Pop & Repour: Preservation Experimentation

7 02 2019

By Peter Vetsch

And – we’re back.

When I posted the review for Vinebox Day 12 as we polished off our daily reviews for two consecutive holiday wine calendars, I fully intended that the blog would go dark for a little bit while we rested our typing fingers and regrouped.  I did not intend to then catch bronchitis and a cough that wouldn’t die in a house full of plague and contagion, but that’s what happened, leading to a much-longer-than-anticipated blackout period to kick off 2019.  However, I’m back on my feet and Pop & Pour is officially back in business with some compelling content in the wings to kick off our writing new year, starting with a new and intriguing solution to one of my favourite wine questions:  how best to preserve an open bottle.

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I am an unabashed wine preservation geek.  I own a Savino (and it works! at least for shorter storage periods).  I have tried, and ultimately discarded, a number of vacuum pump oxygen-expelling gizmos (which never quite get all the air out and quickly cease to become airtight themselves, thus undermining the whole enterprise).  I have written a lengthy series of real-time preservation reports about the Coravin as I gradually drained bottles with one over the span of six months (a series of posts that continues to get regular views in Iceland to this day, though I could not tell you why).  My current preservation go-to is an argon dispenser, which places a blanket of inert gas over top of the remaining wine in the bottle and acts to prevent further oxygen contact, as oxygen is the primary agent that leads to wine deterioration over time.  I thought I was fairly up to speed on the various different ways to keep wine from spoiling, but little did I know that a new entrant had recently joined the fray.

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The Repour Wine Saver is ingenious in its simplicity.  All wine preservation tools operate by preventing oxygen access to wine in some manner or another.  Some of them fail because they rely on physical or mechanical processes that grow less efficient over time as materials change or fail.  The Repour has no moving parts or components that can get worn down over time, particularly because it’s not meant to be used over time: it’s a single-use disposable bottle stopper that retails for $3-4 CAD, keeps a single bottle of wine fresh for as many times as you care to reopen it, and is then thrown away.  It works not by expelling or blanketing the oxygen in the bottle, but by absorbing it.  The interior of the stopper is crammed full of oxygen-absorbing material (of a type that is also used to help keep food fresh during transit) which, once the cover tab is removed and the stopper is placed in the bottle, starts pulling the oxygen not only out of the air inside the bottle but also out of the wine itself.  No oxygen = no spoilage.

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Given that the Repour doesn’t just reduce but almost wholly eliminates the presence of oxygen near the wine, its website claims that the stopper can make an opened bottle of wine stay fresh for “days, weeks, or even months”, whether or not you also put the bottle in the fridge during the intervening period.  That is mind-blowing.  The very idea of cracking a mostly empty bottle of wine that has been sitting out on the counter for multiple months and finding the wine inside to still be good is so utterly bonkers that I felt compelled to give this impressive product a good solid test-drive.  I have no problem believing that the Repour, if its oxygen-sucking core does what it says, will outperform any vacuum pump with ease — but how will it do against argon, which to my mind is the current preservation gold standard?  Let’s find out.

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I went to the cellar and found a wine I was carrying in threes:  the 2015 Alfred Merkelbach Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel Valley in Germany, a.k.a. heaven.  It’s a good candidate for a preservation competition because its flavours are both delicate and precise, which should make it easier to detect if things are starting to become unglued over time.  The wine is a complete throwback to a bygone era (the Merkelbach brothers are in their 80s), understated and filigreed in style, canned golden apple, sea spray, petrichor and orange zest aromas giving way to a fragile yet enduring, heavily mineral palate, all quartz dust and steel.  The restrained residual sugar offers relief and key lime accents without weight, the acid is omnipresent but not cutting, and the finish is taut and straight-laced, perfectly formal and polite and German.  I realized that a preservation experiment could not proceed if all of the bottles remained full, so…

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With my sample set properly established, I peeled off my first Repour tab and put it to work in one bottle, dosed the second bottle with argon, and left the third bottle to the wolves, recorked with no preservation agent at all.  I put all three bottles in the fridge (I couldn’t bring myself to do the countertop thing, given that I have to revisit and drink each of these again and again over time).  I’ll check back in a couple days, then a week, then two weeks, then four weeks, then (if any wine is left standing) in six weeks, to see where things stand, after which I’ll report back on my findings.  Possibly the coolest thing about the Repour is that you don’t need to re-dose it every time you open the bottle to pour out more wine, as it contains enough absorbing material to handle any new oxygen that infiltrates as you pour your second, third or fourth glass.  Given its one-off nature and corresponding material costs, it may face some pricing challenges against other preservation methods, but ask Coravin buyers what they’re willing to pay for proper wine preservation that stands the test of time.  We wait.

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