What is Coravin?
A marvellous invention. A game-changer for wine lovers. Inspiration to start a blog. My favourite toy.
The official product run-down is here.
Why did I get it?
I had heard about Coravin for awhile and always thought it sounded like a good idea, but had not seen it in action. The tipping point for me, the moment of epiphany, was watching the sommelier in La Corte del Pelayo – a great spot in Oviedo, super wine by the glass program, world-class Fabada and Cachopo, not to be missed when in the vicinity, as readers no doubt so often are – use it at the table to pour me a glass. I saw then how easy it was, and considered the kinds of tasting horizons it could open up back home. Bought one the next day and haven’t looked back.
Going in, I saw two main attractions of the system, both of which have been entirely realised in practice:
- Adding education and fun to everyday wine drinking. Real expert types will tell you that to learn about wine it’s important to taste in pairs or flights. We are all temperamental and have short memories. Drinking a bottle of wine on its own over one or two evenings is just not going to have anywhere near the same educational value as tasting that bottle five (or ten) times over the course of a year, in the company of different horizontally and vertically related pairings. No one just unthinkingly necks a flight of wine. Flights compel us to concentrate and compare, which makes us learn and remember. Coravin gives us that opportunity.
And as for the fun part, while I’ll always enjoy drinking a bottle of Conti Costanti Brunello, I’ll be squirming with glee at the prospect of tasting three vintages of it side-by-side, or putting it in a flight with Salvioni and Sassetti from the same year. Coravin opens up so many fun possibilities that just aren’t there when corks have to be pulled.
- Controlling consumption. Oh, you are a siren, you last one-third of an open bottle. So sweetly do you call out to me at 10 pm, imploring me to reunite you with the first two-thirds that I’ve already imbibed. I really don’t need you now; I’ve drunk enough and I have to get up early. But yes, you are right – I know you won’t be as delicious tomorrow as you are this evening, no matter how hard I pump the VacuVin. And anyway we’re having fish, so I’ll want to drink something different. Maybe it’s not such a bad idea just to finish you off now after all.
Lashing oneself to the Coravin mast brings an end to all of this. I see what we are eating, design my flight, pour 2 or 3 glasses, put the bottles back down in the cave and that’s it – there’s my wine for the evening. Half a bottle, and I can’t wait to get stuck in.
Who should buy it?
I have a feeling that the reasons why I bought a Coravin probably resonate fairly widely, but to be fair not everyone is going to be in position to take advantage of what it offers. I think it is the way to go if you have this stuff:
- The storage. You need somewhere to keep all the tapped bottles for an extended amount of time. A cellar, or a good-sized wine fridge, seems to me requisite.
- The collection. It could work if you’re starting out in the wine hobby and shopping a lot, just sampling bottles as you buy them and add them to your collection. But Coravin really comes into its own when you already have a good stash of wine waiting to be drunk. Enough to be able to construct various kinds of flights from existing holdings. I would say you’d ideally have at least 200-300 bottles, to create options. For those who do, the freedom to sample anything you have, whenever you want, brings a whole new dimension of fun and interest to the hobby.
- The habit and the means. A Coravin will set you back at least a couple hundred bucks; it’s only going to be worth that initial outlay if you use it quite a bit (not a concern chez moi). Plus, the gas canisters are around $10 each. How long they last depends on how you use the unit, but there’s about 3 wine bottles of argon per canister. That translates into around 15 proper glasses, or up to 30 or so tastes. A canister lasts me a bit more than a week. If I think of it as around $2 for a flight of 3 glasses (my usual format), it’s really too little to think about – a great bargain, even, given the benefits noted above.
But still, when you zoom out, if you use it several times a week like I do it’s going to be a few hundred bucks a year for the argon even if you get the unit for Christmas. It’s a pretty expensive toy and if I was going to have to cover the cost of it by buying less or less good wine, I might think about it differently.
Updates on experience
This section will contain periodic, hopefully only positive reports on my experience using the Coravin: does the wine really stay unchanged in the bottle? for how long? does it vary by wine type? etc.
I have to add a short note here that was slightly irritating, but I think has been sorted out. My unit stopped squriting argon through the needle. First, I thought the canister was empty. No problem, unscrew and replace. Done, still no argon. Hmm. Unscrew again and, oops, there goes the entire canister out the bottom of the unit. Hmm, moves to Grr. Did I not screw it on correctly, or tightly enough? Try again. Rinse, repeat. Second canister of argon released into the kitchen in 0.3 seconds. That’s 25 bucks of neutral gas and I still am not pumping wine.
So, I think maybe the needle is blocked. There is a cleaner, I recall. A bit of cleaning work and all seems well again. But, BEWARE: you may think your argon is empty when the air stops pumping into the bottle. It seems that if you open the canister holder, you just lose all the gas immediately. So, if you think you should have gas left, clean the needle well before you unscrew the gas. Otherwise you just vaporized 12 bucks real fast.