Coravin: what is it good for?


Coravin, a new wine preservation system, has garnered a lot of praise since its soft launch in June with the latest big piece coming from Eric Asimov in the NYT. The device uses a syringe to pierce the cork, withdraw wine, and replace the liquid with argon gas. Argon, for those who haven’t been keeping up with gasses since Chemistry class, is heavier than oxygen so it forms an invisible blanket to preserve the wine from the corrosive effects of oxygen.

Coravin seems to have an audience problem as I depict above in a Venn diagram (Coravenn?). There are a lot of people who think 750ml is too much wine to drink all at one time. But these are not the people likely to plop down $299 + tax + capsules. So, in this regard, Asimov is right to focus attention on Coravin to its impact in wine bars and restaurants. Is this audience big enough to recoup their latest, $11.5 million round of venture capital? Perhaps.

Asimov didn’t address the reservations that some collectors have about bottles that have been “accessed” by the device’s needle. David Beckwith of Grand Cru Wine Consulting touched on some issus in a thread on his facebook page, getting the ball rolling with this:

Coravin system: am I the only one who’s totally freaked out about this thing? If one can easily take wine out of a bottle why can’t they put something else back inside with Coravin or something else?

He added that auction catalogs may have to come with some new annotation for bottles that had been “accessed” by the device.

Others chimed in with similar concerns. Keith Levenberg said the idea of wanting to extract a glass of wine yet have the wine continue its normal aging process for years afterward seemed, “well, kind of greedy.”

Francois Audouze, a collector, called the mere thought of the device “terrifying.” Another collector told me that he didn’t think most 25-year-old corks had the structural integrity to support the intrusion of a needle. A winemaker wrote via email that he thinks even a minuscule needle hole in the cork is “dangerous,” adding “argon dos not protect forever.”

The device does seem a little surgical, and surgery is not usually associated with good times, the way wine is. So, aside from the restaurant setting where I can see the utility, I say that the dilemma of what to do with leftover wine is best avoided in its entirety: call some friends over, pull some corks right out of the bottle, and let the good times roll.

What are your experiences with the device or general reactions to it?

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27 Responses to “Coravin: what is it good for?”

  1. The price point is a little high compared to the average cost of a bottle of wine, and there are other, cheaper, wine saver options that would probably suit most average consumers better.

    That said, if you do have a collection of wines averaging three digit prices, the chance to enjoy them one glass at a time over an extended period could warrant the expense. And I wouldn’t call it greedy to want the most pleasure out of your expensive wine purchases.

  2. Just so the context of that “greedy” bit from me is clear, here’s what I wrote in reply to David’s post:

    Anyone with access to a syringe could have done this before the Coravin, so really the only thing this changes is that it might give a few more people the idea. What I find odd about this thing, though, is that there have been dozens and dozens of different devices pitched over the years to preserve open bottles of wine for a few days, and none of them have worked a damn – leaving the bottle uncorked on your kitchen counter has been at least as effective as every single one of them, sometimes moreso. Now, finally, something comes along that might actually do the job – might even let the bottles keep for weeks or months – and people are expecting to use it to gradually tap away at bottles they plan on holding for years and years, and actually expecting them to mature normally once tapped. This strikes me as, well, kind of greedy. It’d be like watching the moon landing and then saying, “Great, let’s send Apollo 12 to the Andromeda galaxy now.” Something tells me the endgame of this is a lot of people with cellars full of hundreds of dead, half-empty bottles.

  3. The market of people with serious cellars is very small compared to the level of Coravin sales needed to support the level of VC investment. However, the $299 price tag is very high for the person who would like the remainder of a $15-$25 bottle of wine to taste OK on day 2 or 3. Not to mention that a lot of under-$30 bottles have screwcaps, not cork. This feels like there needs to be a consumer version for under $100 to supplement a more expensive industry version.

  4. I can blanket an opened bottle with several canned gas products to hold for a couple of days just fine inexpensively.

    Now 750ml of wine in a bottle has a certain chemistry based on the volume that contributes to ageing (we know this from aging 500ml to 6 lt bottles, they age differently), drawing down 300ml and expecting the other 450ml to age the same as the 750ml ages, is, well dumb, as an example you are leaving the sediment from 750ml in 450ml or less for potentially years and you think that will work……. and why use an expensive gas like Argon and not cheap N or CO2……. sell the razor so you can sell the blades has been mentioned, well the razor is too expensive and so are the blades.

  5. I would love to have a Coravin or something that actually works. I’m just waiting for the reviews from people who have used it several times in different circumstances. I can’t drink more than maybe two glasses of wine at a time, and I don’t want to have to invite people over every time I open a bottle of wine. We give our left-over wine to our neighbor. We generally throw out wines if we keep them till the next day. Call it greedy, call it frugal, call it selfish, I don’t want to open a good bottle of wine if I have to give half of it away. So, if I can avoid doing that it would give me tremendous peace of mind and I would be a happier person. Is that worth $300.00? Very possibly.

  6. Chris posted: “The market of people with serious cellars is very small compared to the level of Coravin sales needed to support the level of VC investment.”

    Bingo! It’s an LLC–get it?

    Anyway, I’m the guy who Dr. Vino quotes as having said argon doesn’t protect forever. But let’s say that I’m wrong about that, and argon does protect forever. If so, then how will the remainder of wine in the bottle age at all?

    If it doesn’t age, then it isn’t wine; it’s a plastic surgery version of wine.

    If I am right about argon then, to quote Keith, “…a lot of people with cellars full of hundreds of dead, half-empty bottles.”

  7. Not that argon is particularly expensive or rare (although Coravin’s capsules are certainly costly!), but to answer Lee, there’s absolutely no reason other than marketing to use argon in preference to N2 or CO2. The function of the argon in the device is simply to fill space in the bottle that would otherwise be filled with regular old air and to create enough pressure to expel the wine. The argon does not (as suggested above) “blanket the wine” or do anything to preserve it. The argon simply diffuses in the rest of the air that is in the bottle’s headspace. It is a way of adding gas without adding oxygen, but nitrogen or carbon dioxide would do the same thing. (It is a myth that heavier gases “sink” for any appreciable time — if that were true then we would all have a hard time breathing, since argon comprises a goodly part of the Earth’s atmosphere. All the oxygen would be several hundred feet “up in the air”!)

  8. I read with interest these comments.
    Re Coravin, I have had the privilege of being one of the early users of the device. I also am a small investor through Windham Venture partners of NYC. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to attend the “dog and pony show” in MYC at which Greg Lambrecht — Chairman and inventor of Coravin — presented to potential investors over a dozen wines, some of which had been accessed up to 10 times each, over many years. Additionally, I was privileged to have tasted the wines he showed to Robert Parker, on which Mr. Parker based his video presentation re Coravin, which is on the website. All the wines presented during these two sessions were pristine, and again, with some opened many years ago. The wines are maturing as if they had never been opened at all, and neither in an accelerated nor a stillborn manner.
    Each individual wine consumer will have to make up his/her mind about the efficacy of paying $300 for the unit and $10 per cylinder, which can allow up to 16 pours, based on my personal experience. Does this make sense for someone who drinks only wines which cost less than $20 — I do not know, but I do know that at the relatively inexpensive price of about 60 cents per use of argon, I could make the case that the answer is “yes” if the consumer is drinking a particular bottle over 3-4 different times, which could run over an extended period of time. The bottom line is this — I personally vetted the product via the investment analysis phase early this year, have seen multiple examples of the viability of the unit, and been blown away by the pristine nature of wines which have been Coravined. My advice — go to one of the restaurants using the device and try a wine which has been accessed, just to take the “taste test.” Tasting is believing. Good luck.

  9. I know what Coravin is good for. I have a friend who runs a small shop near me. He can’t afford to lay out $8,000 for an Enomatic station, but pouring samples for customers from a bottle punctured (?) by a $300 device works fine for him.

  10. i’m impressed by the chemistry knowledge in this comment section. Count me among those who think Argon is a way to trick people who don’t understand gas law. Maybe I can one-up these guys and sell a $500 can of Xenon

  11. There are already a number of NYC sommeliers who have jumped in with both feet and purchased multiple Coravins. So it would seem that there are some enthusiastic early-adopters who have managed to convince their management of the utility of the device. As someone who has used the machine for the last month (for business purposes as an importer), I’m converted. Remember the naysayers who said the iPad would never take off? Coravin, at the price, is more likely to make its mark on-permise initially. The question then becomes: will the restaurant demand return enough to help the investors wait out consumer adoption of their baby.

  12. From a restaurant wine-buying perspective, it has been great so far… I have a clientele that might splurge from time to time on a glass from a rare expensive bottle… Selling one bottle by the ($75-$100)glass has already paid for the coravin and a stash of cartridges… And has made both me, my guests, and the owner of my restaurant very happy!

  13. Matt – thanks for the correction on the argon “blanketing” effect! Btw, glad to see that it is a “noble” gas (even if inert), clearly making it more suitable for wines from “noble” grapes!

    As to where it works best, it seems to me that it works best in on-premises locations or even stores with sampling programs as Dave Erickson suggests. These places are charging a large markup on the small servings and can better shoulder the costs. Also, they will probably drain the bottle relatively quickly so any concerns about the effectiveness of the gas or the cork resealing would be greatly mitigated.

    It’s just that it’s pretty expensive for consumers so it is clearly not being positioned as a mass market device: they would have to sell 38,500 units to recoup the latest round of capital raised just in terms of revenues, not even profits.

    Gerald, in the dog and pony show, how did they discuss their pricing and consumer/trade revenue mix?

  14. With regard to the ? re pricing and revenue mix, there was no discussion. This may sound weird, but it really is not. As an about-to-be start up, this was a speculative play. Now, management is putting meat on the bones.
    However, no information has been provided which answers your question.

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  17. OK all in all I may look at the product………… but what if the Company fails, should I buy a life time supply of consumables day one? Its not only the VCs that will lose all the purchasers lose…. well maybe not I assume the argon cartridges are standard cartridges so people on ebay will be selling them at much less than $10 each, what was it I said about safety razors and blades. oh right the profit comes from the blades that were patented……. Just a thought

  18. I have one for personal use and love it. My wife usually drinks one glass of red wine and not every week and she likes the $100 plus ones (go figure) so this has been a tremendous device for me to use. It is very simple to use,and the last glass has been perfect.

  19. I have been using the Winekeeper Commercial keeper, which works with nitrogen and argon cylinders. The cost is US$45 per faucet, which is very reasonable. I use a regular argon tank for welding, and the tank is still full after two years. The gas cost is therefore negligible.
    If one can make an adapter to allow the Coravin to interface with a regular argon cylinder, it would make more sense. However, old bottles with crumbling corks probably would not survive multiple needling, and the sediment is disturbed each time the wine is accessed, which would affect the aging process.
    Even with the Winekeeper, delicate Burgundy reds would only keep for 3 days before there is detectable deterioration. Since both systems work the same way (using Argon to displace the wine), I don’t see how the Coravin can allow the wine to mature for years afterwards.

  20. Interesting… I’d love to seem some scientifically done blind taste tests, with expert tasters, involving wine that’s been Coravin’d, undisturbed, rebottled in a smaller size bottle after pouring off a glass, left with a glass’ worth of air in the bottle, etc… Perhaps the company has done some?

    I sometimes consume wines over fairly long periods, storing the recorked bottle in the fridge, and in an appreciable fraction of cases, though probably not the majority, the wine is better on 2nd and 3rd opening of the bottle. Occasionally I do this with a pretty good young wine, but never with an expensive older one. (The only wines I have that might approach $100 in value would be ones I purchased decades ago….)

  21. I purchased this about two weeks ago and have used it on about 6 bottles of wine so far. I’m testing the aging properties on a 2006 BV Georges de Latour Cab after withdrawing 2 glasses. I’ll revisit that bottle in six months and see how it’s doing.

    I think it’s the best wine accessory to come out – well ever. If you like high end wines, I think this is a must have.

  22. I recently tasted some very fine ToKalon wines in Napa and had one of the top wine-makers in the region introduce me to this wonderful device. This is clearly designed for folks that like finer wines, consume them regularly (when young), and don’t think 300$ will change their lifestyle. If that’s you, this is the most amazing wine tool to ever be created… You can now have a glass of your favorite wine from your cellar “by the glass”.

    Want to have a glass of your 2007 Harlan from a mag… no problem.

    Cheap skates and “aged” wine lovers need not apply.

  23. I am intrigued by this product. It is actually something I have been looking for for a while, just not at this price point. Troya loves to open up a bottle and have a glass or two in an evening. We have tried all sorts of preservation systems, but she always feels the wine has turned in a day or two. That leaves me with either drinking a wine I might not want to or throwing out a half full bottle, and while we are not opening up $100+ bottles, this can add up quickly. If this was just a little cheaper I would jump on it, and I may still.

  24. I think this is an amazing apparatus and people are being a touch harsh. I use the product in a completely different way than most. I will agree that when it comes to old bottles, I’m going to pull the cork and drink them with friends. I’m in the wholesale wine business and have a lot of wine that I do not open because it never gets finished. During the week, I limit myself to 2 glasses of wine a day. The problem is that my schedule is very subject to change so if I open a bottle one night and stay out late the next night (having dinner and wine), I will not come home and finish that bottle. No problem, I’ll finish it the next day, but then I have to stay out late again. Also, if I have fish one night and steak the next, that Muscadet will not pair!! I love the Coravin because I use it on say $20-$50 bottles and I can just have a glass whenever. When I have dinner, I break it out into courses which could require a red and a white. I had thought about an Enomatic for a while, but would never have spent that much for home use.

  25. Mine just arrived. Haven’t used it yet, but surprised at all the naysayers that there is no home market for this. I’m single and I like great wine. My go to wines are usually in the $50 range, unless it is a special occasion. But no way am I going to open a $50 bottle of wine for myself and throw out most of the bottle the next day. So I am a wine lover who rarely drinks because the $18 bottle of wine that I would feel a little better about dumping the next day just doesn’t cut it for me. (And I don’t necessarily feel good about dumping an $18 bottle of wine either after having a single glass).

    This is a game changer. I can actually savor a decent glass of wine with dinner and finish the bottle next time I am in the mood for a glass, which could be in a week or two. Wow you no longer have to be married to enjoy fine wine.

  26. Waiting for way way better priced gas capsules . . .

  27. Looking forward to using this wonderful device AND, waiting for a way way better price on the cartridges . .


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