Whether you love them or hate them, ordering wine by the glass is sometimes your only option. But due to high mark-ups and inconsistent demand, a reasonable yet interesting wine-by-the-glass program can be impossible to design. That changes now, as the new Coravin system is making wines that used to be out of the one-drink drinkers grasp accessible. The new technology can tap into any bottle to extract a single glass of wine without affecting the remaining contents, and upscale restaurants around Chicago have begun to incorporate it into their wine lists.
The system works like this. Once attached to the bottle of choice, a thin needle is inserted through the cork. Wine is extracted with a sucking and gurgling sound - it’s not the sexist procedure - and deposited into the glass. The system then replaces the removed volume of wine with pressurized argon, an inert gas that won’t oxidize the rest of the wine. The needle is removed and the cork reseals itself, leaving the remaining wine untouched by oxygen.
Sixteen turns the Coravin system into a tableside showpiece. The system is displayed on a rolling cart with the bottle of wine and the glassware. This allows the restaurant to show off and discuss some of its more special bottles along with introducing guests to the new technology. “Collecting wine is one thing, but it’s another thing when you are able to share it,” restaurant director Dan Pilkey said. “Being able to share that passion and the product with people who come into this restaurant and hotel is really rewarding.”
Over at Henri, wine director Jon McDaniel is less flashy with the equipment; wines are poured at the bar by the glass or half bottle. His hesitation comes from the availability of the argon tablets that fuel the system, which are currently only sold on the company’s website. This presented a problem when he worked at Moto and ran out of argon mid-service, during a menu that featured Coravin pairings. McDaniel ended up having to open a $1,500 bottle of wine to pour a single glass.
Wine director Bret Heiar at Nico also has his reservations about Coravin. But he brought one in during the opening of the restaurant to use on the collection of older vintage and small production wines, such as a 1991 Nebbiolo from Northern Piedmont. While the company claims that wine can remain consistent up to a year after using the Coravin, Heiar only feels comfortable using the wine within a month after piercing the cork.
Purists like Richard Hanauer, formerly of Travelle and currently working on opening RPM Steak, are less apt to use the system because it introduces “unnatural” technology to the age-old wine industry. “I do not think you get to appreciate the evolution of opening an entire bottle of wine, and seeing the wine go from fresh to aerate,” he said. “Even as great as Coravin is, unfortunately nothing will ever replace the classic pulling of a cork, a proper decanting and enjoying a great bottle of wine throughout a nice meal.”