The Great Coravin Test, Part 5: Six Months Later

26 01 2016

To catch you up on the epic journey that is concluding with this post:

  • I got to borrow a Coravin back in July (Part 1)
  • I accessed three awesome bottles with it and wrote tasting notes (Part 2)
  • I checked back on them two weeks later to see how they were doing (Part 3)
  • I dove into some cellar treasures and gave some final Coravin thoughts (Part 4)
  • I promised to come back to my three test bottles one last time…in half a year.

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Take 5. One last time.

How time flies.  Suddenly it’s six months from the week of my original Coravin tasting write-up and I owe this story an epilogue.  After seeing this trio of my bottles front and centre in my cellar on a daily basis and accessing them multiple times through the Coravin needle, I actually felt sort of bad cutting off the foils and pulling the corks out of them like they were any old weeknight wines.  But science does not wilt for sentiment, and I had a job to do.

Some specific details of the condition of these bottles leading up to this final taste test:  they were all at least half empty for a good five and a half months, and were stored on their sides, which is better in standard storage situations since it keeps the cork moist, but adds extra challenge to the Coravin’s task because the argon layer pumped into the bottle is spread over a much larger horizontal surface area.  After the smattering of reports upon Coravin’s initial release about bottles exploding under pressure, I was slightly disappointed to note that the corks came out as boringly as ever, without even a hiss of air or a questionable crack.  So much for that.

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For each of my test subjects below, I will give you an excerpt of my initial tasting notes back in July, followed by my subsequent tasting notes from 6 months later — written without looking at anything that came before, believe me — and then my final verdict on the Coravin’s long-term preservation skills.  Here we go:

Wine #1:  2012 Sans Liege Cotes-du-Coast (Central Coast, California)

Initial Tasting Notes:  “Smelled so lush and intense that it was almost Gewurz-like…lychee, candied ginger, lilacs, brown sugar, spice cookies (clove/nutmeg/cinnamon) and crème brûlée.  Silky, almost slinky, plush mouthfeel and a slightly viscous body, but lifted and kept in balance by a circular saw blade of acidity running right down its spine…  Honeyed, crystallized white peach and cantaloupe fruit bore a hint of maple and danced with more rugged peppery/spicy undertones.”

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Cork Rating: 9.8/10 (This is one of the best corks of all time. Like a Greek epic. Win.)

Six Months Later:  Fruity, sweet-smelling and Gewurz-like (I SWEAR I didn’t go back and read my prior notes):  candied pineapple, angel food cake, almond, poached pear and burnt sugar on a potent, confectionary nose.  Life, acid and fruit are still beaming on the palate, melding cantaloupe, peach, vanilla, marshmallow, white flowers and baby powder.  An oily texture, almost slinky, but a touch flat and papery on the finish, although I don’t know if I would say that if I hadn’t had it before.

Final Preservation Verdict:  This wine tastes exactly like I remembered except at the very end, where it took on a sort of construction paper note along with the much more pleasant fruit and dessert-like flavours.  The notes show that it’s clearly the same wine and hasn’t lost any life or verve; it’s just tweaked a touch on the finish.

Wine #2:  2012 Tabali Pinot Noir Reserva Especial (Limari Valley, Chile)

Initial Tasting Notes:  “Classic fruity-meets-earthy Pinot nose of raspberry, currants, bramble, underbrush and fall leaves, with a touch of mintiness/cough drop mixed in…  Lithe, clean and tart, but still juicy, bursting with red fruits tinged with minerality.  No bitterness or greenness to be found, and superb balance and structure, including mouth-watering acidity and unexpectedly bold (yet not astringent) tannin.”

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Cork Rating: 6/10 (Sort of a fun Tiki vibe, but needs more going on.)

Six Months Later:  This bottle had a brief hiccup at its 2-week checkup, coming out a bit funky before rebounding at a subsequent taste a few days later.  Now it has totally snapped back to normal, with incisive aromas of red cherry and strawberry fruit, violets, black pepper and forest floor.  Delicate and floral, it tastes pure and sharp, with lightning acidity, powerful structure and no flatness whatsoever.  Pure red fruit, currant, cinnamon and mineral flavours linger — this is in great shape.

Final Preservation Verdict:  This wine is perfect from a preservation perspective, which is all the more crazy because it was the emptiest of the three testers thanks to the extra follow-up taste I gave it.  This bottle of delicate Pinot Noir was two-thirds empty for 6 months and it tastes like I bought it yesterday.  Insanity.

Wine #3:  2011 Les Halos de Jupiter Chateauneuf-du-Pape Adrastee (Rhone Valley, France)

Initial Tasting Notes:  “This wine is a beast:  mammoth proportions, explosive flavour, fruit forever, and sledgehammer power, but underneath it all, insane depth, quality and persistence.  The flavours are a run-down of delicious and appealing:  blueberry pie, strawberry, blackberry jam, maple, incense, sage and English Breakfast tea, pleasantly dirtied by charcoal and smoked meat.  Amazingly, it only barely seems full-bodied, keeping the alcohol well-contained until the finish, where it crescendoes.”

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Cork Rating: 7.5/10 (Great corks all around – love the vertical orientation here.)

Six Months Later:  Still a beast.  Smoky, brambly, concentrated blueberry and fig, cranberry sauce, maple, bacon fat and other candied fruit on the nose, and just a monster on the palate, Grenache through and through.  Grape jelly, blackberry and dark cherry on the barbecue, with wood chips, charcoal and herbes de Provence, with a lasting potpourri impression, although it still seems young and slightly caged.  There is a touch of bitter paperiness on the finish again (although I was admittedly hunting for it now – it wasn’t there on the Pinot at all), just a subtle astringent shift after you swallow.

Final Preservation Verdict:  This wine is 16% alcohol, so I might have been able to just leave it open on my counter for 6 months and have it preserve itself, but it’s in great shape.  For all of these wines, there is zero hint of oxidation (which isn’t surprising since the bottle was never opened, thus never exposing the liquid within to oxygen), and they maintain all of the energy they had when I first tasted them.  The slight papery twist on the finish on two of the three was the only change I noticed, but its total absence on the middle wine, the one likeliest to be affected by it, makes me wonder if it was coincidental or temporary.  Either way, it is the only minor question mark on an otherwise highly successful experiment.  Nice work, Coravin.  Thanks for the fun, bottles.

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Fill levels, for the record.

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