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Serving wine with the help of a needle

The Coravin wine dispenser uses a needle to pierce through the cork of a bottle before pumping in argon gas to extract the wine

Coravin chief executive officer Frederic Levy says he wants the wine gadget to be as ubiquitous as the common household corkscrew.

The Coravin System makes it possible to pour wine from a bottle without opening it. While that sounds like an impossible task, the device works by using a thin, surgical-grade needle to pierce through the cork of the wine bottle. It is then pumped with argon gas (an inert gas used by winemakers to displace oxygen) to extract wine from the bottle when it is tipped over.

Once the needle is removed, the cork reseals itself.

Since no oxygen is introduced, the wine does not get oxidised - a process that happens when a bottle is uncorked and will eventually make the wine go bad.

The Coravin can be used multiple times on the same bottle, as well as on different bottles using different needles. But it can be used only on natural and not synthetic corks.

The device was invented in 2011 by American medical device expert Greg Lambrecht, who used an epidural needle in the prototype.

The D-Vine dispenses pre-packed 100ml servings of wine at the appropriate temperature and aeration. Coravin chief executive officer Frederic Levy can enjoy wine tasting at every dinner with the wine dispenser as corks reseal when the needle is remove
Coravin chief executive officer Frederic Levy can enjoy wine tasting at every dinner with the wine dispenser as corks reseal when the needle is removed and the wine will not go bad. PHOTO: CORAVIN

The sleeker, high-end Model Two Elite has been available in Singapore since April last year, while the lightweight, plastic Model One, targeted at younger consumers, was launched here last month.

Both versions are sold at wine retail stores such as The Oaks Cellars and Enoteca. Model One retails at a recommended price of $360 and Model Two Elite at $530.

Mr Levy, a New York-based Frenchman who has a cellar with thousands of bottles of wine, says he can now have wine tasting at every dinner with his wife.

"I don't have two glasses of the same wine at dinner anymore because once you access a bottle and don't finish it, you can put it back in your cellar," he says.

For vintage wines, the Coravin can be fitted with an even thinner needle. Because an older cork is less elastic, this ensures that it will reseal itself properly. But it also means a slower pour.

Mr Levy says: "Avid wine collectors use the Coravin to taste the bottles over the years and to determine if they have matured to a point where the wine should be drunk."

The D-Vine dispenses pre-packed 100ml servings of wine at the appropriate temperature and aeration. Coravin chief executive officer Frederic Levy can enjoy wine tasting at every dinner with the wine dispenser as corks reseal when the needle is remove
The Coravin Model One pouring wine. PHOTO: CORAVIN

With the device, several restaurants and wine bars in Singapore now offer older or rarer wines by the glass. One of them is Morton's The Steakhouse at Mandarin Oriental Singapore, which has been using it since late last year.

Restaurant manager and sommelier Edwin Seow says: "We were looking for an opportunity to offer our guests a taste of premium wines with Morton's food."

The restaurant carries eight labels on a Coravin wine list, serving wines by the glass. Prices range from $44 to $220 for a 6oz pour.

Coravin also recently amassed US$22.5 million (S$32 million) in equity financing, which Mr Levy says will go into innovation of the product and expanding its reach.

In the last 14 months, it launched in 35 markets and is now available in 50 countries. In the next 12 months, it will be introduced to 10 more countries, including Australia, Japan and China.

While Mr Levy would not confirm it, the next innovation could be a solution for preserving wines in screw cap bottles, which are common in markets such as Australia and New Zealand.

He says: "Finding a solution for screw caps is a priority for us and we're working on it."


Wine packed by the glass

Coravin is not the only device to dispense wine by the glass.

The D-Vine, which dispenses pre-packed 100ml servings of wine at the appropriate temperature and aeration, does that too.

"In the wine industry, demand is increasing, but the offerings are limited. So at some point, drinking wine by the glass will probably make more sense," says 10-Vins co-founder and chief operating officer Jerome Pasquet.

10-Vins, a start-up based in Nantes, France, is behind the device.

According to the company's chief executive officer Thibaut Jarousse, the invention stemmed from noticing how different a wine can taste at the winery and at home "because it was not served at the correct aeration and temperature".

Also, he says, drinking wine requires a lot of planning.

"With wine, you have to plan everything, from what wine you're going to buy, then whether you have to place it in the fridge or the decanter," he adds.

But like an electric sommelier in the comfort of your home, flacons of wines can be placed in the D-Vine, which determines the optimal temperature and aeration for the wine.

A red wine would be served warmer than a white wine, for instance. Chilling and aerating take place in less than a minute as the wine drips into a glass, after which "it tastes as if you have left the wine to decant for three hours".

At the moment, there are about 30 French wines to choose from, from a $9 flacon of Muscadet Sevre et Maine from the Loire Valley (served at 10 deg C) to a $39 flacon of Saint-Julien Grand Cru Classe from Bordeaux (served at 18 deg C).

The founders plan to introduce six to 12 more wines from around the world to the selection.

Ultimately, says Mr Jarousse, the product is as much about convenience as it is about being able to enjoy wine by the glass at its optimum. "Like a Nespresso or Sodastream, we wanted to be able to replicate professional quality at home."

Using a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) System tag - the same technology found in credit- card chips - every flacon also connects to an app that gives tasting notes and the provenance of the wine.

The D-Vine dispenser on its own retails at $1,690, while a starter pack (including six 100ml flacons, among other accessories) costs $1,825. A premium pack retails at $2,275 and includes 26 100ml flacons.

They can be bought at www.dvine.com.sg or from culinary accessory retailer ToTT.

The distributor says that several units of the dispenser have been sold in Singapore since it was launched here three months ago.

Mr Pasquet says: "We're not here to kill the bottle of wine. It's about an alternative to drinking wine from the bottle."

Anjali Raguraman

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Serving wine with the help of a needle'. Print Edition | Subscribe