Since 2011 Coravin have sought out to revolutionize the wine world with ‘wine access systems’.
But how well does the Coravin system work, really? And is it worth the price tag?
As an amateur wine lover I’d been considering getting a Coravin for a while. To help decide I dug into a ton of research. This article covers everything that I found.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- How effective expert judges and scientific tests found Coravin to be
- Expert comparisons between Coravin and other wine preservation methods
- Functionality issues you should be aware of
- Coravin’s impact on the wine industry (both home and commercial)
Ready? Then let’s dive in.
Coravin: The Background
I was always taught to pay homage to the creator of a tool. In this case, Coravin is down to one inventor – Greg Lambrecht.
Lambrecht is a Mechanical Engineer by trade. He made his career working in the nuclear industry before creating several gadgets – including one to assist surgeons with spinal implants. His only tie with wine was his love for it.
After celebrating their first pregnancy with his wife, he quickly realized that opening a bottle just for himself was often wasteful. After just one glass the wine would go off within a day or two.
So he got to work on something that would help wine last longer. Much longer. The first Coravin prototype was soon put together in his Boston basement.
Several years and twenty-two prototypes later, the Coravin wine access system was created.
Here’s the story from Lambrecht himself:
How Coravin Works
For those unaware, I’ll quickly cover how this works:
Wine degrades once exposed to oxygen over a period of time. To access the wine without degrading it, Coravin replaces the taken wine with Argon – a heavy, inert (unreactive) gas. Access is made via a hollow needle. This is thin enough that a natural cork will close back up once it’s removed.
Once the needle is in, a lever is pressed to inject argon gas from a capsule. When the lever is released an equivalent volume of wine flows back out the needle and into your glass. Magic.
Is Coravin Effective?
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Coravin claims that:
“When the Coravin System is used correctly, the wine in the bottle continues to evolve in the same way as if Coravin was never used.”
In other words – that it works so well the wine is completely unaffected.
Coravin are the only product to make a claim this bold. Other wine preservation systems have much shorter claims, with the ultra high-end Enomatic only claiming to preserve bottles of wine for up to four weeks.
So does the Coravin live up to the hype?
In short – it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t think so.
One of the most well-renowned wine experts, Janice Robinson MW, was the first to report on the system after a private demonstration by Lembracht. Here’s her review, emphasis mine:
For the demonstration he had given me a choice of various wines from his collection of 1,400 bottles, ‘most of them accessed’, of which he had an unaccessed control bottle too. I selected a Gigondas from Pallières as these are quite funky wines. I tasted the first six samples, knowing that the result he sought was that they all seemed identical and immediately felt embarrassed. He’d come all the way across the Atlantic but the wines in glasses two and five were perceptibly different from the other four – rather more evolved and surely from the bottle that had already been ‘accessed’?
Embarrassment was transferred when I spotted that in fact the two wines were different bottlings from the same producer and the same vintage, 2007. The Terrasse du Diable had been freshly accessed while the Racines (with actually rather less Grenache and some Syrah so I would have expected it to be a bit more vigorous) had previously been accessed, according to scribbles on the label, in March 2010 and August this year.
Honour was restored to Coravin’s preservative properties with the two bottles of Saeculum Supertuscan 2000, which seemed identical to me, even though one had been accessed in December 2010.
Long story short: Robinson couldn’t tell the difference between bottles accessed by Coravin years ago, and a freshly opened one.
That’s an exceptional backing from a huge wine authority.
But that’s only one person. What about a judging panel?
For his Master of Wine Research Paper, Matt Duller MW conducted a detailed study on Coravin (available by request from the Institute of Masters of Wine). Duller tested Coravin’s effectiveness by chemical (laboratory analyses) and sensory comparisons (18 expert judges).
Here’s his quick summary:
“No significant differences were found between samples taken from bottles accessed with Coravin sixteen weeks prior versus samples from freshly opened bottles.”
Again – that’s including a scientific test comparison, as well as expert taste buds.
These two sources, coupled with the widespread customer satisfaction with Coravin, is like they’ve hit a home run with their system.
It’s essentially proof that Coravin works as well as they say it does – leaving wine untouched for all intents and purposes.
As someone who has been analyzing and reviewing appliances for over 3 years, that sentence was strange to type. It’s incredibly rare that a product lives up to its claims this well!
Does It Affect the Development of the Wine?
Wine is known to slowly evolve (or ‘develop’) in the bottle as time goes on.
Surely an issue is the loss of reaction with the oxygen in the top of the bottle and through the cork. Doesn’t losing this affect the development of wine?
What a good question! Thankfully, this is also one that Janice Robinson pitched to Lambrecht. Here’s his response:
‘it turns out argon does not freeze the evolution of wine. Much of the way wine develops in the bottle has nothing to do with oxygen, but rather slow chemical reactions between the acids, sugars, and water. If a bottle is stored appropriately on its side, the wine, even in a Coravined bottle, has the same exposure to the small amounts of oxygen that makes it through the cork. I think this is why even years out, Coravined wine is indistinguishable from control – both evolve the same.’
As the chemical analysis by Duller found, the development of the wine doesn’t appear to be affected.
Expert Comparisons to Other Methods
We’ve found Coravin to work exceptionally well at wine preservation. But that doesn’t get away from its high price tag.
At price ranges of $300-$500 for complete sets, not to mention extra capsules, a Coravin is no small purchase. So how does it stack up against other, much cheaper options?
One of the most popular ‘wine stoppers’, a Vacuvin only costs around $10 apiece. These are small stoppers used to seal the bottle of wine, which you then combine with a manual pump to remove the air.
Here’s a quick video from Wine Enthusiast demonstrating the Vacuvin:
While cheap, these can be a bit gimmicky and feel silly to use. It does help to extend the lifespan of the wine – Vacuvin claim to keep it fresher for 2-4 days after opening. However, some say this may be overstated.
As a final nail in the coffin, it’s also been thought that extracting air can cause a loss of volatile aromatics. This isn’t affected in a Coravin access, since no air is removed. Only an inert gas is added.
Private Preserve / Vineyard Fresh ($15/$21)
These two gas canister products both work by injecting Argon into an opened bottle of wine.
This is the exact same technique as the Coravin, except the bottle is entirely unopened rather than ‘accessed’ with a fine needle. The gas is also often not just Argon, but a mixture including Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide, too.
No matter if you’re the fastest cork-puller in the west, fully opening the bottle will always start the deterioration process of the wine. Janice Robinson has been quoted as saying these can “work well for at least a week or so”. But a wine expert from the Wall Street Journal couldn’t recommend them “for more than 4 days).
Here’s Wine Enthusiast again with another demonstration:
Both of these products are a more rudimentary form of preservation. They’re most effective when you’re fast with the cork and there’s a lot of wine left in the bottle. It’s also more effective on younger wines (which age slower) than older ones (which deteriorate quickly).
High-End Models: WineStation / Enomatic ($5,500 – $100,000)
With those price tags above not including installation and maintenance, these systems are for serious wine restaurants and businesses. So I won’t spend much time on them here.
Their big advantage is that they keep wine at a constant temperature, though they can’t keep magnum-sized bottles. They also take up a ton of space and need some serious installation! That said, they look fantastic and offer a unique experience of choice for anyone looking through your collection.
While Coravin seems like the king of wine preservation, some have gripes with how it functions.
Let’s take a look at some of the functional issues of the product.
Anyone who’s used a Coravin knows that it’s quite different from popping open a bottle and pouring yourself a glass.
For some, the ‘surgical-like’ needle access and lever-controlled extraction takes the fun away of opening a good bottle of wine.
Of course, there’s always a counterargument. Others love the freedom of letting friends choose which wine they’d like without having to open a whole bottle.
While the Coravin works perfectly with most wines, it’s not suitable with some:
- It’s hit or miss with synthetic corks. These are less able to ‘close’ back up properly, as well as having potential ingress / leakage issues.
- It doesn’t work with sparkling wines.
- Poor needle insertion can cause foaming during pouring
- Leakage can occur with loose needles, chilled wine, and poorly conditioned corks.
Coravin is only effective with table, sweet, and fortified wines with natural (non-flanged) corks.
Thankfully over 65% of the top 50 selling restaurant wine brands were sealed with corks in the USA, though screwcaps are more popular throughout Europe and Australia. Again, there’s a screwcap solution I’ve covered below.
One limitation used to be that Coravin didn’t work with screwcap bottles. That’s now been solved with small custom-corks that you can place over the top of a screw cap bottle.
The greatest horror story is around broken bottles. In 2014 the Consumer Safety Commission had to recall some models after thirteen incidences of bottle ‘rupture’ were reported. Upon further investigation, it does appear that these were more caused by flawed bottles, rather than the Coravin itself.
Siphoning through a needle is also going to take longer than a free pour. Coravin stock different needles for different wines. Here’s how long a glass takes to pour with each:
- Standard Needle. Comes with the original models. 21-25 seconds to pour.
- Faster Pour Needle. The latest needle with a widened interior. 16-20 seconds to pour.
- Vintage Needle. Ultra-thin for older wines with sediment. 30-33 seconds to pour.
Especially with a vintage, that’s quite a long time to be pouring a glass! That said, you may never have justified opening the bottle otherwise.
To get the most from your Coravin, you do need to maintain it once in a while.
This is a simple act of cleaning with some white wine vinegar and rinsing out with hot water to avoid cross-contamination. Thankfully, any cork particles can be dealt with via an included cleaning tool.
What Other Benefits Does Coravin Offer?
At first glance, I thought this system was more of a money and time saver than anything. For an up-front investment you can savor a quality bottle over a long time and avoid the pain of an expensive wine going to waste.
What I didn’t realize, though, is the huge benefit for wine lovers.
By being able to take a glass at a time from multiple bottles, you unlock a new world of wine tastings. You can buy and compare two or three similar wines without having to drink three bottles in a night. Suddenly you can compare:
- Different vintages of the same wine
- Different locations of the same grape
- Different grapes of the same location! (e. Argentinian Malbec vs Pinot Noir)
Coravin also lets couples each enjoy their favorite wine, rather than compromising on one bottle.
How long do Coravin capsules last?
One capsule is claimed to last around 75oz of wine (3 bottles of wine). Though many find this to be a little overrated – realistically you should plan for 2 full bottles of wine worth (50oz). In terms of lifespan, the capsules simply hold inert gas, so should last in storage indefinitely.
Does Coravin work with screw cap bottles?
Yes! In 2017 Coravin released a new accessory which is used to allow Coravin to work with screw cap bottles. It’s essentially a seal which is added to the bottle (on top of the original screw cap) that is made for the Coravin access. This is claimed to keep the screw top bottle fresh for up to three months, with each disposable cap lasting around 50 punctures become ineffective.
Why does Coravin use Argon?
Argon is used by Coravin because it’s entirely inert. Unlike Oxygen, which causes the wine to deteriorate, the Argon injected through the Coravin system does not affect the wine or its development. The added pressure from injecting argon is what makes the wine pour back out of the Coravin needle.
Let’s Sum It Up
Coravin have proven to be a revolutionary product in the wine industry.
From Greg Lambrecht’s first basement prototypes in 2003 to being a restaurant-regular in 2020, the system has genuinely changed the way we can enjoy wine. Especially for wine lovers at home.
Although their price tag is high, there is no alternative that comes close to how effective Coravin is. If you’re a wine lover, and especially if you have wine loving friends, this is a tool which will never go out of fashion.
Wondering Where To Get The Best Deal?
The best place to buy is from Coravin themselves. They always have or match the cheapest price and cover you with a 60-day ‘free-trial’ – if you don’t like the system you can return it for a full refund. They also offer free delivery and you’ll be first on their list for support.
Of course, the systems are also available on Amazon and other third party sites. Though you’ll not get the same benefits, and your money will go in part to Amazon, instead of supporting the product team.