The Wine Curmudgeon’s long battle for screwcaps has had its ups and downs, and I’ll admit I get discouraged. It’s difficult enough tasting as much bad wine as I do, but when you have to struggle with a cork first? Talk about hitting yourself in the head with a brick and not knowing enough to stop.
The worst part of it is, I ?m burning [wood in a fireplace] not for heat, but for aesthetics. It ?s like, ?Wait, this is actually pretty hypocritical. ? It ?s very similar to the idea of a cork in a wine bottle instead of a screw top.
Thank you, Ryan Matzner of New York City. And a tip o’ the Curmudgeon’s fedora to Vivian Yee of the New York Times, who was savvy enough to recognize a great quote when she heard one. That’s newspapering the way it’s supposed to be done.
Coravin is the new, hip, and incredibly well-reviewed corkscrew that lets you open a bottle of wine without taking out the cork. As such, it is as revolutionary as the company says. But it’s the $300 Coravin question that remains unanswered: Is it necessary to spend that much money on a wine gadget?
Make no mistake: the Coravin does what it says it does. Shasha Dotras (that’s her in the photo) impressed almost everyone who saw her demonstrate the opener recently at Pogo’s in Dallas. The hollow needle, which has a hole in the sharp end, pushes through the cork, argon gas is fed into the wine, the wine flows through the needle, and the opener’s handle works like a spigot. Pull the needle out, the argon gas fills the empty space, and the cork expands to fill the hole left by the needle. The wine remains mostly as fresh as before the Coravin.
But is that it works enough? If it costs $300, then it had better be worth $300 worth of wine, be they 30 bottles of $10 wine or three bottles of $100 wine (and that doesn’t include $11 each for the argon capsules). And that’s a difficult standard for any gadget to meet.
Further complicating the price/value discussion is that most of us don’t need the Coravin. There are four glasses in a bottle of wine. I open a bottle at dinner, and I have two glasses and the person with me has two glasses. When are we going to use the Coravin? And most people who don’t finish a bottle are more than happy to replace the cork or screwcap, put the bottle in the fridge, and drink the rest later. The idea that oxidation exists and could spoil their wine is something only wine snobs worry about.
So who would benefit from the Coravin? Professionals who taste a lot of pricey wine one glass at a time, but that can hardly be a market big enough to make a difference. Maybe there’s demand for a restaurant version, though given the level of training at most restaurants, breakage would probably make the Coravin prohibitively expensive.
This leaves everyone who has a cellar stuffed full of expensive wine, has lots of money to spend on gadgets, and sees wine as something to collect and not necessarily drink — probably less than five percent of the U.S. wine drinking population. In other words, the Winestream Media’s typical wine drinker. Which no doubt explains this. And this.
In this, the Coravin may well be to wine what the granite counter top is to home renovation — it sells well and is really nice to have, but isn’t going to make dinner any easier cook or taste any better. Which answers the $300 Coravin question for me.
The Wine Curmudgeon has been tasting mostly red wine this month, and especially cabernet sauvignon, in an effort to get more wines that I don’t normally drink on the blog. Quality, even around $10, has been surprisingly good, but there has been one major disappointment. Not only do most of the wines have corks instead of screwcaps, but they come in heavy, old-fashioned bottles.
Which raises the question, which I’ve raised before and which is worth raising again: Why don’t these popularly-priced wines use screwcaps and come in lighter bottles? That would make the wines less expensive to produce, lower their carbon footprint, increase profit, and even possibly lower cost. And neither would affect quality.
Consider: The bottle for a 2003 white Burgundy — about as high end as wine gets — weighs 22 ounces and is closed with a cork. The bottle for the $5 Rene Barbier wines, closed with a screwcap, weighs 14 ounces. Yet most of the producers whose wines I’ve tasted use some kind of cork and unnecessarily heavy bottles, often closer to the white Burgundy than the Barbier. Some examples:
• The $11 Pigmentum malbec from France, 19 ounces, artificial cork.
• The $12 Errazauriz cabernet sauvignon from Chile, 15 ounces, screwcap. Ironically, the producer recently changed bottles, cutting the weight by 12 1/2 percent. Otherwise, it would be 17 ounces.
• The $12 Josh Cellars cabernet sauvignon from California, 22 ounces, natural cork.
• The $16 Bonterra zinfandel from California, 23 ounces, artificial cork. The irony? That Bonterra is one of the best selling green wine brands in the country.
• The $17 Downton Abbey claret from France, 19 ounces, natural cork.
We've run a variety of videos on the blog featuring unique ways to open a wine bottle. Oddly enough, many of the people in the videos, whether sabering a Champagne bottle, using a pliers to pull out a screw embedded in a cork, or bashing a bottle against a wall, have not been completely sober.
This video, however (courtesy of Household Hacker on YouTube) may be the best yet. For one thing, the guy opening the wine is completely sober. For another, he offers seven alternatives to a cork screw — one of which involves a bicycle pump. Frankly, that makes sabering seem almost irrelevant.
The glass bottle may not be endangered, but more producers are opting for different formats than ever before:
? Paper bottles: The world ?s first paper wine bottle will likely be on British supermarket shelves in the fall, reports the drinks business trade magazine. GreenBottle, which makes the paper product, is finalizing negotiations with a top UK grocer to sell one or two wines in the new container later this year. The bottle has a plastic coating on the inside of the box, which gives it a 9- to 12-month shelf life. GreenBottle founder Martin Myerscough says he has seen ?huge interest ? from retailers in Australia, California and France, and plans to expand outside of Britain in 2013.
? Airline wine: Increasingly, those single-portion bottles served on airlines are made of plastic, says BeverageDaily.com. Cost-conscious U.S airlines are driving demand for the bottles, which are made from lighter, cheaper PET ? an oil-based plastic called polyethylene terephthalate. PET bottles not only cost less, but are 100 percent recyclable and easier to dispose of in a cramped airplane galley.
? Box wine growth: It ?s impressive, reports Shanken News Daily. Two of the biggest brands, Black Box and Bota Box, sold almost 4 million cases between them in 2011. And, though overall sales for boxed wine are still only 2 percent of the U.S. market, it ?s growing rapidly ? 27 percent in the 52 weeks through mid-March. What makes this even more impressive is that many retailers don ?t like to sell box wine, since it doesn ?t fit easily on their shelves, which are designed for bottles. That ?s why, in so many stores, the box wine is off in a corner.
Higlighting news in the world of corks and screwcaps:
? Portuguese producer goes screwcap: Decanter reports that Portuguese producer Sogrape is putting one of its biggest wines, a $15 vinho verde, under screwcap. Given that Portugal in the world’s largest cork producer, that’s the equivalent of the Wine Curmudgeon moving to Napa and giving up the blog to do PR for a winery that makes high-alcohol, over-priced wine. Said one importer: “For the biggest wine company in Portugal to do this is quite rare. It ?s a slightly maverick, and quite a brave, move. It might not be well-received by the rest of the industry.”
? But cork isn’t dead, right? Not according to our friends at the Cork Quality Council, who remind us that wine with screwcaps and plastic closures are dying on the shelf. It quotes Nielsen data that notes sales of the top 100 domestic premium wine brands with corks increased 13.8 percent in the 12 weeks ended Feb. 5 over the same period a year ago. Meanwhile, those evil screwcap and plastic stopper wines “tumbled” 13.1 percent during the same period. But before you go open a bottle of bubbly to toast cork’s comeback, know that those figures exclude imports, which means no New Zealand wines — almost all of which have have screwcaps — were included. And, as Decanter pointed out in the previous story, cork accounted for two-thirds of the wine closures sold in 2009, compared to its 95 percent share at the beginning of the century. So one quarter’s worth of data probably isn’t too significant.
? Even plastic corks want to be recycled: Or, as that part of the industry prefers to be called, synthetic closures. Nomacorc, which dominates the synthetic side of the business, is sponsoring a recycling project with Total Wine & More, which has 73 stores in 11 states. Wine drinkers can drop off their Nomacorc closures, as well as other synthetic and real corks, and they’ll be converted into what the company calls “eco-friendly cork boards.”