Published 24 November 2016
Coravin is the revolutionary way of storing wines for long term ageing and being able to take samples from the wines as they age. From my testing it appears to work flawlessly. However it is not cost effective for general use.
Normally when you want to drink a wine you crack open the cork or screw cap and pour yourself a glass. If you only feel like a small glass you can put the cork back on top, or for short term storage you can use a vacu-vin which sucks the air out of the bottle reducing the oxidation, or for longer term storage you could use a gas canister such as Private Preserve which blankets the wine with heavier than air inert gas, again preventing oxygen reaching the wine. Both of these methods reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the wine. But the bottle still has oxygen in it, and over time the oxygen does reach the wine and will oxidise the wine, with the associated loss of fruit and the eventual conversion of wine into vinegar.
Coravin approaches this differently. It consists of a needle with two pipes. One connects to a gas canister that when operated pressurises the bottle with inert argon gas. The pressure pushes the wine up the other tube and out the spout. Effectively the wine is removed and replaced with inert argon gas. No oxygen makes it into the bottle, so even a half filled bottle is protected just as well as a full bottle. In theory this means the wine will not deteriorate over time.
In July 2015 I removed half the wine from a Chilean Carmanere with a Coravin and left the remaining wine to age for 16 months. This is a wine I taste regularly and have a good understanding of its style. After 16 months of ageing I retried the wine. The wine had a similar aroma, acidity and tannin structure that I would expect from an unopened bottle. While this is not a scientific proof, the wine appeared to show well, oxidation or other issues that I would expect if I had used other methods of preservation where not present. It gives me great confidence that as preservation system to protect wine for 1-2 years it appeared to work flawlessly.
However Coravin is not your answer to all wine preservation because of its cost. At around £250 it is not a cheap piece of kit, but it is its ongoing costs that are the most concerning. The units argon gas capsules are priced at around £8 each. Each capsule can replace up to 3 bottles. This means the cost of preserving a bottle is £2.67. An expensive proposition if you are looking to protect a mid week wine. Even a decent £10 wine is starting to get pricey. But when you are looking to enjoy £50+ bottles of wine it starts to make sense.
Compared to other shorter term methods of preservation such as Private Preserve costing around £10 for a canister that can preserve 50 bottles it gives a cost of £0.20p per wine or a tenth of the operating cost. However in my experience, Private Preserve only preserves wines well for upto 2 weeks. Vacuvin are the cheapest but their preservation is also the lowest quality and only typically good for 2-4 days.
Given the cost of a Coravin system this is a tool suitable for people who like to drink fine wine, but may not want to consume a full bottle in an evening. It is not cheap to buy or operate, for less prestigious bottles and for wines to be stored for shorter periods there are more economical methods. But for top wines and long term storage it is easily the best.