Not long ago I had a drink with a couple of high-flying sommeliers. I asked them what trend had had the biggest impact on their industry lately. Without missing a beat, they both replied: “Coravin.”
Even if you don’t own a Coravin yourself, you’ve probably drunk wine in a place that does, because this gadget has made it possible for sommeliers – and enthusiasts – to serve fine wines by the glass on a scale that no one would have thought possible just a few years ago.
Unlike other wine-preservation gizmos that require you to remove the cork, the Coravin siphons off wine through the cork via a fine, hollow needle. For every glug of wine that flows out, stabilising argon gas flows in. Once the needle is removed, the cork naturally seals up, and the wine can be re-cellared as it if had never been opened.
It sounds like a wine lover’s dream. But as I discover when I meet Coravin’s 49-year-old inventor, New Yorker Greg Lambrecht, the technology owes more to medicine than wine. “I was 29 and working as a biomedical engineer; I had amassed about 30 wines that fell into that weird category you’d call ‘too good too drink’,” he explains. “I thought, ‘What I want to do is explore. I want to drink half a glass of white, half a glass of red and a sauternes with dinner, like I would in a restaurant, without having to think about when I’m going to drink from those bottles again.”
Lambrecht had just developed a chemo delivery system that involved inserting fine needles into implants under the skin. “I remember standing in my kitchen, in 1999, with a needle in one hand and a bottle in the other and thinking there must be a way to do this…”
Lambrecht launched the first model in 2013. Today, Coravin is sold in more than 60 countries. The elite wine club 67 Pall Mall in St James’s, offers the biggest Coravin wine list in the world, with more than 800 wines available by the glass. There’s a Coravin for old wine, young wine and screw-capped bottles too. An £899 automated model launches this autumn, with an app that provides tasting notes and food pairings (though I’d be very happy to make do with the £250 Model 2). There isn’t a Coravin for champagne – yet. “But that would be my dream.”
Lambrecht recalls with awe the time he was invited to Coravin a cache of rare wines, including three Yquems from the 1890s. The first time he showed it to a winemaker in Burgundy, he was, he says, “nervous as hell. It was Jean-Charles le Bault de la Morinière – one of the kings of white burgundy. I showed him how Coravin worked and he went away and came back with a 1991. He said: ‘My mother made this – can we try it?’”
At the memory, Lambrecht’s eyes fill with tears. “Tasting that,” he says. “Well, it was just so cool.”