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The $300 Coravin question

The $300 Coravin question

Even after the Coravin, sealed like new.

Coravin is the new, hip, and incredibly well-reviewed corkscrew that lets you open a bottle of wine without taking out the cork. As such, it is as revolutionary as the company says. But it’s the $300 Coravin question that remains unanswered: Is it necessary to spend that much money on a wine gadget?

Make no mistake: the Coravin does what it says it does. Shasha Dotras (that’s her in the photo) impressed almost everyone who saw her demonstrate the opener recently at Pogo’s in Dallas. The hollow needle, which has a hole in the sharp end, pushes through the cork, argon gas is fed into the wine, the wine flows through the needle, and the opener’s handle works like a spigot. Pull the needle out, the argon gas fills the empty space, and the cork expands to fill the hole left by the needle. The wine remains mostly as fresh as before the Coravin.

But is that it works enough? If it costs $300, then it had better be worth $300 worth of wine, be they 30 bottles of $10 wine or three bottles of $100 wine (and that doesn’t include $11 each for the argon capsules). And that’s a difficult standard for any gadget to meet.

Further complicating the price/value discussion is that most of us don’t need the Coravin. There are four glasses in a bottle of wine. I open a bottle at dinner, and I have two glasses and the person with me has two glasses. When are we going to use the Coravin? And most people who don’t finish a bottle are more than happy to replace the cork or screwcap, put the bottle in the fridge, and drink the rest later. The idea that oxidation exists and could spoil their wine is something only wine snobs worry about.

So who would benefit from the Coravin? Professionals who taste a lot of pricey wine one glass at a time, but that can hardly be a market big enough to make a difference. Maybe there’s demand for a restaurant version, though given the level of training at most restaurants, breakage would probably make the Coravin prohibitively expensive.

This leaves everyone who has a cellar stuffed full of expensive wine, has lots of money to spend on gadgets, and sees wine as something to collect and not necessarily drink — probably less than five percent of the U.S. wine drinking population. In other words, the Winestream Media’s typical wine drinker. Which no doubt explains this. And this.

In this, the Coravin may well be to wine what the granite counter top is to home renovation — it sells well and is really nice to have, but isn’t going to make dinner any easier cook or taste any better. Which answers the $300 Coravin question for me.

15 Responses to The $300 Coravin question

  1. bburnsey@yahoo.com' Brian B says:

    Don’t forget, I’m in your camp when it comes to restaurant prices.
    I only see this being used by a small percentage of people.
    Restaurants using it would build it into their cost, which would further raise the “by the glass'” cost for those who want to “maximize” their profits.

    I have always instructed the bar staff to write a number on the back of the bottle at the end of the night. That number is today’s date. No need to write out 3/20/2014, just “20”. Anything over one day the next night either went to staff training, or the kitchen for cooking.

  2. adamaustinpolonski@gmail.com' Adam says:

    But on the other hand it allows restaurants to expand their wine by the glass programs. Offer more wines and wines they would never have offered BTG otherwise. As someone who can’t imagine ever buying a full bottle in a restaurant and doesn’t really understand the appeal of doing so, I think having bigger BTG programs is a great thing.

    • Yes, the Coravin would theoretically improve restaurant by the glass programs. But — and I guess I didn’t make this clear enough — my point is about breaking a $300 item. It’s one thing for the Coravin to stand up to home use. But what happens when it’s used as much in one night at a restaurant as a month or more at home? And by employees who are in a hurry, working in the dark, etc.?

      • adamaustinpolonski@gmail.com' Adam says:

        That’s fair. The places I’ve heard of using it are mostly Michelin-starred / fine dining places, and are pretty pricey – so, while they will bake in the cost of Coravin and potential replacements, it won’t be that noticeable since you’re paying $200 or more anyway.

        Granted, that’s why I don’t go to those places.

        I’ve actually never heard about one breaking, but a lot of the high-profile places that are using them are also selling them, so….

        • bburnsey@yahoo.com' Brian B says:

          Curmudgeaon is right on this one. I can tell you from years of experience that gas cylinders will be lost, or someone will drop the ball and forget to order more cartridges, and in the end the staff will “unintentionally” shuffle it to the back burner. Super high end restaurants? Maybe. But everyday restaurants? Not so much.
          The better solution is allowing guest to take home what they can’t finish in the restaurant. We allow it in our state.

  3. michael@honigwine.com' Michael says:

    During my travels the few weeks I have meet 2 restaurant buyers that are generating new revenue with the Coravin. One restaurant in DC was making an additional 1K per week and the other in HI was making an additional 9K per month.
    They both seemed very happy to be turning their inventory, making additional revenue, turning their guest on to wines for less than a full bottle, and were not bothered by the cost of the Coravin or the argon.

  4. […] The $300 Coravin question […]

  5. privatepreserve86@gmail.com' Scott says:

    Knowing, and respecting supporters of Coravin here in the Napa Valley, I take it as gospel when they say “It works”. However, I put a product on the world market over 27 years ago that has kept partial bottles of wine preserved wonderfully well for as long as 4 plus years…for literally pennies per application, using my proprietary blend of N2, CO2 & Argon…in a proven aerosol package. This proprietary blend has advantages over straight Argon in terms of keeping wine components optimal, and it works with synthetic cork, screw caps, glass caps, and decanters besides the obvious…real cork.

    For most who enjoy any beverage susceptible to oxidation spoilage, as well as fine cooking oils, herbs and spices etc., the original inert gas aerosol Private Preserve ™has been keeping it fresh, simple and inexpensive with the mantra…”pennies to save dollars” since Feb.1987 in wineries, restaurants and homes worldwide. Sorry for the “commercial”…but, there are other ways to get it done.

  6. bobbygu@msn.com' R English says:

    Well, I guess I’m a snob. I love my Coravin and the freedom to taste various wines. I rarely open a bottle now that I have the Coravin. It’s easy to use and has been great so far. Much better than other methods.

    By the way, just to give you an idea, in California there are more than 2.5 billion bottles of wine filled each year. The 5% of bottles that represent the “snobs” is over 100 million bottles.

    Not sure how many Coravin is selling but they won’t run out of customers.

  7. sarah@signaturewinelab.com' Sarah says:

    This product has additional uses that are interesting in the analytical testing world. We are working on a similar product at our lab. Being able to take multiple samples from a single bottle, spanning several years, without altering the wine’s internal environment is valuable. It allows you to test and re-test the “signature” components of the wine and understand chemically how the wine ages and how our enjoyment of the wine changes over time. You could conceivably approximate the same result by opening the bottle, testing it, laying a second bottle down, and testing it again in a decade or so. But the price of the bottle may be high, variation between bottles may exist, and some oxidation will occur upon bottle opening. So the Coravin or similar technology opens up a new way to test high-quality wines and track their aging scientifically.

    • Thanks for all the comments about the Coravin. It does what it says, people like it, and there is a market for it. I just don’t think, for the vast majority of wine drinkers, that it’s relevant.

  8. chrisjsadler@gmail.com' Chris says:

    I don’t know. If the price came down, a Coravin could be an attractive device to have at home for a number of reasons.

    -Test if a bottle is ready to drink (oh, how many times I have regretted opening a bottle to find it currently closed)
    -Have both a white and a red with dinner
    -Have a mini comparative tasting without having to open and finish six bottles
    -Have some out of a bottle and then let the rest progress, getting to see a wine at its various stages
    -Savor an expensive bottle over more than one occasion
    -Avoid having to finish an entire 750ml dessert wine

    etc, etc…

  9. tish@wineforall.com' Tish says:

    Good points all around. But what if… what if that $300 Coarvin could be rigged so that it accesses argon from a large tank, and thereafter used effectively AND cheaply by a restaurant? Would you agree that then it would be a revolutionary tool for wine by the glass programs? THis is exactly the case at a Seattle wine bar called The Barrel Thief (bthief.com).

    The owner’s ability to customize two Coravins essentially transformed their entire wine list: it empowered them to go from the usual couple dozen of wines by the glass to 160. NOw mind you, the system they devised is their own, and took a lot of trial and error, but they are thrilled to be able to utilize the Coravin to basically offer EVERY bottle in their wine bar by the glass. And so are their customers…

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