Coravin Test Round 3 – The Vintage Needle
Now this was exciting. Coravin has, in their arsenal, a smaller-bore needle that is specially-designed for use with “older” wines. The corks of said wines are more likely to have lost some of their resiliency, and the wines themselves are perhaps more delicate than younger versions, requiring more careful handling. For the purposes of this test, I chose three wines from the Wine Saves Life box and chilled them to drinking temperature; note, I did NOT chill them to refrigerator temperature, as I did in Round One. The reason for this? The corks are already 19+ years old, which means they are well on their way to losing their ability to even keep the bottle airtight. I didn’t want to take any more risks with them than necessary.
The Vintage Needle:
As I said, this needle has a smaller bore than the standard needle. This serves an older wine better on a variety of fronts:
- slower pouring, which means easier handling for a wine made more delicate with age
- slower injection of Argon, allowing the wine to be less aggressively disturbed
- smaller hole in the cork, to allow for reduced elasticity and increasing the odds that the cork will be able to reseal after the needle is withdrawn
Naturally, the wine will also be slower to emerge from the bottle – but that is a small price to pay for safeguarding the integrity of your precious, aged vino.
The Wines and Tasting Notes:
Wine #1: 1997 Dürkheimer Fronof Rieslaner Kabinett 11.5% – Wein und Sektgut Katharinenhof – Pfalz
This was a lovely surprise. I haven’t drunk too much Rieslaner, and even less that was more than a couple years old. A beautiful, deep gold-amber colour and a really expressive nose of honey, butterscotch and dusty hickory, with dried apricot, fig and dried white flowers keeping things a bit fresh.
The palate brought in a hint of smoke, some raisin and ginger – lovely, fine and with reasonable length. Low acid and low alcohol, but elegant and with lots to say.
Fun fact: Rieslaner is a German-made crossing of Riesling and Silvaner that August Ziegler is responsible for way back in 1921. You may or may not be aware of another alleged crossing of these two grapes, made by the Swiss viticulturalist Hermann Müller: Müller-Thurgau, or, if the wine is Swiss, Riesling x Silvaner. I kid you not. Mister Müller, who was born in the Swiss Canton of Thurgau, refused to allow the grape to be named for him in his home country. And, to make matters much worse, the bloody thing isn’t even a cross of Riesling and Silvaner, but of Riesling and an otherwise innocuous grape called Madeleine Royale – feel free to forget that grape variety again immediately. So, when you see that bottle of Riesling x Silvaner, please pause to appreciate the irony.
Wine #2: 1999 Winterbacher Hungerberg Dornfelder Trocken 12.5% – Weingut Jürgen Ellwanger – Württemberg
Wow, surprisingly dark after 19 years! Some garnet reflexes, yes, but the ruby core remains. Although, I suppose, considering that it is a Dornfelder, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised after all.
Dornfelder, for those of you who don’t know the variety, is a very recent grape resulting from a crossing made in Baden-Württemberg, Germany. I swear, at least half of all the crossings I hear about come from Germany. Yeah, I realise there are some good reasons for this. And, hey, some people love them!
At any rate, very deep colour is one of the virtues of Dornfelder, along with soft texture, good acidity and an appealing mouthfeel, overall. I’ve never had an aged example, and this one really did surprise me with its quality, not least because I’ve never been overly convinced of the ageing potential of the grape.
Lots of black cherry, some sandalwood, nutmeg, clove, a bit of smokiness reminiscent of smoked ham – this last bit really is a characteristic of quite a few German reds (usually Spätburgunder) I’ve had over the years. As the wine develops in glass, there is some dried plum, a medicinal element and – incredibly – sawdust. No, it was definitely sawdust. I have no idea where that came from.
On the palate, the wine loses a great deal of its complexity. It’s still quite nice, for what it is, but the overall impression is a bit thin and the fruit disappears. Curious.
Wine #3: 1993 Stettener Stein Silvaner Spätlese – Gebiets-Winzergenossenschaft Franken
Well, the other two wines may have been man-made crossings, but this one is the real deal: the parade variety from Franken, Germany: Silvaner. And it is even in the trademark bottle shape of the region.
Beautiful, luminous gold, with a nose of ginger, dried apple, lemon peel, quince jelly – and a bit of beer and cooked corn.
Fully dry with pretty low acidity, the finish remains strong and the wine is in very good balance overall, with a savoury quality reminiscent of stewed mushrooms and a hint of flint. But the fruit is, really, quite astonishing and the wine has an unctuous quality. It might be too far along into tertiary aroma territory for my tastes, but this wine – made by a cooperative, no less – is doing just fine. Impressive stuff!
Beyond the usual splashing in the glass (most obvious with the Dornfelder), the vintage needle seemed to work perfectly. The corks were in relatively good condition, though they had shrunk a little bit, as can be seen with the bottle of Silvaner. The guide cuff on the plunger, where the needle’s point sits when the Coravin is fully extended, wasn’t able to rest on the cork, which is Coravin’s recommendation for using the device. But it didn’t seem to matter.
The corks themselves also resealed better than has typically been the case when using the standard needle – despite the more aged corks. Leakage wasn’t a problem with any of the three wines. So, perhaps it is worth being a bit more patient when accessing your prized wines. If you would prefer to avoid a bit of leakage from the cork, it would be advisable to use the vintage needle for everything.
What could have mattered more was the mistake I made when setting the Coravin on top of that bottle of Silvaner. The bottle is a “Bocksbeutel”, which is a peculiar (though, I find, appealing) bottle shape that is typical of the Franken region of Germany. As with all the bottles I have accessed with Coravin, I set the device so that it wouldn’t be in front of the label when I pushed it into the cork. With a Bocksbeutel, I swiftly realized, this won’t work – and I nearly bent the needle while I was learning this lesson. Fortunately it was undamaged, I turned the device to the front of the bottle (where the label was missing anyways) and all was well.
Works perfectly and as it should.