Columnist, Food

Screw caps are best for wines designed for early consumption, not aging. (Goran Kosanovic/For The Washington Post)

When I first read about Coravin’s new screw-cap toppers, my first thought was, “Oh no, something else to clutter my wine gewgaw drawer.” Like most wine lovers, I have a kitchen drawer overflowing with corkscrews, cork pullers, foil cutters to remove the paper covering and expose the cork so that I can use a cork puller, at least one vacuum pump and an assortment of rubber stoppers for preserving opened wine, and glass stoppers from expensive German wines that I’ve kept even though they never really fit snugly on other bottles. These compete for valuable space with useless bottle stoppers with ceramic grape clusters on top and the all-too-cute wine charms that never seem to be around when I’m having a dinner party. And even if I can find the wine charms, what use are they when a careless relative picks up the wrong glass and says, “Oh, mine was the eggplant?” Pay attention, people!

Anyway, back to the Coravin. This is the device introduced four years ago that promised to revolutionize wine drinking by allowing collectors to sample their rare wines without extracting the cork and exposing the wine to oxygen. The Coravin inserts a needle through the cork and extracts some wine, replacing it with inert argon gas that coats the surface of the wine remaining in the bottle, protecting it from oxygen. The rest of the wine can be sampled days, weeks even months later without fear of it oxidizing. It’s a wine nerd’s dream gadget, allowing us to stretch our enjoyment of prized bottles over several nights or even months.

While intended for collectors, the Coravin quickly became a darling of sommeliers, who could offer expensive, rare wines for diners willing to splurge on a taste or a glass but reluctant to plunk big money on a full bottle.

But screw caps? They became popular with winemakers about 15 years ago because inferior corks were ruining too many wines with the moldy smell known as cork taint. They’ve become increasingly popular as consumers have the idea that screw caps are meant for Skid Row wines.


Almost two-thirds of wines are sealed by cork. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

A few wineries have experimented with screw caps on top wines, and Chehalem winery, in Oregon, has demonstrated that its wines age well under screw cap. Yet natural cork remains the closure of choice for higher-end wines. Screw caps are more for wines designed for early consumption.

That may be changing. According to an article earlier this year in Drinks Business, a British trade website, out of 18 billion bottles of wine marketed worldwide in 2016, 11.5 billion, or 64 percent, were sealed by cork, while 4.5 billion, or 25 percent, were under screw cap. Plastic and other closures accounted for the remaining 11 percent, but were declining in market share while corks and screw caps were increasing.

Greg Lambrecht, the creator of Coravin, says the growing acceptance of screw-cap closures created a market for a Coravin method of sampling these wines while preserving them. “One of the most common requests we received from consumers after launching the Coravin was to find a solution for the 25 percent of wines bottled under screw cap,” Lambrecht said in an email.


After you replace the screw cap with a Coravin stopper . . . (Coravin)

. . . you can use the device to extract some wine. (Coravin)

Here’s how it works: If you happen to already own a Coravin, which costs from $200 to $350, to use it on screw-capped wine bottles, you will need to buy a set of six stoppers for $30. Remove the screw cap from your wine and replace it immediately with the Coravin stopper. You can then use your Coravin to penetrate the stopper and extract some wine. You could of course just put the screw cap back on the bottle — and in my experience, this keeps a good wine fresh for several days, even without refrigeration. But the Coravin offers additional reassurance by injecting the inert gas to protect the wine. According to Coravin, a wine will last up to three months, and the cap can be reused for up to 50 extractions.

Lambrecht said the new stoppers will be especially useful on top wines from Australia and New Zealand, such as Tolpuddle chardonnay from Tasmania or Felton Road pinot noir from Central Otago. And like the Coravin itself, they might give restaurants flexibility to offer different wines by the glass.

Neal Wavra, co-owner of Field & Main restaurant in Marshall, Va., said he is considering using the new stoppers “to expand our Coravin program to screw-cap wines.”

Winn Roberton, chief sommelier at Bourbon Steak in the District, agrees. “I see more and more high-end wines coming out with screw caps, such as Plumpjack in Oakville and their sister estate Odette in Stags Leap District,” he says, referring to two wineries in California’s Napa Valley. “If I were to come across a screw-cap wine I wanted to pour by the glass, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it.”

At home, I can see the cap being useful for preserving that last wine of the evening, when I want just a glass without feeling the need to drink the rest of the bottle the next day. But to be honest, what I really see, even after considering the issue further, is my cluttered gewgaw drawer.