Over the years I’ve tried many devices meant to preserve leftover wine in an effort to keep it tasting fresh. These included vacuum devices meant to extract oxygen in the ‘head-space’ between the remaining wine and bottle closure, and inert gas pumped into the open bottle to displace the oxygen, before recorking. Oxygen, you see, is the culprit in spoiling a wine once opened: just like an apple sliced in half and exposed to the air, the browning and spoiling process happens relatively quickly.
In practice I found that none of these devices made any real improvement – I couldn’t detect any discernable difference from bottles simply recorked and stuck in the fridge. But a few years ago a new generation of preservation devices emerged, based on more radical engineering and science, the most successful being a product called Coravin.
The Coravin system pushes a needle through the cork (so the cork is not removed) and, as wine is drawn off through the needle, it is replaced by inert argon gas so that in theory the wine is never exposed to external oxygen. The system is fairly large and unweildy, costs around £200, and has the additional cost of replacing the ‘consumables’ – the gas capsules used. It has proved very popular in commercial settings, allowing fine wines to be poured by the glass, and most users report that it drastically reduces oxidation, and does indeed work well.
A different take – Repour
I was recently contacted by Tom Lutz, a wine-loving chemist, about his entry into the wine preserving market. Tom says he too had tried a variety of gadgets without success: “They were too expensive, too complicated, and only partially effective,” he says. Tom and his wife Michelle set out to devise their own system, which is now on the market under the brand name ‘Repour’. An extremely simple solution in many ways, one-time-use stoppers are filled with an active oxygen absorbing material.
Responding to a question on a Guild of Sommeliers web site, Tom wrote: “Repour works by reacting with oxygen in the air, in doing so it creates a 21% vacuum in the bottle. While reduced air oxygen levels is the start, the real effectiveness in wine preservation comes from what happens to dissolved oxygen in the wine itself. By actively removing the oxygen in the air, coupled with Henry’s law (which states that the amount of dissolved gas in a liquid is proportional to its partial pressure above the liquid), Repour reduces disolved oxygen to below 0.03 ppm which is the magic that keeps the wine fresh until your return to pour another glass.” The stopper can be inserted and removed several times, continuing to work glass-by-glass.
Another interesting feature of the system, which other systems cannot replicate, is that it can also be used on sparkling wines: “Carbon dioxide doesn’t care what’s happening with oxygen within the bottle, i.e. oxygen vacating the system,” says Tom. “It doesn’t impact what happens to carbon dioxide, though as always it is important to re-stopper very soon after opening to stop the de-gassing of the wine.” Tom also says they are looking at developing a ‘clamping’ version of the device to make sure the carbon dioxide does not push the stopper out.
Tom kindly sent me a pack of Repours to try for myself, so I gave the device a stiff test: closing a bottle of red Burgundy with around two glasses remaining in the bottle, which I left unrefrigerated on a kitchen worktop for just over three weeks before trying again. The results are described below.