• Henry Jeffreys road tests the new Coravin models during Lockdown

    While most of us in Lockdown are using our Coravin less and less and finishing the bottles to the very last drop, drinks expert Henry Jeffreys is finding the opposite to be true. A second child on the way and no guests to share his wine with means he’s rekindled the Coravin habit, so much so that he road-tested the new models for us – Models Three, Five and Six – to see where the improvements lie. During lunch with founder Greg Lambrecht, Jeffreys also hears about a personal need to tackle sparkling wines, and how screw top seals have opened up the Australian market.

    While most of us in Lockdown are using our Coravin less and less and finishing the bottles to the very last drop, drinks expert Henry Jeffreys is finding the opposite to be true. A second child on the way and no guests to share his wine with means he’s rekindled the Coravin habit, so much so that he road-tested the new models for us – Models Three, Five and Six – to see where the improvements lie. During lunch with founder Greg Lambrecht, Jeffreys also hears about a personal need to tackle sparkling wines, and how screw top seals have opened up the Australian market.

    mm By April 15, 2020

    “But on the whole, (Coravin) seemed to me to be the answer to a problem that didn’t exist, leftover wine. If I opened a nice bottle, it would get drunk. If I wanted to try lots of different wines, then I’d have people over,” writes Jeffreys.

    Necessity really is the mother of invention or in Greg Lambrecht’s case, the wife. He came up with the idea for the Coravin when Mrs Lambrecht was pregnant and swearing off the sauce entirely. Naturally, he still wanted to drink well but didn’t want to waste wine when he opened a bottle. An Englishman would have just adjusted his drinking accordingly, “this wine isn’t going to drink itself”, but as an American, Lambrecht approached the problem from a different angle.

    What if you could remove wine without also removing the cork?

    Clever! The basic idea was simple, put a needle (his background is in surgical instruments so he knew a few things about making strong needles) through the cork, remove the wine and replace it with inert gas, but it took him 11 years to perfect the design. That might have been because he was having so much fun testing his designs.

    Coravin
    Greg Lambrecht: the next challenge is to find a way of Coravinning sparkling wines

    Over lunch at the Rosewood Hotel in London back in February, he told me that he bought over 6,000 bottles of wine during the process. In 2003, he made a prototype as a gift for a friend, soon he was making one a week by hand in his basement. When he retasted Coravinned (it is now, apparently, a word) bottles after six months, one year and then five years against sealed bottles and could not tell the difference, “then I knew that it worked”, he said.

    He started a business in 2011, and launched the first commercial Coravin in the US in 2013 and in Europe the following year. We were told that since then 100 million glasses have been sold via Coravin (not quite sure how he knows this, but it’s a good stat.) Lambrecht’s invention has transformed wine in bars and restaurants making oxidised wines largely a thing of the past and enabling venues to offer some seriously swanky stuff by the glass. Private members clubs like 67 Pall Mall where you can have a glass of pretty much anything from the cellar are only possible due to the Coravin.

    Coravin
    Henry Jeffreys: not normally a man who puts a cork back into a bottle

    Though I see the point from an on-trade perspective, I’ve never quite understood why you would want one at home. I have one of the earliest models. To begin with it was fun, dipping my needle into all kinds of bottles including my father’s most precious, a 1953 Léoville Poyferré which he’d been carting around various houses since the 1960s. As expected, it was totally knackered. And as a wine writer, I have to admit, it’s amazing for samples, just take out a bit and come back to it months or years later.

    But on the whole, it seemed to me to be the answer to a problem that didn’t exist, leftover wine. If I opened a nice bottle, it would get drunk. If I wanted to try lots of different wines, then I’d have people over. After the initial excitement, I found myself using my old Coravin less and less.

    Innovations with the new models 

    This month, three new models have just been released: the basic Model Three, the swankier Model Six and the Model Five, for professional use. The new design is easier to use, though the old one wasn’t exactly difficult. You just slide it onto the bottle without having to manually clamp it on. It’s lighter too so you can leave it in the bottle without worrying about it toppling over. You can even use it on screw capped wine now, which has opened up the Australian market according to Lambrecht. It works by replacing the cap with a rubber seal. Apparently, it doesn’t work quite as well as with a cork but it’s good for at least a year.

    Lambrecht is desperately working on a way to tap sparkling wine bottles. He joked: “my wife drinks exclusively sparkling wine and nebbiolo. And she keeps opening all the good champagne when I’m away. You’ll know when I’ve cracked it because I’ll be screaming from my cellar. With joy.” He’s also still working on glass Vinolok closures or “those bastards!” as he calls them.

    Just to show the adaptability of the system, the sommelier at the Rosewood, Michael Raebel, resplendent in tartan trews, was able to offer the perfect wine choice for a large table of people all eating different food. With no wastage. Raebel served a delicious white Dão, Druida Encruzado Reserva 2018, with my scallops, followed by a 1999 Musar (on incredible form) with venison followed by the always delightful Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’ Asti, about as sparkling as the Coravin can take.

    Lambrecht kindly gave me a Model Six to take home and, to my surprise, I’ve been using it non-stop. That’s because two things have happened that made me look at this clever device anew. Firstly, my wife is pregnant with our second child and for various health reasons is totally avoiding alcohol. Secondly, the lockdown caused by the Coronavirus (fits together peculiarly neatly with the word Coravin, doesn’t it?) means that I have no guests to share my bottles with.

    Which is where my new Coravin comes in: with some steak the other night I had a glass of Tondonia 2006 (not quite ready yet) followed by a 2004 Cornas from Domaine Durand (all smoked meat and flowers). It’s helping me to get through some difficult times.

    Now, Greg, could you hurry up with a sparkling wine-compatible version?

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