Like most wine writers that have been around for a while (my five-year blogiversary is just around the corner), I periodically receive wine-related products to review. As I have stated before, outside the occasional decanter, the only wine “gear” I use on a regular basis is a waiter’s style corkscrew (I have tried probably hundreds and by far the best are made by Château Lagioule).
I rarely use an ice bucket (since I have a freezer), I never use aerators (even though I have several), and please do not get me started on the Corkcicle.
Perhaps the items that are of the least value to me, though, are the myriad wine preservation systems that are on the market. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and even appreciate the concept: you only want a glass or two of wine with dinner but you do not want to pull a new cork since the liquid remaining in the bottle will likely go bad by the time that you have another such urge next week.
Like I said, I understand the concept, but my quotidian routine rarely (ever?) includes the need to preserve any wine for even the next day, let alone a week. In this house there is a simple equation:
An Open Bottle + a Little Bit of Time = An Empty Bottle
Nonetheless, I felt an obligation to try the different systems, but I had to do it in a way that made sense to me. I have seen countless reviews of these gadgets, but most of them try only one at a time and there is no basis for comparison.
Thus, with that in mind, I decided to set up an “experiment” in the true sense of the word and here are the steps I took:
- I bought 8 bottles of the same wine, same vintage, from the same store at the same time (the wine in question was the 2014 Cecchi Chianti Classico [$14, but I got another 20% off, so $11.20], which for the money, might be the best red wine on the market right now).
- I opened all but two of the bottles and tasted all six to assure that there was no discernible bottle variation (there wasn’t—all six were the same).
- Each bottle had the same amount of wine remaining (within a couple of milliliters).
- I stoppered each bottle with the four different wine preservation systems, according to the exact directions on the respective packaging.
- I stoppered one bottle with just a cork.
- I retained two full bottles as comparisons on the back-end (I kept two so that I could state for bottle variation again and/or one bottle happened to be corked, i.e., tainted in some way).
- I stored all bottles at room temperature (~74°F) for precisely one week.
- After seven days, I opened the control bottles, tested them for consistency, and then compared the preserved wines against these “new” bottles.
Cork. Simply driving the cork back in the bottle is perhaps the most common wine “preservation” system used, but it is also fundamentally flawed: The wine, a week later, was clearly oxidized with stewed fruit and stale flavors. Not terrible, certainly quaffable, but sub-par.
Art18 Argon Gas. $15 for about 50 bottles of use ($0.30 a use) cheaper with more bought (as little as $0.18 a use). Fairly easy to use: just spray the gas into the open bottle for about two seconds, the heavier Argon displaces the oxygen in the bottle. After a week, there appears to be more fruit and perhaps more evolution in the gassed wine, I think the wine actually tastes better than the new bottle.
Vacuvin. $14 unlimited use. I have had one of these for a while but I stopped vacuum sealing the bottles a while ago when I read that the vacuuming actually removed esters from the bottle. For this “experiment” I used as directed. Not as bad as the cork only, but this is clearly more evolved and not necessarily in a good way: stale flavors and signs of oxidation.
Sello. $50 which includes 24 cartridges. Additional cartridges available $10 for 12. One cartridge per bottle, so roughly $1/bottle. The website says that the system will keep a bottle of wine “in optimal condition for seven days.” Well, I followed the directions precisely and simply put, this was not good. Oxidized, stewed, overly jammy—decidedly worse than even the cork-only bottle. Not good. I am willing to concede that something was amiss and will try again.
Repour. $9 for a four pack, $17 for a ten-pack. $72 for a 72-pack. So between $1 to $2.25 per use. The easiest system to use: just peel and plug. The website claims that the stopper removes (almost) all the oxygen in the bottle (although does not really say how) and will “preserve the wine for the life of the opened bottle.” Similar to the gas, the wine is a bit more evolved than the control, but in a good way—the wine actually tastes better than the control.
Coravin. $300 for the unit, $10/canister of Argon (each canister is good for about 15-5 oz. pours). Clearly the most expensive (and complex) option in the line-up, Coravin claims that wine will remain pristine for months, maybe longer. The result? As far as I could tell, there was no difference whatsoever between the newly opened control bottle and the bottle upon which I employed the Coravin. This is clearly an expensive option, but it clearly works.
My take away? For the dollar, the cans of ArT18 are easily the way to go, with the Repour stoppers right behind—in fact they are pretty darned close to one another. I would discourage the use of the VacuVin—after some initial enthusiasm for the product upon release, I am less convinced of its benefits. The Coravin is certainly popular and effective, but is it “worth it”? I guess that is up to the individual.
Confused? There is always the “just-finish-the-bottle” approach, which I wholeheartedly embrace.