From Coravin to vacuum pumps, the world of wine preservation is not short of innovations. But do they work? Jacopo Mazzeo reveals the results of his year-long experiment in this seven-part series
In controlled environments, oxygen is wine’s best companion; it allows the liquid to age gracefully inside the bottle and helps release wine’s aromas when decanted. But leave the liquid in contact with the air too long and the oxygen will slowly deteriorate aromas and flavours, as well as affect texture. This means that once opened, a bottle needs to be consumed quickly before it spoils.
Bad news for the on-trade. With people drinking less, but trading up in quality, a good by-the-glass programme can make the difference between a lucrative sale and a jug of tap water. Today, plenty of devices claim they can keep your wine fresh for longer once opened, which would allow a venue to increase its by-the-glass offer.
However, are they all as effective as they claim to be? And most importantly, are they suitable for a restaurant, bar or pub environment? To answer these questions, we put a diverse range of some of the most popular preservation systems for both still and sparkling wine to the test, in a trial that took – no shirking – nearly a year to complete.
Coravin model 2
How it works
A one-piece device that works by inserting a needle into the cork to inject argon gas (via a cartridge) into the bottle. The gas pressure pushes the wine out through the needle, preventing any oxygen from entering the bottle.
The purpose of the trial was to test the systems’ suitability for use in a professional environment. Consequently, wines were deemed unfit for service once showing any noticeable change, regardless of their suitability for personal use. To make sure the experiment’s results were empirically meaningful, each system was tested on a range of different wines. During the trial, all wines were stored at a cool room temperature. Different samples of the same wine were always tested side-by-side on the same day.
Once the needle is removed, the cork springs back into place, thus resealing the bottle as though it was never opened. The manufacturer claims that tests have shown wines can be successfully preserved for up to 13 years.
Any restaurant, gastropubs with serious wine programmes or higher-end bars with a good fortified-wine offer.
Short- to very long-term preservation, up to several months.
Overall, the system was very reliable for long-term preservation. Most wines are still in fit-for-service condition after nine months from the first pour, with only one wine now appearing slightly developed. This, however, is probably due to the cork, which struggled to spring back into position after each piercing.
If used appropriately, Coravin is the best system for long-term preservation; its use would benefit any sizeable wine list. It’s relatively expensive, yet can be used on multiple bottles. On the other hand, capsules do run out quite quickly, therefore their cost needs to be accounted for when pricing the wine.
It requires high maintenance and good staff training as improper use can seriously damage the device. For instance, much care must be taken when inserting the needle, which bends easily if used on particularly tight corks.
Once poured, the wine displays a certain haziness that dissipates in under a minute, an element that needs to be discussed with the guest unless enough time has passed since pouring.
Coravin is supposed to work on all corks apart from plastic ones, however, during the experiment some of the corks did not quickly spring back into position, which meant that the liquid kept leaking once the bottle was put back on its side for storage.
When asked, a spokesperson for Coravin commented: ‘In theory the product should work on all cork types. That being said, the Coravin works only as well as the cork that is closing the bottle. If the cork in the bottle is of poor quality it is likely that the cork will not eff ectively protect the wine.’ Special thin needles are available for use on fragile corks.
Coravin Model Two: RRP £249; two-capsule pack: RRP £15.95; spare needle: RRP £23.95, Birchgrove Products