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John On Wine ­ – Save that wine!

Originally published in the Ukiah Daily Journal newspaper on June 6, 2014
John Cesano of John On Wine

John Cesano of John On Wine

Whenever I talk about wine preservation, I can count on someone saying, “I always finish the bottle.” This column isn’t for you Tipsy McStagger, but for those of us who only want a glass or two, not a whole bottle in a night; or who at a party finish a bottle or two but want to pour one more glass and not an entire third bottle. Here’s a look at many ways to keep your wine good from glass to glass.

Savino is a simple, elegant, and effective wine preservation system; a cylindrical glass carafe, with a fluted opening which makes pouring wine easy, a glass float with collar, and a top to close the carafe against accidental spill. I was sent one as a review sample and I tried it out, both at home and at work. I found it keeps a bottle’s worth of wine good, glass after glass for about five to seven days. The Savino Wine Preservation Carafe is $60 for the glass model in a gorgeous gift box, or $30 for the same design in plastic.

Wine Preserva is a simple system with a round floating disc that has a radial cut fringed edge allowing it to fit inside of any wine bottle and self adjust for interior circumference. Like Savino, the wine is protected from air by a floating seal directly on top of the wine. The cost is $6 for a 10-pack or $30 for a 50-pack, Wine Preserva is used, and then tossed with the bottle when empty.

In my tasting room, I use a big tank of argon, an inert gas that is heavier than oxygen. The tank, regulator, hose, and wand run about $300, with refills of argon running about $40. I am able to spray a protective layer of argon into each opened bottle between glasses, not displacing oxygen, but blanketing the wine and protecting it from oxygen. A tank lasts 3-4 months in the tasting room and many, many years at home.

Probably the most ubiquitous wine preservation tool is the VacuVin, a device that purports to create a vacuum by pumping all of the air from inside a wine bottle through special one-way valved stoppers. Inexpensive, with a near endless line of fans, the product brings to mind the quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

We’re not talking about meat in a bag, but wine in a bottle and sucking the air out of a wine bottle strips away aroma and flavor, as described by Matt Kramer in Wine Spectator. The vacuum created is at best partial, a mere pressure differential with air remaining inside the bottle, and a leak rate that allows more air back in, as measured in two independent laboratories, ETS Labs and a university science lab for Kramer’s piece. Consumer Reports found the VacuVin no better at saving wine flavors than just jamming the old cork back in.

Better than just jamming the old porous cork in, is resealing with The Corker, a non porous sealer that is both decorative and functional. About $20 online at TheCorker.com, or at an art and wine festival, one size fits all bottles, keeps carbonation in a bubbly, allows still wines to be stored on their side in the fridge without leaking, and can be used in concert with Private Preserve for top notch preservation.

Less expensive than a $300 argon tank set up, but based on the same idea, is Private Preserve small $10 cans of gas, nitrogen mixed with argon, that similarly blanket between wine and oxygen when sprayed into a bottle. I like pure argon better, because nitrogen has a lighter atomic weight than oxygen and does not protect by blanketing, but by displacement and complete displacement of oxygen with nitrogen is unlikely. The argon in the can is doing the work here with the nitrogen keeping the price down.

Coravin is a remarkable device that allows you to extract wine through the cork without opening the bottle, using a medical grade needle while blanketing the remaining wine with argon. The argon is actually used to create pressure inside the bottle, pumping the wine out. Not inexpensive, $299 retail for the device, two argon canisters, and a display base. I saw it in use through Sonoma Valley as it allowed tasting rooms to offer tastes of high end, high dollar, wines by the glass without concern about oxidation. Unfortunately, there is a very small but real chance that the wine bottle may explode. Seven people have reported a bottle explosion, and one owner, holding a bottle near his face, cut his lip and chipped his tooth when a bottle burst.

Wine bottles can withstand six to 10 times the pressure a Coravin creates, but a flawed bottle, chipped by accident or with a large bubble in the glass through manufacturing defect has less strength, and sales of Coravins have been suspended until neoprene bottle sleeves can be distributed to all current owners and included at sale for all future owners.

The Air Cork is familiar if you watch television’s Shark Tank; a purple balloon on the end of a hose, with a grape shaped squeeze ball on the other end. This wine preservation system has you put the hose into a wine bottle, balloon touching the wine, and pump, pump, pump, you inflate the balloon, displacing oxygen and creating a protective barrier from air for the wine. Offered $400,000 by “The Sharks,” the creator turned the offer down, and the product is available on Amazon for $25.

 

Not long ago, I wrote about being done with writing about the Vacu-vin wine preservation gizmo. Then, a couple of nights ago, I caught someone trying to get some funding for his wine preservation gizmo from “The Sharks” on ABC television’s program that marries inventors and investors.
Inventor Eric Corti was trying to secure some capital, possibly just some free advertising, for his Wine Balloon from TVs Sharks.
Back in April, last year, Martin left a comment to my “Friends don’t let friends Vacu-Vin” piece:

Thanks John, good read.

I too have purchased a Vacu Vin and have had so so results. Cnet.com had an article this month under their “gadgets” section about a thing called a Wine Balloon. So for a few bucks I ordered one as the idea is similar to the floating disk. The balloon sealed the bottle for three days. When I went back for a glass I still tasted subtleties of the wine with no apparent residual effect from the balloon, it worked pretty well. Was wondering if you’ve heard or tried it?

To which I replied:
Funny Martin, but I have always thought that a balloon was the ideal wine preservation concept, but was concerned that a chemical, rubber, or plastic aroma or flavor might be imparted to the wine. It is interesting to see that someone is using the idea to seeming good effect. Thanks for sharing the news. -John
Okay, I’m back on a topic I said I was done with, but for wine geeks, the science of wine preservation is as big a deal as whether Kirk or Picard is the better Star Fleet Captain is to Trekkies – or Trekkers for those that care.
Eric was seeking $40,000 for a 30% stake in his business. One Shark, Kevin, offered Eric $40,000 for 30% if the product was pitched to Vacu-vin for a royalty deal. Another shark, Lori, offered to buy him out completely for $500,000; Mark Cuban joined Lori raising the offer to $600,000 but required an instant yes. Eric countered, asking for $600,000 and a 3% royalty. The Sharks played hardball, and the offer dropped back to $500,000 and then $400,000 before Eric seemed to accept that diminished offer.
Today, on Eric’s website blog, I read:

We’re still in control of the company. Cooler heads prevailed. Thanks for your comments and support of the Wine Balloon

We are still in touch with the Sharks. You never know what will happen down the road.

and

I was a total mad-house in there as you sure witnessed.
We have NOT sold the company and cooler heads prevailed. Please don’t boycott the Wine Balloon. We still own it.
Were in contact with the Sharks, and that was the ultimate goal. If you bail and walk, you have zero contact with them later on.

I have written that the Vacu-vin sucks (literally and figuratively), and although I use Nitrogen at work, I thought a balloon to be a great wine preservation gizmo for home use if the balloon didn’t impart weird rubbery chemical off notes to the wine.

According to the Wine Balloon’s FAQ page, “The balloon is manufactured in the United States of a Natural Rubber Latex (biobased elastomer) material.  All ingredients in the balloon meet U.S. FDA Standards for food contact – (FDA 177.26),” and, “Wine Balloon will not alter the taste of your wine.”

The product is simplicity itself. After opening a wine bottle and pouring a glass or two, a washable balloon at one end of a tube is inserted into the wine bottle until it contacts the surface of the remaining wine, a grape cluster shaped squeeze pump on the other end of the tube is squeezed inflating the balloon and the remaining wine is effectively protected from the harmful effects of oxidation without the stripping away of aroma that comes with other more famous wine preservation gizmos.

Of greater note, this is the first wine preservation gizmo that allows a user the opportunity to see that the product is functioning. Vacuum pumps leave invisible Oxygen while pressurized cans pump invisible Nitrogen into the bottle. Where faith was required in the past while much has been written about the lack of efficacy some of these wine preservation systems offer, the Wine Balloon is remarkable for leaving no question as to whether it works or not.

At $22, with additional replacement balloons available affordably, the Wine Balloon is a solid, easily recommendable product for home use by many wine drinkers.

I know of many people who live alone, want just one or two glasses, can open a bottle now and thanks to the Wine Balloon will be able to come back to the bottle days later and finish the bottle without a loss of aroma or flavor.

In fairness, the product needs a slight modification to make it more useful in my house, or any home where multiple bottles are open at the same time. With Wine Balloon, you need one system for each bottle open, and at $22 per unit, that would run over $100 in Wine Balloons in constant use at my house. That is why I use Nitrogen both at work with 12 bottles of wine open and home where I have 6 bottles open.

I’m not really who this gizmo was made for, but I am happy to point friends at it, and more happy that Eric appears to have not taken the Sharks money but instead taken advantage of the opportunity to market his product directly to millions of viewers.

Good luck Eric and Wine Balloon.

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