While the weather in many parts of the country is beyond horrible right now, in not too many weeks we will be staring summer square in the face. We’ll start spending more time on the patio, in the backyard, at the beach, or around the pool. And we’re going to want something to drink.
So, with an eye on the approaching warmer temps, I thought I’d round up some tasting notes, some recent, some not so, and take a look at an exploding sector of the beverage industry: canned wine.
If you’re not already aware of canned wine, you should probably start paying attention. To say that this new kid on the block is turning heads and gaining fans would be an understatement.
Wine drinkers near and far have spoken and they seem to be very much in favor of this new packaging. In early 2017, Neilsen reported that in the previous year sales of canned wine had surged from $6.4 million to $14.5, a meteoric growth of 125 percent. The same report showed that overall canned wine sales soared 170 percent that year. Boxed wines showed a modest 6 percent growth during the same period. (Wine Industry Advisor February 2017)
What’s driving this amazing growth, and who are the drivers? In an interview with CNBC’s On The Money last fall, Food & Wine magazine’s executive wine editor, Ray Isle, noted that the popularity of canned wine is a rising surge that shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Isle said that millennials are the target demographic and they are not disappointing the market.
“It addresses an audience that wants convenience in a way that bottles don’t allow,” he said. By using a tin container, you can take wine “anywhere you can’t bring glass, like the beach, camping, hiking, or sports events.”
Isle added that the canned wine trend is environmentally sound. “Ecologically, it’s friendlier. It’s more recyclable. Lower carbon footprint because it’s much lighter to ship than glass.” (CNBC.com September 2017)
After reading this I started to wonder if maybe I wasn’t a millennial, too. I like stuff like eco-friendly, convenience, ease (big fan of ease, just ask my family), smart business practices. I mean, what’s not to like?
Well, in too many cases, at least as far as I can tell, what’s not to like is what’s in the can.
Last week a friend asked my opinion on canned wines and I suggested he check out my blog. I knew I had tasted a few samples a year or more ago and the review would be a good place to start. Trouble is, I never wrote up my notes. There was no post on those wines. This was actually a good thing as it gave me an excuse to taste some more cans and hone my thoughts of this new-fangled genre.
My recent tasting wasn’t as positive as the 2016 attempt. Maybe because this time around I didn’t let the wine out of the can so it could play in a nice big glass. I figured that ran counter to the whole purpose of the can: no need for glasses. Maybe I was just in a biochemical funk and nothing would have tasted acceptable that day. No matter what the reason, the wines were beyond disappointing.
In 2016 I tasted wines from Underwood in Oregon, part of the Union Wine Co., their non-vintage pinot gris and pinot noir, which came in 375 ml cans. I also tasted offerings from Alloy Wines on California’s Central Coast, the 2014 chardonnay, 2014 pinot noir, and the 2013 cabernet sauvignon, all in 500 ml cans. (A standard bottle of wine is 750 ml.) First taste was can-only, then I tried the wine in a standard Bordeaux stem. Here are my largely unedited notes.
Pinot gris (13% abv)
First: acid and alcohol not in sync. Medium finish. Fruit stands in the background, not really knowing its place. Flavors – slight apple and citrus notes, medium-minus intensity. Second: Okay if all you drink is white wine. Not a lot there.
Rosé (12%) Grape N/A
First: bright red fruit, zero mid palate. Fruit is stemmy and rough. Medium minus finish. Alcohol not well integrated. Second: bright floral and red fruit aromas and flavors; berries (artificial boost?) dissipate into earthy notes. Flavors linger on short finish.
Pinot noir (13%)
First: Initial hit was “wow, this is pinot noir,” but that immediately devolved into rough earth notes, even a metallic sensation. Alcohol was pretty well integrated. Finish was pretty shallow. Second: attractive fruit aromas and flavors quickly change to earthy notes, almost a bit rough. The fruit fades the closer you get to the finish. Flavor does linger, more in the mouth than on the finish.
2014 Chardonnay (14%)
First: impressive fruit typicity, but brief. Alcohol peeks around the corner then disappears again for a second. Finish is a bit rough but has decent length. Pleasant mouthfeel. Second: appealing fruit notes of apple and citrus/lemon; good soft mouth-feel, medium bodied, finish reveals just a hint of alcohol.
2014 Pinot noir (14%)
First: like the chardonnay, good typicity of fruit at first but there was a slight industrial note, like the grapes had been roughed up, or weren’t much to begin with. Wine is mostly balanced; alcohol is seamless. Seems to be what it’s supposed to be. Good mouth-feel; could be dangerous. Second: fruit is missing something; lacks concentration or intensity; empty in the middle, too. Good mouth-feel Wood tannins? Easy, brief finish.
2013 Cabernet sauvignon (14%)
First: faux oak elements rise, with the slightly aggressive alcohol almost immediately, right into the sinuses. Something’s disjointed right out of the box. Er, I mean, can. Second: same alcohol/oak sensation right up the back of the throat into the sinuses; has elements of a basic grocery store cab but seems to be the most disjointed of the three Alloy wines. Obvious cabernet notes but they are completely overshadowed by the odd structure, and lack of balance and focus.
Unlike my May 2016 tasting, the recent look-see sought to imitate “game” conditions, how the wine might behave in typical canned wine situations, whatever those are. In other words, out of the cooler, pop the top, and down the hatch.
The line-up comprised three wines from MANCAN, a Cleveland, Ohio, outfit making their wine in Sonoma with local fruit; a pair from Tangent Wines, another Central Coast producer; and then, at the last minute, three wines from Old Westminster Winery in Maryland. I had posted on social media how disappointed I was with my recent tasting, and Drew Baker, owner and winemaker at OWW, asked if he might join the party. He sent out samples immediately, and boy, am I glad he did. His wines blew everything else away.
The notes below reflect my intentionally casual approach this time around.
“Fizz” Chardonnay–Viognier blend (12.5%)
Carbonation – prickly and a bit gassy. Upfront it is fruity to the point of sweetness. Fades quickly through mid-palate. Short finish. Probably good for a quick buzz. Seems a bit disjointed. Not sure if you can drink more than a can.
“White Wine” Still version of same blend (12.5%)
A bit metallic with a dusty stoniness. A mash-up of fruit and alcohol and then nothing. Unfortunately lacks any character, not that you should be expecting it from a can. Almost no acid, especially on the finish. A tolerable alcohol delivery system.
“Red Wine” Zinfandel-Merlot blend (12.5%)
Bad even for jug wine. Tastes highly industrialized; wine made in a lab, not a winery. Even being chilled doesn’t really help.
As noted above, it’s likely that these wines might have shown differently if they had been poured into a glass. But isn’t the point of the can so you can drink it without a glass? And, just in case you’re wondering, I’m not comparing these wines to any other wines. These wines are not intended to compete with top shelf offerings from around the world. They are made to pop and pour. I look forward to the day when more canned wines make the popping and pouring a more inviting experience.
2016 Edna Valley sauvignon blanc Paragon Vineyard (13.5%)
Notes of lemon and grapefruit on the nose, bits of lime pith. Sweet tropical notes in the mouth, in front and in the mid palate. I can comfortably recommend this wine.
NV Rosé Blend of albarino, viognier, pinot noir, grenache, syrah (12.9%)
Non-descript flavors. Something sort of wine-like. Slightly bitter. Red fruit, berries, medium acid. Short to medium finish. Okay.
My late entry wines, the cans from Old Westminster in Maryland, enjoyed the advantage of getting a second tasting in a glass. While this helped me get to know the wine a bit better, I can easily say that Drew Baker’s wines were top-notch while still in the can.
Old Westminster Winery
NV “Farmer Fizz” sparkling chardonnay (11.6%)
Slight grapey sweetness; prickly effervescence, good acid, finish is light and short. Later in the glass, fresh flowers/springtime; hint of lemon and green herbs, grapey sweetness. Grocery store chardonnay with light fizz. The least balanced of the three OWW samples, which isn’t much of a demerit. All three wines are appealing.
NV “Seeds and Skins” skin-contact pinot grigio (11.9%)
You need to pour this in a glass to really get your money’s worth, if only because it’s so pretty to look at. A charming, fascinating shade of pink. On the nose there are aromas of pink grapefruit and dusty stones. In the mouth you get flavors of lime and grapefruit pith, green apple, dusty stones, and a medium finish. Light bodied with plenty of mouth-watering acid. Simple but refreshing, very drinkable. Second tasting 20 minutes later: Real Wine! Skin contact imparts depth and complexity. Best canned wine I’ve tasted to date Yes!!
NV “Carbonic” cabernet franc (12.1%)
Right away you pick up typical carbonic aromas of banana and bubble gum but quite restrained. Just a teensy bit. In the mouth, plenty of soft tannins, medium bodied, and the finish is light but lingering. This is easily the most vinous example of any canned wine I’ve ever had. After my first taste I said out loud, “This is damn close to being a serious wine.” This is not just something to take to the beach or park by default. Much more like a wine you’d pick up in the early part of the week to go with easy meals like burgers, pizza, or tacos. Well made and balanced. Dusty and minerally finish. Wow. Second tasting – bright red fruit and savory notes play very well together.
If there are canned wines that are better than Drew Bakers, I’d like to hear about them. Until then, this where the bar has been set for the genre. Alloy, MANCAN, Underwood, Tangent and all the others are going to have to raise their game.
Let me close with a slight curveball. Don’t let the above reviews that are less than glowing dissuade you from trying these various wines. I don’t say that because these were free samples and I feel an obligation to the producers. They’re not. Except for the Old Westminster, I paid for all the wines reviewed here. And even though Drew Baker’s wines were samples, I have no compunction, feel no constraint or pressure, about letting you know what I think.
So, find a shop that carries these wines, grab a mixed sampling, and head home and have some fun trying them out. Out of the can. Out of a Solo cup. Out of your best wine glass. Summer will be here before you know it. You need to have your roster in place before the weather warms up.