Editorial: Don't Malign the Coravin

In case you're not familiar with the Coravin, it's a tool that allows wine professionals to extract wine from a bottle without breaking its seal or removing the cork. The device itself is a high-tech syringe that's inserted into the bottle through the cork. Because it doesn't allow any air to enter the bottle, the fitness of the remaining wine is not compromised.

The Coravin was launched in July 2013 (click here for the company's press release announcing the launch) and since that time, it's become immensely popular among wine professionals across the U.S.

On June 3, subscribers to the Coravin email newsletter received the following message:

"Dear Coravin Customers... it has come to our attention that, in certain circumstances, wine bottles can burst when used with the Coravin System, presenting a risk of lacerations. We believe the likelihood of this occurrence is very rare since wine bottles are designed to withstand significantly greater pressure than the low pressure the Coravin System places into the bottle. Nevertheless, Coravin has now received seven reports of bottles bursting including one report of a laceration."

The story was immediately reported by myriad English-language and foreign blogs, notably by the popular wine search engine, WineSearcher.

In the title of the post, "Safety Warning Over Coravin's 'Killer Device'," the editors of WineSearcher quote the noted wine writer, Robert Parker, Jr., out of context.

In his July, 2013 review, he wrote in praise of the new device: "Coravin is the most transformational and exciting new product for wine lovers that has been developed/invented in the last 30+ years, this is a killer device."

The Coravin June 3 announcement has polarized the trade.

Above: a sommelier using the Coravin. The device is wildly popular among wine professionals today in the U.S.

"Always hated these stupid things," wrote a prominent sommelier in a message e-list subscribers.

In response, an equally respected wine educator retorted:

"I pulled a bottle out of a rack and the other bottles shifted and one fell to pieces. Bad glass is the culprit. I think this is not much to be concerned about, at least not any more than the risk of sabering or dropping a bottle of bubbly. Are y'all gonna stop sabering too?"

I personally know a high-profile restaurateur who has instructed her staff not to use the Coravin anymore.

Coravin has issued a document outlining "Proper Use and Important Safeguards."

Yesterday, I asked Master Sommelier Brett Zimmerman, owner of the Boulder Wine Merchant, to share his thoughts on the device's safety.

"I really think that this issue is due more to the quality of the glass than it is to the Coravin," said Brett. "There's a shortage of high-quality glass for wine bottles."

As his colleague pointed out in her response above, said Brett, "we've all seen bottles break unexpectedly. It happens more than most people outside of the trade realize."

And when it comes to sabering, the colorful practice of slicing the neck of a sparkling wine bottle before it is service, "I don't believe that sommeliers are going to stop sabering bottles," he noted.

I can say from personal experience that I've seen bottles break apart inexplicably. I believe that it's due in most cases to inadvertent trauma affecting the integrity of the glass. A hairline fracture in the glass is virtually undetectable. But it can make the glass extremely and unexpectedly fragile.

And on more than one occasion, I've seen the necks of bottles break under the pressure of being opened — even when being opened by top wine professionals.

Especially when it comes to older bottles, produced even 15-20 years ago, when many advances in wine bottle quality had not yet been achieved, it's rare but not unheard of that bottles will suddenly fall apart.

The Coravin has been such a revolutionary device in our industry. And it's allowed so many wine lovers to expand their knowledge of wines they wouldn't normally be able to afford (this is definitely the case for me, for example).

In the spirit of our country's growing wine culture, I believe that we shouldn't malign the Coravin because of "seven reports of bottles bursting including one report of a laceration." I've seen many wine professionals cut themselves while opening a bottle. It happens more frequently than you would think.

I believe that general safety awareness is the issue and not the Coravin.

—Jeremy Parzen

follow Jeremy @DoBianchi