My introduction to the world of canned wine came earlier this spring, when I stumbled upon a unique beer/fruit/wine fusion called Foxie. I was delighted to see it is a collaboration between an awesome winery out of Paso Robles called Field Recordings, and Hoxie Spritzer, the Southern California company that single-handedly made drinking wine spritzers cool again.
Upon the first sip, I was in love—real, lasting love. Flavors of fresh, tart grapefruit with just a touch of bitter hoppiness were all supported by a base of gloriously dry rose and bubbly mineral water. No glass. No bottle opener. Just a girl and her frosty cold can of aahhhh.
I totally understand all the hype around boozy cans. Given the only way to stay sane this time of year is to spend any and all free time in a pool (or the vegetable walk-in at Costco … but they told me I couldn’t drink in there anymore), the need for a glass-free way to enjoy wine is paramount. The more you think about it, the more obvious it is that cans should be the new frontier of wine packaging: Concerts, golf courses, movie theaters, public parks, beaches … all are a no-go for your bottle of vino and fancy Riedel glassware.
Cans have a lot going for them. They are easy to store and far easier to lug around in a cooler or backpack than a bottle. You don’t have to worry about cans breaking, and they chill down really quickly. They don’t require any extra stuff—like glasses, a corkscrew or a special insulated bag tall enough to fit the bottle. And the best feature is that they are far less conspicuous when you need a nip on the down-low. (There’s just something about pulling a wine bottle out of your diaper bag that feels wrong.)
I’d never really noticed canned wine on my shopping trips, so I figured that I might have a half-dozen or so options when I went to collect my R&D samples. I was so wrong—like, I-have-been-in-a-coma-while-cruising-the-wine-department wrong. Not only did Total Wine greet me with two huge displays of canned wine; I was also led to a floor-to-ceiling section down one of the aisles. Whole Foods has a more limited selection, but there is definitely a quality-over-quantity theme there, and the pricing isn’t any higher than their competitors.
I decided that I already had the beer/fruit/wine concoction nailed, so now it was time to see how plain ol’ wine fared in this trendy and highly portable vessel. I narrowed down the overwhelming selections by producers and availability. I didn’t want to grab anything too obscure or hard to find, so everything I chose is widely distributed and easy to get your hands on. (Not that you’d necessarily want to get your hands on all of this … but we’ll get to that in a minute.) All in all, I procured 12 different producers with 20 different offerings.
Then I grabbed some In-n-Out, phoned a few friends to come over, and started poppin’ tops. I’ll spare you all the gruesome details and give you the highlights. If nothing else, this was one of the most educational, thought-provoking and eye-opening tastings I’ve ever done.
Right away, we noticed that few of the cans featured a vintage. In fact, only three of the 12 producers had it somewhere visible on the can, and even then, we had to really search for it. The Tangent wines out of San Luis Obispo, Dark Horse from Modesto, and Underwood from Oregon—the pioneer of the canned-wine movement—displayed a vintage somewhere … even if that meant it was printed in teeny tiny numbers on the bottom of the can. I’m assuming the rest are not non-vintage wines, but the makers omitted printing a vintage on the label in an attempt to control printing/packaging costs. But who knows.
I decided that to help create a more unbiased opinion, we would taste each of these out of proper wine glasses. This might have actually been to the detriment of the wines, because every one of them—when poured into a glass—had some effervescence. It died down pretty quickly in some of them, but there’s something about seeing a fizzy cabernet being poured out of a can that is slightly unsettling.
I should also mention that I served these at what would be considered proper wine temperature. That was a big mistake, too: When it comes to canned wine, colder is better. The next day, I popped open a few more samples that had been in my 38-degree refrigerator overnight, and a lot of the unsavory qualities we found the wine to have the day before had magically disappeared. I also chose to drink these right out of the can—and discovered that is definitely the way to go.
All of the wines had a significant sweetness, with some featuring a fake fruity quality. In the worst examples, that resembled cough syrup; in the not-so-offensive wines, it tasted kind of like a fruit roll-up. The cold wines I pulled and drank from the fridge also lost the noxious rubber/sulfur smell that made a few of them absolutely undrinkable the night before.
There were clear winners and favorites—and some, while not my preferred style, are definitely drinkable and enjoyable. We discovered the whites are better than reds, and the roses are all pretty damn gulpable.
Here’s the list of what came out ahead:
• The favorite of the night was the Dark Horse 2017 rose from Modesto, of all places. I had never heard of Dark Horse, and would have never thought a wine from the armpit of the state could produce such lovely flavors and aromas. I’ve apparently painted Modesto all wrong, and Dark Horse is to be taken quite literally: The packaging is great, and the wine is clean and fresh with all the strawberry, rhubarb and ripe watermelon flavors for which you’d hope. It didn’t give off that funky, gassy smell when opened, and didn’t have a lot of effervescence right out of the gate.
• The best overall producer was Tangent from San Luis Obispo. Both the 2016 rose and sauvignon blanc were varietally correct in their flavor profiles, with bright acidity and none of the phony fruitiness of their competitors. The cans look great, and the labels had all the important geeky information like vintage, vineyard, varietal and place. Well done, Tangent!
• We all agreed that the Underwood Wines from Oregon are solid and very drinkable. We tasted the 2016 pinot gris and pinot noir, and the 2017 rose. While they all had that distinct sweetness and just a little factory-produced fruitiness, there was nothing unpleasant about them, and the pinot noir was the undisputed favorite among all the reds we tried.
There were quite a few chardonnays on the table that night. This was, by far, the most painful category. One of them was unequivocally the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. I thought for a moment that I might have thrown up in my mouth—but, no, it was just the wine. There were, however, two producers that created chardonnays for someone who loves California chardonnay: Westside Wine Co. and Alloy Wine Works are perfect casual sippers for anyone who loves their oaky, buttery, vanilla-laced chardonnay.
So … what have we learned? When the bottle is banned, reach for a can of really cold rose (or that super delicious grapefruit Foxie). Pop it; slug it back; and say aahhhh.
Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.