Uncorking new wine technology

The ability to extract a single glass of wine from a bottle without popping the cork and affecting the remaining contents is a coveted power for sommeliers, and the team at David Burke’s Primehouse at The James Chicago has found a way to do it. Using the coravin — new wine technology that allows access to wine without pulling the cork — Primehouse Sommelier Matthew Bills has designed the new Cellar Glass Pour Program featuring 3-ounce and 6-ounce pours of rare vintage wines such as a 1966 Chateau Kirwan Cabernet Blend from Bordeaux (US$41 for 3 ounces, US$82 for 6 ounces) and a 1999 Whitehall Lane Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa (US$28 for 3 ounces, US$56 for 6 ounces).

The coravin allows access to a bottle of wine without pulling the cork.
The coravin allows access to a bottle of wine without pulling the cork.

Recently I asked Bills about the origin of the program, which launched last December, and the impact it has had thus far.

Ann Bagel Storck: What was the main reason behind adding this feature to your wine program?

Matthew Bills
Matthew Bills

Matthew Bills: When I first discovered the coravin system, I knew it would be a success with our guests. Since David Burke’s Primehouse is located in The James Chicago, we have many single diners, many of whom have expressed interest in high-end wines but often don’t want to commit to a whole bottle. The coravin allows our guests to experience these rare wines that typically aren’t ever poured by the glass.

ABS: How unique is the coravin among restaurant wine programs, to your knowledge?

MB: As a sommelier in Chicago, I am always checking out the competition and seeing what’s popular with other wine programs. Since before we started utilizing the coravin, I had never come across another glass-pour program that used the technology.   

ABS: What are the most popular selections in your Cellar Glass Pour Program?  

MB: By far, the most popular wine has been the Chateau d’Yquem (US$80 for 1 ounce). We have sold multiple vintages of this ranging from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. Making this wine available by the single ounce instead of a 750-ml bottle was a huge success. Having older vintage Sauternes on a wine list is great in the fact that it pairs with a range of items from an appetizer, such as foie gras, to multiple desserts.

We recently had a US$1,400 bottle of 1988 Chateau d’Yquem that sat stagnant on our wine list for over five years. I decided to introduce it to our Cellar Glass Pour Program and all 25 ounces sold in less than a week, which brought in well more than the list price of US$1,400 when sold by the bottle. 

ABS: What has been the main ROI on this program so far?

MB: So far the ROI has been significant. We made back our initial investment in just two to three days, and our margins have also grown tremendously.