Jeremy Reed, sommelier at Sacramento, California’s Ella Dining Room and Bar, doesn’t blink an eye when he serves the 1999 Scarpa Tettimorra Barolo for $50 a glass. He’s able to do so using the Coravin pouring system, a technology that allows wine professionals to offer smaller tastes of high-end labels that once were economically prohibitive to pour by the glass. Through its needle access technology and pressurizing argon gas capsules, Coravin can open a bottle of still wine without cutting foil or pulling a cork, ensuring that the wine’s integrity remains intact.
At Ella, Reed uses Coravin for whites and reds, including a 2012 Ghost Block Oakville Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($33.50 a 5-ounce pour). The restaurant’s 400-selection wine list ranges from $35 to $13,000 a 750-ml. bottle, with by-the-glass selections priced between $7.50 and $50. “Coravin has been a game changer for us,” Reed says. “We’ve increased our check average by selling special wines, even old Bordeaux and Napa cult Cabernet.”
Scott Young, director of operations for Blackhouse Hospitality Management in Hermosa Beach, California, also praises the system. “Coravin is like a miracle,” he says. “We can pour high-end wines without any waste.” The group’s Steak & Whisky restaurant offers 200-plus wines, including 32 by the glass ($20 to $50). Eight rotating selections are offered via Coravin, and the system also allows customers to taste a wine before committing to a full bottle. “If they don’t purchase it, we offer the wine by the glass,” Young says. Blackhouse factors Coravin’s argon gas capsules into the cost. The restaurant can get 25-plus glasses out of a $6 capsule if the pours are judicious, and Young notes that one capsule usually lasts about two weeks.
Coravin, which first launched in 2013, is also gaining favor with wineries that produce allocated wines and want to ensure quality control. “When we bought the system, we started doing library tastings and offering older bottles,” says Regina Martinelli, executive vice president of Windsor, California’s Martinelli Winery. The winery sells Coravin units in its store as well. “People love it,” Martinelli adds. “You can pour half a glass and see how the bottle evolves. We don’t worry about the timeframe since the cork stays closed.”
To move into the international luxury market, last February Coravin hired former Nespresso president Frédéric Levy as CEO. In just a year, Levy has helped close wholesale relationships with Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, and the specialty kitchenware chain Sur La Table, as well as a partnership with the Landry’s chain Morton’s The Steakhouse.
Currently, sales of Coravin ($350 for Model 2) are evenly split between on-premise and retail, but Levy aims to increase the consumer share to 70 percent. “We want to get in the end-user’s kitchen,” he explains. “Coravin is a new way of drinking wine. You can have a glass and put it back in the cellar.” Levy also aims to simplify the device, and he’s looking at sparkling wine as well. “There’s no acceptable solution for high-end Champagne by the glass,” he notes.
Retail response so far has been strong in the wine and luxury retail departments. “In November, we started carrying Coravin in all Total Wine stores and have seen good sales,” says Melissa Devore, vice president of wine buying at Total Wine & More. “The customer response has been positive, but this is a hand-sell because of the price.” The stores have also started using Coravin for VIP tasting events.
Sur La Table stocks Coravin in 86 stores. “The system appeals to anyone who enjoys drinking wine,” says Northeast district manager Michael Urbano. “At $299.00 for the original Model 8, the product is in line with an item like a coffee machine that people use every day. With Coravin’s flexibility, wine connoisseurs can enjoy a rare vintage while home entertainers can offer multiple wines to their guests. Anyone can benefit from this innovation.”