Last October I wrote a piece about Coravin, the revolutionary wine preservation system. Methods of wine preservation have traditionally been low-tech, but this one embraced the 21st century: It consisted of a long, thin, hollow needle that was inserted through the cork. The needle injected the wine with inert gas, forcing out the oxygen and keeping the wine fresh. It was designed by Greg Lambrecht, who had previous devised equipment for vascular surgery.
The gadget was a boon for collectors with high-end bottles in their cellars, who could open one or more gems without the need to finish them the same night. It also had a huge impact on by-the-glass programs at upscale restaurants. Sommeliers could suddenly offer glasses of expensive wine to their customers, and not worry about selling the entire bottle that evening.
Now the Coravin has been pulled off the market, following a series of incidents in which bottles exploded while using the device. It seems that the inert gas injected into the bottle increased the pressure by roughly 50%. Most wine bottles could withstand this, but some evidently couldn’t. The company is working on a fix for the problem, and has advised everyone not to use the Coravin until the issue is resolved.
To be fair, about 40,000 Coravins were sold and only seven bottles exploded. This statistic is little comfort to those who had bottles shatter in front of them, suffering lacerations and other injuries. Fragments of those bottles have been forwarded to the company for analysis, and they found that “each time an explosion occurred the bottle was chipped, cracked or inherently flawed before the Coravin's needle pierced the cork.”
This is both good news and bad news. You can perceive a chip or a crack in a glass bottle, but it’s hard to see an “inherent flaw.” The situation is reminiscent of Champagne in the 19th century: Prior to the era when bottles could be engineered to withstand 60 pounds of pressure per square inch, a majority of them exploded in the cellars. It may be several hundred years later, but you’d better stash that Coravin in the closet until you’re sure it’s safe.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press; his second book, Moonshine Nation, is forthcoming from Lyons Press on July 15. For more information, go to amazon.com