Coravin, which allows you to sample the finest bottle without uncorking it, is being hailed as a game-changer for the wine industry. It was greeted with mixed reviews in the city that may still matter most.
PARIS — The foil covering the cork is still sealed. But the bottle is half empty. Only two tiny marks, like a vampire bite on the aluminum, are visible.
Maarten Dekker, vice president and general manager of Coravin Europe, picks up an object that looks like a classic lever corkscrew. The difference is in the drill. Instead of the classic piggy-tail curlicue, this device has a long, matte black needle. In one simple gesture he inserts it into the cork then tips the bottle and pours a glass before extracting the metal point.
On the label of this Château Cos d’Estournel 1999 another date has been inscribed in felt-tip pen: "April 2005." This indicates when the bottle was "coravinized" for the first time. It's a term derived from Coravin, the name of the magic device, and it defines a new way of drinking wine — being able to enjoy just a glass of a grand cru without having to uncork the bottle. And the taste of the great Médoc in all this? It's as if it had woken up from a long, flavor-enhancing sleep.
Greg Lambrecht, the device's 45-year-old American creator, is currently touring Europe to launch his baby, which was born in the U.S. in July 2013. The bottle was quickly emptied at a presentation at the Paris restaurant Les 110 de Taillevent. After visiting the UK and France, he's on to Italy, Germany and then Spain.
Lambrecht's degree in nuclear science and engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has made him an expert in medical needles, and he has applied for numerous patents in gynecology, surgery, cardiology and orthopedics. The first Coravin prototype resembled a surgeon's instrument. "My son called it the wine mosquito," Lambrecht laughs as he nurses a glass of Hermitage, Maison Tardieu-Laurent, vintage 2000.
What this could represent is a real revolution for palates that offers a long-term conservation system for wine. The bottle isn't opened, hence no risk of the oxidation that transforms the chemistry and taste within days. Some 50,000 Coravins — at 300 euros each ($370) — have already been sold, mainly in the U.S. The praise of wine guru Robert Parker, who referred to the Coravin as "the most revolutionary and exciting product to come out in the last 30 years," was an incredible boost in a universe where opinions matter.
The Nespresso of wine
The field of possibilities is huge for consumers, wine professionals and the restaurant industry alike, although the present market is mainly geared towards the general public. Approximately 80% of the devices sold have been to consumers out to have a little fun with their wine cellars. But those wishing to play sommelier in the home will have to stock reserves of argon capsules. This inert gas — colorless, tasteless and odorless, and heavier than air — is the fuel necessary for regular use of the device. Sold for 10 euros ($12.50) per mini capsule, each capsule serves 10 glasses, which means 1 euro ($1.25) per glass in addition to the cost of the machine and the wine. The economic model is reminiscent of Nespresso, for which Maarten Dekker used to work.
In the restaurant business, this means whole avenues of new possibilities for serving wine. "This radically changes the way sommeliers and restaurants will be able to offer great wines to their clients," says Pierre Bérot, director of the wine department at Taillevent, which has a superlatively well-stocked cellar. Converted, his restaurant is among the first to use the Coravin.
Franck-Emmanuel Mondésir, sommelier at the restaurant Les Climats in Paris's 7th arrondissement who specializes in burgundies, is equally enthusiastic. "To have the time to finish a bottle of Domaine Prieuré-Roch, Clos des Corvées, which is a very sensitive wine … it's a dream. There are a lot of ideas to explore with this system, such as being able to offer more than one wine option in food/wine pairings. It's a classic discovery. Wine lovers can take a luxury tour of the great wines, have a real feast."
Talk of the device is also making the rounds of wineries, says Thomas Duroux, director general of Château Palmer, Margaux Grand Cru Classé. "My feelings are entirely positive, although with one reservation as regards older wines where there is sediment. It's essential to decant them. At Palmer, we serve bottles older than 20 years à l’horizontale in order not to disturb the sediment. A wine mixed with sediment doesn't have the same taste. To serve wine using the Coravin system, however, you have to set the bottle upright so that the gas can pressurize the liquid."
Some pros doubt the usefulness of the device in their establishments. Nicolas Castelet of the Auberge du 15 in Paris's 13th arrondissement considers Coravin a "gadget."
"The system isn't bad, but it's not interesting for restaurants like this one," he says. "I am against serving wine by the glass. I'm for selling bottles. It establishes a kind of rhythm in the wine cellar. A bottle of wine is a story, and it should be on the table. I want to see the label, and then there's the heritage, the ceremony."