Last Updated on December 9, 2020 by Jeremy
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As far as wine preservation systems are concerned, none are more intriguing to us than the Coravin. This unit uses a simple process to displace wine with inert gas all without removing the cork from the bottle outright!
We were fortunate enough to pick up one of these for use at home, and while we see their benefit as being best for those who run bars and want to serve nice wine, we do enjoy using ours all the same.
In this Coravin review, we wanted to share five unique ways we use the wine preservation system at home!
What is a Coravin and How Does it Work?
At its core, the Coravin is a wine sampling and preservation system that operates with a fairly straightforward process:
- A fine needle pierces a cork to access the wine without removing the cork outright.
- A puff of inert gas displaces the wine and allows you to pour a sample while avoiding oxygen entering the bottle.
- Once the needle is removed, the cork expands and effectively “reseals” for storage without leaks.
Odds are good if you've seen one of these it has been at a high-end wine bar as they are widely used to sell tastes/glasses of premium wines that would otherwise go bad before the entire bottle was sold. This process allows them to stretch a bottle out over several days (even weeks) when they'd otherwise oxidize in a day or two.
We had a chance to pick one of these up for personal use (using a rewards system from Angie's day job), and after playing around with the Coravin for several months we found five key uses for it that we wanted to share in this article!
Vertical Tastings – Sampling the Same Wine Between Different Vintages
One aspect of wine tasting that only comes through experience is understanding what happens to wine as it ages. Most everyone knows that oxidation occurs in wine cellars due to a small amount of air making its way into wine bottles through the cork over time. But how can you precisely tell what flavors have changed when opening a bottle?
The quickest way to do this is with a vertical tasting- which often requires opening bottles of the same grape over multiple vintages.
We've often shied away from conducting vertical tastings at home because we do not want to open our 2018, 2014, and 2008 vintages all at once and essentially wipe out our collection of certain wines in a single week. But conducting a vertical tasting with a Coravin is one way to sample different vintages while preserving the life of the bottle all the same.
Horizontal Tastings – Sampling Different Bottles Across a Single Vintage
Much like being able to do a vertical tasting without drinking multiple bottles at once, a Coravin is a perfect tool to do horizontal tastings as well. Generally speaking, if vertical tastings are about tasting the same grape from the same producer over multiple vintages, a horizontal tasting is about tasting the same grape from the same vintage across different producers or regions.
So say you have bottles of Pinot Noir from a 2016 vintage produced by multiple vineyards in Sonoma (as we do from a trip we took out there). If you were wanting to take a dive into the expression of this particular grape across multiple vineyards without opening every bottle, sampling via a Coravin is a suitable alternative!
We've taken this horizontal method one step further with our Coravin after picking up a few bottles of Gruner Veltliner in Austria. In this particular case, we ended up with bottles from three distinct vineyard plots all from the same producer. This allowed us to remove the production variable almost entirely and truly get an expression of the grapes as a function of terroir.
We have to say, the differences in flavor was truly remarkable.
Checking Wine Flavors for a Meal
While conducting horizontal and vertical tastings is fun, we have to admit that we only use our Coravin for these in select scenarios. We've found the biggest use of our Coravin to be simply to sneak a taste of a bottle of wine to get a leg up on what to pair it with.
Sure, we have a rather in-depth process for figuring out a wine to pair with food, but at the same time books, online resources, and public tasting notes will only get you so far. Sometimes, often for an expensive meal or special occasion, we simply need to taste a bottle for ourselves.
Once again, the Coravin comes in handy here in order to get a quick sip of a potential bottle of wine we may want to enjoy with dinner.
Enjoying Multiple Bottles in an Evening
Generally speaking, we often like to design our dinner menus such that it can be enjoyed with a single bottle of wine. We're not averse to going the multiple bottle route (especially when friends come over), but most of the time we are happy having just one bottle in an evening.
In some select cases our menu is varied enough such that we may want to switch up our wines, we've used our Coravin to enjoy a glass from two different bottles across a meal. Simple and effective!
Small Samples of Sweet Wines
The final use we've found for our Coravin is to simply enjoy sweet wines over time. We're looking at you Sauternes.
We sometimes have a hard time finishing bottles of exceptionally sweet wines before they start to turn, and taking out small glasses over time with our Coravin has helped us be able to justify buying bottles of varietals we may have otherwise hesitated on in the past.
I see a lot more mead in our future.
Is the Coravin Right For You?
Before finishing, we have to repeat something that we said at the beginning of this article, and that is we look at the Coravin as a fun device for personal users. But its best use, in our minds, is at wine bars who want to sell higher-end bottles by the glass and still be able to preserve it for a few days.
But this is not without debate. While the Coravin is a novel tool that can help extract wine from your bottles prior to pulling a cork, there is likely some inherent risk. We've yet to notice changes within our bottles after fully opening them, but within a quick Google search you can find sommelier forums with full opinions running the spectrum of loving the product and finding no faults in any wine after months to thinking that wine quality changes even after just a few days.
As such, we tend to err on the side of caution and always commit to opening every tested bottle within a few weeks after using a Coravin on it. With vertical and horizontal tastings, we commit to enjoying all of those bottles sooner rather than later. For the wines we don't select for a meal, we figure out a meal to make with it in the near future. That sweet bottle? Well, those generally last less than a month anyway and we don't have a problem with it.
- Tip: Come up with a way to mark your bottles to easily remind you that they've been used with the Coravin. We wrap the neck with blue painter's tape to easily recognize which bottles in our cellar have had samples removed.
What all this really means is that while the Coravin is a pretty good wine preservation system, we're not risking using it and then subsequently aging our wines for several years after having a taste. Could you? Maybe. But we think that any sort of tampering with a cork could introduce issues down the road, and no matter how many times the Coravin has been tested we simply don't want to leave anything to chance.
All that being said, at the end of the day a Coravin is a bit of a novelty for home users. We have found five awesome ways to use ours and bust it out quite regularly (about once or twice a month). But if you do not fall into one of these cases, odds are good you may use it less frequently and may have a hard time trying to justify the cost. So while we still stand by our statement that this one is best for those who want to pour wine at a bar, we have to admit, we think it is quite fun to have at home, too!
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