Hubert Burda Media

Coravin CEO Frédéric Lévy Talks Wine

The US-based Frenchman is tasting his way through the world’s wine regions…without ever opening or finishing off a whole bottle again.

First, an American with a background in physics, nuclear power and medical devices invented a tool that made it possible for restaurants to offer wine-by-the-glass that serious wine enthusiasts would actually care to drink. Next, he hired the former President of Nespresso USA — Frédéric Lévy — to ensure that the device, which uses a medical grade needle and a capsule of argon gas to pour wine without ever removing the cork, will one day make the humble corkscrew completely obsolete. But can a former coffee boss revolutionise wine consumption? And how much does Lévy actually love wine? A lot, it seems.

I understand you’ve got quite a story about your first official experience with Coravin.
I was interviewing with [founder and inventor] Greg Lambrecht [for this job] at the NoMad in New York, and he took the Coravin and threw it against the wall. I think he wanted to demonstrate that this product he designed was unbreakable. And it is. He picked it up, poured me a glass, and it worked perfectly. The staff there know Greg well, so they weren’t surprised. But the diners probably thought we were having an argument.

Is there a typical Coravin user?
Two years ago, 80 percent of customers were restaurants. Now it’s only 20 percent. The first wave in household consumption was the fanatical wine collectors, but now we’re seeing a second wave of what I call, the “wine lovers”. I put myself in this category — I love it; know a little bit about it; and I can’t imagine having food without a glass of wine. Next will be the casual drinker. My objective, in the long run, is to replace the corkscrew with this. It’s a revolution for wine drinking: You can finish a bottle or you can not finish a bottle, it’s your choice now.

My mother is 82 and she would never have opened a good bottle by herself. But now, what I do is I put a sticker on the bottles that are in the drinking window, and she’s able to enjoy them by herself. The last time I visited, she was working on a bottle of Saint-Estèphe 1986. It takes her two to three weeks to go through a bottle of red and white, as she is a small drinker. That’s possible with Coravin.

Describe the kind of “wine lover” you are.
I’m the guy in the restaurant telling the sommelier that I know this, this, and this, but I want something else. I will never choose the wine I know. At home, I have a cellar that I inherited from my father. But my own collection is on the eclectic side. Being French, I started with French wine. Ten years ago when I moved to the US, I started buying a lot of American wine, as I almost never had any in France and I wanted to discover them. Now I’m buying in Argentina, Chile, Spain, New Zealand…everywhere. My last trip to Asia, I brought back a magnum of Chinese wine. I served it blind in New York and nobody could believe it. I’m trying to get bottles from as many different places as possible. I don’t buy wines by the case anymore. Now I buy one or two bottles. My objective is that ten years from now, if you come by for dinner at my home, I can offer you a wine from any country in the world.

Do you recall your first taste of wine and did you enjoy it?
I remember it very well, but I hated it. In France, wine is part of the culture. My father was already giving me small sips in a spoon at 12, to let me discover wine. I thought it was so bad, I hated the bitterness and acidity. But the palate evolves, and by 18, I was enjoying good wine thanks to my father for starting me so early. I also remember all the cheap Beaujolais we used to have as students at all-you-can eat restaurants in Paris. I can tell you that the Beaujolais from 20 years ago, was not good!

So what was in your father’s collection?
Mainly Bordeaux and Burgundy and from the Loire valley. My father’s thinking was very typical – that the best wine in the world is French, although he did have some American wine from the 1980s, from Napa.

What’s the best drop of wine you’ve ever had?
A La Tâche 1971 for the emotion behind the bottle. It was given to me by my father and I had wanted to drink it with him. But we postponed the moment, and unfortunately it never happened [before he passed]. So now I’m drinking this bottle with my brother-in-law, who used to be a professional oenologue. Using Coravin, we’ll have one small glass every year until the bottle is empty. On top of being a good bottle, there is a lot of emotion for me as I was very close to my father.

Any other memorable bottles of late?
There was a Romanée-Conti. And a few weeks back I was lucky enough to enjoy a vertical of Cheval Blanc from 1971 to 1989. Using Coravin, we decanted two glasses a bottle for the tasting.