Choice is brilliant until it’s a burden. Most of us crave variety, yet we fear change. These dichotomies make the business of being a human rather tricky.
They also make life interesting, of course. And they are at the heart of two seemingly disparate modern phenomena: Tinder, the popular dating app; and Coravin, the wine preservation device. I’ve never used Tinder, but I do own a Coravin. And I have similar misgivings about both.
One of my issues with Tinder is it’s unnatural by definition. The functionality of the app means there are certain pressures — is this someone you’d like to take to bed? — on every initial social encounter. I’m not sure that’s all that helpful in terms of getting to know someone and encouraging any potential attraction to bloom.
Another problem with Tinder is choice. Once you are aware of how many options are out there, it can be difficult to settle in with just one person, provided a long-term relationship is what you are after.
Allied to this, there’s the issue of becoming addicted to the rush of the start of a relationship with a new person. Once that thrill dies down, what remains is the hard work that we are told is integral to forging a meaningful life partnership. Won’t that difficult-yet-meaningful work start to seem like a bit of a drag? And when things get tricky, will there be a strong temptation to fire up the app again and do some swiping?
But this is an article about wine, something I’m much more qualified to write about than relationships. More specifically, it’s about Coravin, the wine preservation tool that got the wine world talking over the last few years.
It’s not hard to understand why. It is a source of great regret when I find myself having to pour away good wine simply because I opened too many bottles and couldn’t finish them before they started to turn.
For this reason, many people have come up with wine preservation devices. The oldest of these was VacuVin, which involves a rubber stopper and pump. The idea is that if you suck out all the air then the wine left in the bottle won’t oxidize. Then there have been various devices that inject argon, a neutral gas that blankets the remaining wine, also protecting it from oxygen. These devices are only partially effective, largely because the wine will have taken up oxygen in the act of pouring, and the oxidation processes that cause the wine to deteriorate after opening will already have begun.
Coravin, however, is much cleverer. It ejects the wine from the bottle by pumping in argon, so the wine doesn’t oxidize; it has never seen oxygen. It achieves this remarkable feat by means of a surgical needle that penetrates the cork. As argon is introduced, the wine bubbles out, quite slowly but surely. Once the needle is removed, the cork re-seals and the wine can be put back in the rack, or wine cabinet, to be accessed again at another time – sometimes months, or even a year or two later.
Think of the implications! A collector can take a sip of a very expensive, rare wine, to see how it is developing. Is it time to open it? No? Back in the cellar it goes for another year. Or you can have a glass of wine with your dinner when before you couldn’t justify opening a whole bottle.
Restaurants can put expensive, rare wines on by-the-glass programs without worrying about whether they will sell through the whole bottle before it deteriorates (older wines are more fragile, so they need to be drunk in one or at most two days). And the wine reps flogging the stuff can sample expensive bottles much more affordably. Coravin is a game changer.
The purpose of this article, though, is not to discuss whether or not Coravin works, or even how well it works. I’ve had good experiences with it, and lots of people are using it and are very happy with it. Some complain that it isn’t quite as good as a few of the claims made on its behalf, but we can get into that another day.
I have a Coravin but, like Tinder, I don’t use it. Why? Because it diminishes specialness. I don’t want to drink grand cru wines every weekday night when I fancy a glass of wine. Coravin makes this possible, providing that you have the wines in your cabinet, cellar, or rack. If a wine is too expensive to open on a Tuesday for solo dining, I’m not sure it’s the wine I should be drinking on a Tuesday evening.
There’s a place for seeking out drinkable, smashable wines that don’t cost the earth and don’t demand an occasion. Every good cellar needs these wines. Sharing a modest bottle with a friend, or drinking half and then putting the cork back in for the next day, is perfectly legitimate weeknight activity. With Tinder, if love can be found at the swipe of a finger, then suddenly it’s not all that special.
Then there’s the issue of too much choice. We love choice, don’t we? But we hate too much choice. It messes with our heads. It’s much easier to choose a wine from a short list than a long one, just as a restaurant menu with fewer dishes is more inspiring and easier to navigate than one with too many. If, via Corovin, your whole cellar is an option at any drinking occasion, this is often the level of choice that’s uncomfortable and makes it very hard to actually make a specific call. The parallel with online dating is obvious.
Corovin also messes with the normal order of things. Tradition can hold us back, of course, but it can also liberate us to live well. In this modern age, everything is up for grabs and there are no rules. There’s some liberty in this freedom, but we have not been set free from the consequences of our actions. Those still come back to bite us as we make up our own life manual on the fly.
When it comes to wine, there’s something quite special about uncorking a bottle and then drinking it in good company, out of nice glassware, and possibly with nice food. These things matter and help us enjoy wine all the more.
If wine were just about the sensory properties of liquid in a glass, then Coravin would be just great. It isn’t, and I find the act of pouring a glass via this contraption to be strangely unsatisfying and empty of much of the richness and meaning of the normal act of wine consumption. Of course, Tinder can start something off that then develops beautifully in a more traditional sort of relationship way, but repeated Tinder encounters aren’t really the “real” thing, are they? Uncorking a bottle involves a level of commitment that is very rewarding. Over the course of the evening we get to see different aspects of the wine. We get to know it. It is our companion for that evening. A succession of tiny tasting pours is in many ways less satisfying, even though we sometimes crave diversity and variety.
We allow bottles to sleep in the cellar, and then we awaken them when it is their turn to be drunk. Each wine, in its time. This is one of the things that make wine so rich. Going through the cellar just taking small pours to check on these sleeping wines sounds much more fun than it is. Also, the possession of a Coravin might make it harder to make the call to actually open a bottle and drink it. Usually, those of us who buy wine, buy too much of the stuff. We really don’t need reasons not to open bottles.
I’m not anti-Coravin. I’m not anti-Tinder. But, for similar reasons, neither appeals to me. If something special is available every day, it is no longer special.