Wine Loving Inventor Solves Red or White by Glass Battle

Hankering for a taste of 1979 Il Colle Brunello di Montalcino with your dry-aged steak? At New York’s Del Posto restaurant, a three-ounce pour is $169, six ounces, $338.

The by-the-glass list includes hard-to-obtain 2000 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino for $100 and $200, and last month, rare Italian stunner 2002 Masseto.

All this is thanks to a new wine preservation device, the Coravin 1000. “It’s a wine populist’s dream, giving more people access to the world’s great wines,” says Del Posto wine director Jeff Porter. He’s been offering them “alla Coravin” since last November.

The ingenious $299 device went on public sale two weeks ago. Though most new wine gadgets bring out my inner skeptic, this one will revolutionize how we drink wine at restaurants -- and at home.

One of my pet peeves has always been the boring selection of wines at most restaurants offered by the glass. Usually it includes only current vintages, yet they frequently taste dull, cooked and lifeless, signs they’re oxidized from being open too long.

Once you pull a cork, contact with air causes the wine to start deteriorating. The Coravin prevents that by allowing you to access the wine without actually pulling the cork. Really.

Del Posto

Inventor Greg Lambrecht brought the space-age device and some previously “accessed” bottles (meaning some wine had been taken out of them) to Del Posto to do a show-and-tell and to let me taste test.

In the restaurant’s dimly-lit lower room, the 44-year-old sketched the backstory.

After studying mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he eventually founded his own biomedical device company, Woburn, Massachusetts-based Intrinsic Therapeutics, Inc.

Along the way he became a serious wine lover. A bottle of 1990 Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage from the Rhone Valley changed his life, he says.

So when his pregnant wife stopped drinking, he was stymied. He wished for a way of getting the wine out of the bottle without opening it so he could drink a glass without the remainder oxidizing.

“As an inventor, I was trained to recognize unmet needs,” he jokes.

Cork Needle

Lambrecht’s “aha” moment came when he recalled a project with high flow needles used to filter blood.

He pushed his first needle through a cork and into a wine in 1999, then spent years experimenting with various sizes of Teflon-coated hollow needles, using compressed argon gas to prevent oxygen from entering the bottle.

He’d buy a case of wine, poke the needle in one bottle and date it, then compare it blind at one month, six months, a year later with a fresh bottle. Lambrecht has 600 wines in his cellar that he’s Coravined (his word) at least once. Another 800 await the needle. He obtained a patent in 2007.

When Porter participated in a blind tasting Lambrecht set up for sommeliers, he thought, “This is too good to be true,” but months of his own trials convinced him.

He says when he showed it to Del Posto co-owner Joe Bastianich, “Joe asked me, ‘Who do I call to invest?’”

Like me, both have seen plenty of wine preservation systems that don’t work, while the few that do cost upwards of $10,000.

‘Star Trek’

“The first model Lambrecht gave me looked like a Klingon medical device from “Star Trek,” Porter says.

Now it’s sleek black and chrome and comes with a sturdy stand.

Lambrecht’s demo shows it’s easy to use: Clamp it on the bottle’s neck; pull a lever to push the needle into the cork; push a button to bubble argon from a cartridge through the needle into the wine. The pressure from the gas forces wine up. You tilt the bottle and pour. Since cork is elastic, it re-seals itself after you pull out the needle.

My blind taste tests impress. Three bottles of 2010 Alex Gambal Meursault Clos du Cromin, an intense, creamy white burgundy, taste virtually the same -- fresh and vibrant, even though one had been accessed in Boston on April 26 and the bottle was only two-thirds full.

If I’d pulled the cork in April, poured a glass, and jammed in the cork, by now the wine would be vinegar.

Wine Intact

Eight bottles of 2008 Vietti Barolo that had been accessed on different dates over several months exhibit little variation.

Of course, not everything is perfect yet. There’s no indicator showing how much gas is left in the cartridge, for example. That’s coming, as is a thinner needle for old crumbly corks.

That may help private wine advisers like former head of Christie’s Asia wine department Charles Curtis, who’s trying out the device at his new wine authentication and advisory company WineAlpha, determine whether bottles in a client’s cellar are legit -- or counterfeit.

Wine shops are already testing it as way to let customers taste a sample bottle before they buy.

Besides revolutionizing restaurant by-the-glass programs, the Coravin should prevent couples from arguing over which wine to drink with dinner. She wants premier cru Chablis, he craves great Saint-Emilion -- both can have their pick instead of compromising.

“But there’s one thing the Coravin can’t do,” Lambrecht says. “It won’t turn a bad wine good.”

(Elin McCoy writes on wine and spirits for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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