20-08-2018 ~ 2 Comments

Storing wine post Coravin

I’d previously delved into the potentially life-changing event that bringing a Coravin into your home means, at least in terms of wine. Depending upon who you are or whatever your walk of life, the fact is that when you make use of it, it’s to avoid having to open the bottle and consume it in one go. So in essence, you’re going to store that bottle for later if you can resist. This simple act of sticking a needle through a cork to pull off some wine has opened up some various avenues of thinking for me however.

Prior to buying my Coravin, I’d read accounts from working sommeliers about how they approached using the device. Usually they’d take a pour from a bottle, then put it aside for a bit to let the cork “heal” before putting it back on its side. This seemed generally logical. But then the more I thought about it, maybe it’s not and maybe we need to rethink these recent changes to how we’re dealing with the age-old cork and bottle.

Stand it up?

The R&D director at Amorim (the largest cork producer in the world), Dr. Miguel Cabral made some waves a couple of months back. He claimed that a cork essentially can’t dry out due to “almost 100% humidity in the head space”. There’s some logic in this although at the same time, I have indeed had corks dry out and get problematic. Then again, I’ve pulled out corks that were completely saturated with wine which made for different problems. Corks it seems, are quite singular although recently and probably due to the growth of Diam, corks are getting a great deal more reliable.

But if it’s true that we don’t need to store bottles on their sides, then what happens if we don’t store a wine that’s been Coravin-ed on its side? My reason to propose going against these long-held ideas are based upon other aspects to wine. For instance, when winemakers have an open-topped vat that they’ve pressed but want to let it ferment longer, they’ll put a layer of inert, noble gas across the top and then a light plastic over it. The gas stays in place because it’s heavier than oxygen and thus the wine doesn’t oxidize.

I can’t help but think this is similar to what happens when you inject the argon of a Coravin capsule into a wine. While there’s some oxygen in the head space of the wine, you’re putting in this gas to get the liquid (i.e. wine) out in a simple equation of physics. So I would think that if you want the best preservation of three or maybe six months possible with the Coravin, wouldn’t you then want to stand the bottle upright and allow the argon to sit over the wine thus cutting off all contact with oxygen and also stopping potential leakage of wine from the cork which is indeed an issue. I would lean towards a resounding “yes” in all of this so I put it to a very unscientific test with two sample bottles I had lying around.

The Pepsi Challenge

The bottle in question ended up being “Thunevin-Calvet – Cuvée Constance – Côtes du Roussillon Villages 2015” which was from a recent tasting of Roussillon wines. At 15% ABV, I scored it 89 points as it was perfectly representative of the region, under 10€, and widely available. Added into that, Thunevin-Calvet is a large producer for the region and so the wines are going to be (in theory) rather uniform across the production and so it offers wines that make for stable comparison.

My initial note was as such: “Ruby with a brick hint. Red cherry with a touch of kirsch, light mineral notes, leafy herbs, thyme, touch of licorice. Round and smooth on the palate with medium plus acidity and alcohol notes rather present and not completely integrated. Dry tannins in a medium finish.”

I tasted the second bottle and found it the same on all points and score and so then I set the wines aside in my cellar for two months. Having extracted the wine with a Coravin to taste, I placed one bottle on its side and the other upright.

Upon re-tasting the wines, there appeared to be a difference:

Upright: Red cherry, light herbal notes, garrigue, minor bite of oxidation, not a wealth of aromatic depth. Red fruit palate, medium acidity. Somewhat muted overall, but a decent, palatable wine still.
Sideways: Red cherry, herbal notes not really existent, touch of chocolate, mineral. Noticeably flatter on the palate, just chewy with very little fruit.

As you can see, there’s some difference but it’s not that big and I can’t say that I’d really rate the wines all that differently despite the fact I had a preference for the one that was kept upright as it came across as brighter and more alive.

The next tasting was two months more and came out as such:

Upright: Light red cherry, very light herbal notes, light waft of oxidation. Red fruit on the palate, spicy character, still crisp, alcohol sticks out a touch on the finish.
Sideways: Next to no fruit, heavily muted with oxidation showing strongly. Flat palate with nearly no fruit present and zero length.

As you can see, there’s been further evolution. The upright wine is still drinkable and represents its former sell well despite having been opened four months previously and having lost nearly half the bottle at this point. The sideways wine is a different story as it was patently undrinkable.

Given the current state of evolution and the overall scope of the experiment which had gone on more than the sales-material-promoted three months, I didn’t let the wines sit further. The main reason behind this is the main failing of the experiment in that I needed more bottles in order to have “controls”. Each time I opened the tapped wines, I should have had a brand new bottle to compare them against. Also, there was no way to taste them blind given how I set it up.

So, moving on

This minor, unscientific trial appeared to show that there is a difference when storing a wine upright versus sideways when extracting wine from it via Coravin but there need to be more tests to see if this holds true or. For a recent tasting of DO Montsant wines, I stored everything upright as opposed to the Roussillon and DOQ Priorat wines where I laid everything on its side. I’m of the general opinion that the wines have stayed fresher and better than those on their side, but again, this is hardly scientific in a way I like things to be scientific instead of just “truthy“.

I’m also not concerned about the cork drying issue as I’m consuming the wines in a rather short time. I think this would also not be of issue for a by-the-glass program in a restaurant where there’s a good deal of turnover. If one is intending to push the limits of a wine tapped by Coravin, I don’t know how it would play out as that issue of the humidity in the head space changes a great deal when the head space grows.

The only thing I can say for sure is that this warrants more investigation and if it is the case that simply storing Coravin-ed wines upright instead of sideways gives them more life, then we’re all most definitely the better for it.