Coravin Test Round One – a Couple of Whites
So I started things off with a challenge! I wanted to see how the Coravin would perform in real-world white wine conditions. I chose two reasonably different white wines, both sealed under one-piece natural corks. Both of high quality and semi-aromatic profile. They will be accessed with the Coravin when the wines are already chilled to below drinking temperature (fresh out of my refrigerator, so the wine temperature is around 4-6 degrees Celsius instead of the generally-recommended drinking temperature of 12-15 degrees).
Why is that a challenge? Because the temperature of the cork will affect its flexibility. A colder cork is stiffer and less resilient, which will possibly lead to more problems re-establishing and maintaining a seal after the needle of the Coravin has been withdrawn. That’s one of the things to be looking out for. Furthermore, accessing a wine with Coravin puts pressurised Argon into the bottle, which means the pressure inside the bottle after being accessed will be slightly higher than the pressure outside. I think that the temperature of the corks will increase the likelihood of leakage.
The device functions easily, quickly and, as far as can be ascertained, technically perfectly. The standard needle has no problem penetrating natural corks of any size and composition, including DIAM closures. Argon passes through the needle into the bottle, wine emerges through the needle into the glass of your choice. Clearly the workings of the standard device are not at issue. Some of the add-on accessories (the aerator, the vintage needle for older corks orthe screwcap closure) would present other challenges.
No, the question is not whether the Coravin executes its functions properly and efficiently: it does. The questions are:
- whether wines and corks stand up to being accessed by the device
- whether the wines will develop differently over time after having been accessed
It was my intention to test each of the wines with the Coravin over the course of a month or so, with each wine being evaluated three times:
- at the time of the first access with the Coravin
- at the time of the second access (7-10 days after the first access) and then,
- at the time the bottle is uncorked (7-14 days after the second access)
Well, please allow me to let the proverbial cat out of the bag at the outset: so few of the wines I tested underwent any development between tests that I stopped recording detailed tasting notes for each wine after the first use of the Coravin. Instead, I simply recorded what changed, if anything. Since a positive change happened only once (and that was with a couple significant caveats, see Round Two), this means that only negative developments will be mentioned.
The Wines and Tasting Notes
Wine #1: Castelli di Jesi Verdicchio Riserva – “Crisio” 2013 12.5% abv – Casal Farneto
Some quince, chamomile and ginger, with a bit of butter and a hint of lemon peel. The wine is clean, well-made and unctuous, but not really very interesting, The aromas are so subdued as to be nearly nonexistent – and I hope that it isn’t due to the Coravin. Acidity is lacking, finish and intensity are middle-of-the-road. Gambero Rosso gave it “Tre Bicchieri”, which is its highest rating. I don’t even want it in one. I couldn’t imagine pairing it with food, and it isn’t light enough to be refreshing – in fact, it leaves a heavy impression on the palate, despite the moderate alcohol.
No improvement – but also no degradation, from the Coravin or otherwise. But the wine is bitter (perhaps a bit too much wood) in the finish and lacks fruit, intensity or interest. I would never want it again, and I find myself regretting the waste of Argon.
After Opening the Bottle:
No change. No improvement, but no worsening – and, importantly, no sign of having been negatively affected by the Argon.
Wine #2: Baden – Grauburgunder Winklen Spätlese Trocken Winklerberg 2015 14% abv – Weingut Konstanzer
Some sweet corn, lots of ripe peach and apricot with a lovely nuance of white flowers and acacia honey. Ginger and pineapple with a hint of smoke show up on the palate, and there is a lingering impression of candied lemon peel. Lots of flavour, smooth and mouth-filling.
This Grauburgunder has extraordinary lightness on the palate despite possessing real weight. Complex and long, with a hint of phenolic bitterness in the finish. A beautiful, expressive Grauburgunder that belies my overall impression of the vintage, and a pleasure to drink.
After Opening the Bottle:
Damn. The wine is still exactly as before on the attack and the forward part of the middle palate, but then takes on a sensation of “hotness” and a mouth-coating, almost oily quality. Not only that, the fruit seems sapped and the flavour in the finish is subdued. This is what I associate with Argon spoilage from my experiences two years ago and since. And it is a tragedy. For a better description of what I find when I feel there is a problem due to Argon, see the Argon heading in my post about the Coravin Test.
Wine #1 underwent no change in taste whatsoever over the course of three weeks.
Wine #2 showed no noticeable change until the bottle was opened at the end of the test, where it exhibited a slight, but clear, influence from the Argon.
Wine #1 leaked a great deal from the needle holes after both instances of being accessed by the Coravin, with wine bubbling upwards through the holes immediately after withdrawing the needle. There was also leakage the entire time it was in the fridge, resulting in a sticky wine stain on the bottle itself and in the fridge.
Wine #2 leaked only after the second access, and only a couple of drops.
Wine #1, after withdrawing the needle.