What’s all the hubbub about canned wine, anyways? Forbes listed canned wine among its “Top Summer Trends of 2017,” but can the concept really have lasting benefit for serious wine drinkers, like the revolution towards craft canning in the beer market has? Or is the trend doomed to fall flat, banished exclusively to the domain of college students and summertime lushes? The Aervana team banded together around some cans, a box and a bottle to see what we would find out.
I usually play the role of resident skeptic, and the case was no different for this test. But in the last two years, I have become a huge convert to canned craft beer. It’s become a significant preference, to the point where I find myself ignoring all bottled craft beer in the grocery store aisle until I’ve thoroughly accessed my canned options.
But can wine really pull off the same transition? There’s something scandalous-feeling about drinking wine out of a can. Apart from the obvious status and style discomfort of drinking the “nectar of the gods” out of such an “average joe” vessel, it feels like it just shouldn’t work as well as with beer. Beer is carbonated, often served iced-cold – a can in this case seems like it only addresses practical concerns like weight and sustainability, without really affecting the beverage itself. But RED wine? Sure, popping a sparkling rosé into a can seems logical, not blasphemous. But red wine is already so finicky with what it’s touching, how and when air is introduced, what vessel it’s in and for how long… can you really can a red wine and expect the same quality as with traditional methods?
I can’t tell you that our test made any real dent in officially settling that question; however, we were able to stack up a canned red next to the more standard formats for wine distribution, a bottle and a box, to get some impressions on how we reacted to the difference. Stay tuned.
The Bottle: McBride Sisters Truvée Red Blend 2013
ABV: 13.6% · Total Volume: 750ml · Total Servings: 5 glasses · Blend: Syrah, Grenache, Merlot, Zinfandel · Price: $16.99
This Central Coast red blend impressed our crew out of the bottle. Obviously, with different varietal blends and different brands, this was never going to be a perfect 1-1-1 taste test, where vessel was the only variable. So the fact that this wine was our team’s overall taste favorite – both in its aerated and unaerated forms – can’t be seen as a hard and fast endorsement of bottle quality over canned quality. However, this was a delicious wine at a nice price point (the same as our canned choice) that had us all going back for a second glass after the test was finished. Complex and luxurious tasting right out of the bottle, the Truvée was a lovely start to prime our palate on something definitely tasty.
The Box: Bota Brick RedVolution Red Blend
ABV: 13.5% · Total Volume: 1500ml (two bottles) · Total Servings: 10 glasses · Blend: Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Merlot · Price: $9.99
Bota is consistently one of my favorite brands in the boxed wine category. Great branding and a tasty, affordable product that really takes the “slap the bag!!”-Franzia-College-Days vibe out of the boxed wine experience and makes you feel like you’re consuming something that would make mom proud. Unfortunately, this particular varietal blend was a bit of a miss for most of us… On the red-side, I love Bota’s Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, but the RedVolution had a sweetness and one-noted-ness that had most of us halting after the first taste test.
However, in terms of the boxed format itself, there’s a lot to say on the benefits. The dispenser has a more reliable seal than your standard recorking would with a bottle (although there are plenty of fancy gadgets you can invest in if you’re a bottle-purest and preservation is important to you). There’s no glass, switching it out for a nice, sturdy cardboard and a plastic interior bag, meaning you’ve got a triple threat of sustainable, durable and portable benefits. It’s also a steal of a deal compared to our other options! $9.99 for two full bottles. The box is 100% recyclable and feels like you could chuck it across the room with no damage, save some shaken-up wine. Aside from clinging to ritual and pretension, is there a reason you can’t throw a fine wine into a box and get the same experience? Well, yes – corking a wine allows it to age, bringing out new complexity with time. But for your quotidian wines, this format seems to pack just as much taste and quality into the box as its counterparts accomplish in the bottle.
The Can: The Infinite Monkey Theorem Red Wine
ABV: 13.5% · Total Volume: 1000ml (4 250ml cans) · Total Servings: 8 servings · Varietal: Merlot · Price: $16.99
I had no expectations of liking this wine, if I’m being completely honest here. Wearing my official taste-testers hat, I was skeptical that this container wouldn’t somewhat guarantee a less-quality product. This came from A) my expectations about red wine and B) my expectations about trendiness… on the first part, I was being handed a lightly chilled, lightly fizzy red that had a canned opening that wouldn’t allow for any real boutique to be released, so with all the trappings of a more wine-cooler-esque beverage, I expected that was all the quality it could likely muster. Which brings me to my skeptical perspective on trendiness; when something like this comes in vogue, I tend to keep some distance until manufacturers can work out the kinks, regardless of how many Buzzfeed and Kitchn articles rack up on the topic. Is this a cute can that’s “super beach party friendly!” and Instagramable enough to get 20-something’s to buy it for a summer, or is this an actually legit way to package decent wine?
Cracking open my wine, however, I was completely surprised: good stuff! Our whole team was very much enjoying the taste-profile crammed into that little can, finding it a well-balanced merlot with some real depth of black fruit flavors. I found, to my surprise, that both the chilling and fizzing effects were added to a benefit: the temperature refreshing on a hot day and fitting for the can and the fizziness, I think, compensating for some of that nose missing from the lack of a wide-mouthed glass. Just from a servings perspective, each can has two servings, meaning the four cans together hold a bottle and then some. Plus, the branding has a very cool, sophisticated look, so when you pull it out at the company barbecue you won’t risk looking more like you’re drinking to forget feeling so single at Frat Beach. Overall, I was somewhat shocked to find such a lovely, enjoyable red wine coming from a vessel that not only managed to NOT detract significantly from my experience, but actually added to it in a few meaningful ways.
After spending the last month of the unseasonably-hot Seattle weather avoiding reds all together and opting for beer and cocktails, I immediately went out and bought a four-pack of Infinite Monkey Theorem for home once the taste test was finished. We may not have come to any definitive conclusions on the fitness of cans versus bottles versus boxes as vessels for wine in general, but we definitely converted a skeptic to the pleasures of one canned brand.