Released in 2011 with the aim of allowing consumers the ability to sample their special wine bottles without breaking the cork's seal or disrupting the wine's aging process, the Coravin instantly became the must-have wine gadget for the serious collector and wine enthusiast. Yet the Coravin has surprisingly also become an essential tool for restaurant wine directors, revolutionizing the way these restaurants organize and run their wine lists. Here, we evaluate the Coravin's benefits (and possible setbacks) for restaurants that are considering utilizing the device in their own beverage programs.
How it Works
Designed by medical device inventor Greg Lambrecht, the Coravin device operates much in the same way as these medical systems. When the ultra-tiny, non-coring needle pierces through the cork of a sealed bottle, an inert gas is pushed into the bottle as one pours wine through the spout. The flavorless and odorless argon gas that is inserted into the bottle works to preserve the remaining wine by filling the space inside the bottle and sitting on top of the wine, preventing any contact with oxygen. The cork is capable of re-sealing itself thereby allowing the wine to be enjoyed at a later date.
According to the Coravin website, the system leaves "the cork in place, but still deliver[s] great glasses of wine, indistinguishable from untouched bottles."
As such, bottles are able to be accessed again and again without risk to the wine left inside. Should a consumer want to enjoy a glass of wine but not risk wasting the entire bottle or should a collector wish to track a bottle as it ages, the Coravin makes this a reality.
Use in Restaurants
While designed with the consumer in mind, the Coravin system has become an invaluable tool in restaurant wine programs as well. By allowing bottles to be accessed without disturbing the entire contents, sommeliers are thus able to offer rare and expensive wines by the glass without the risk of losing the remainder should it not sell.
Additionally, this safeguard can have a positive impact on one's overall beverage program pricing. Whereas the industry standard is to charge at least the wholesale bottle cost for wines by the glass in order to account for any potential loss, by using this system on all by-the-glass pours, restaurants are able to either make a higher margin on their glass sales or can offer their wines at lower than normal pricing, thereby offering their guests an exceptional value and standing out from other restaurants competing for the same guests' business.
Much acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant Redbird recently initiated a Coravin system into their own beverage program and has found much success already. Redbird Sommelier Floreana Edwards-Younger explains "The Coravin gives us a chance to pour wines by the glass that we normally wouldn’t—whether that’s fancy wine or geeky wine. The guests have really taken off with ordering from the Coravin list. It fills a niche market that our wine list didn’t have a spot for before."
"However, it’s definitely a slower pour than an uncorked bottle," Edwards-Younger furthered. "So Coravin wines by the glass are a prime time to use those charming conversational skills. But really, it’s an easy conversation starter due to the novelty factor—walking onto the floor with a big metal thing clamped onto the top of the wine bottle really makes guests ask questions—a lot of people haven’t seen or used a Coravin before. So, it’s a fun time to bond with guests and talk about our wines!"
While the Coravin system has indeed been offering restaurant wine programs many newfound benefits, the device is far from perfect. Only a year ago, Coravin LLC issued a massive recall due to a growing report of bottles shattering from the insertion of the argon gas. While likely related more to user error than any problem with the device, after reports of minor lacerations due to the shattering glass, customers who purchased the device were offered complementary sleeves to place around bottles to protect them from possible injury.
Another obvious con to the Coravin system is that the device is unable to be utilized with sparkling wine or on wines with screw caps and crown caps. Not as obvious, however, is the device's inability to pierce artificial, plastic corks utilized by many cheaper bottlings but which are not always apparent as they are often concealed by a wine's foil capsule.
The Coravin has additionally come under fire by some for the argon gas it employs. Refills for the device are quite costly and the Coravin is outfitted in such a way as to only allow for its own branded gas cartridges to fit in the system. Furthermore, there has been some debate over whether or not the argon gas truly leaves the wine indistinguishable, with some lighter, more delicate and aromatic wines often not showing as well under the Coravin as when they are traditionally opened. Yet what is perhaps most concerning to consumers and restaurant operators alike is that the system is still too new to fully understand its long term effects on a wine.
So will the Coravin become the next big beverage program must-have? Only time will tell, but the effects the device is now having on current wine programs can no longer be ignored.