktails with port? It really is a great ingredient for drinks. For some suggestions, check out the new port cocktail app from Sandeman’s!