Wine in a can just feels a bit... cheap, I think to myself (but don’t say out loud). The last few times I’ve had cocktail tinnies – pre-Covid – I’ve been pre-drinking on a train before going ‘out’ out. I’m not sure this will work with wine, but I’m willing to keep an open mind as I prepare to try the latest cans to launch.
Opening the box from Copper Crew – a Cambridge-based company, canning wine from South Africa – there’s a leaflet touting the advantages of canned wine, most of which I’d not even thought of before: lower carbon footprint, 100% recyclable, reduced waste, less time to chill, and, of course, more portable. I’m immediately swayed by the positives.
I mean, that does sound good – doesn’t it? The box has three cans of wine in it: a rosé, a chenin blanc, and a merlot. The bumph tells me these wines have all won awards, too. I’m embarrassed by my snobby attitude.
When canned wine came on to the market a few years ago, there were plenty of raised eyebrows. Surely the good stuff couldn’t taste the same quaffed from a cocktail mixer-type can? But more brands have produced what they call “premium” wine in a can in recent years – so there must be a demand for it.
And during the pandemic, the trend has accelerated. With pubs closed for months on end, the public were increasingly on the look-out for “on-the-go” drink options to pop in their bag when gathering in parks and gardens.
Copper Crew – so named after its trio of ginger-haired founders, Oli Purnell, 25, Theo Gough, 25, and Sam Lambson, 23 – was due to launch in the UK in spring 2020, but its first batch got stuck in transit for three months as South Africa went into full lockdown. However, when the cans finally arrived in the UK in June, the timing actually played in its favour. Rule of six had kicked in, people were hanging out again and picnics were the social gathering of the moment.
“Canned wine is overcoming the stigma surrounding alternative wine packaging formats thanks to its environmental credentials, convenience and a growing appeal among younger consumers,” say the experts at IWSR, who analyse the drinks market for a living. And it’s moving closer to consumer acceptance, they note, much like screw cap wine bottles began doing nearly 20 years ago.
There are still barriers, including negative perceptions from older consumers and resistance in more traditional wine markets. But Purnell first spotted the product’s potential while studying in the US and seeing it at house parties, where canned wine and hard seltzers were both fairly well established.
Time for our taste test
The rosé is up first – it has a fruity, strawberry scent that sort of disappears when you taste it, but it’s refreshing and washes down well. When it comes to taste, the packaging doesn’t make any obvious difference – genuinely.
That said, I’m a wine “sipper”, and it’s harder to sip from a can than glass, as you take in more than you need. So I pour the rest (each can is a third of a bottle) into a glass to drink. I enjoy being able to sip slowly from the side of the glass – but the taste is the same.
I drink the chenin blanc fully from the can on the way to my first meal out post-lockdown. I wince slightly at the first sip – it’s a rich-bodied white – but I enjoy it by the end (not quite as much as a cocktail tinnie, I must add). I save the merlot for an evening, and pour it all in a glass. There’s just something about drinking from a large wine glass, rather than a can, that feels more like a treat. It’s a little more luxurious. It feels fancier. It feels right when I’m at home on my sofa.
“I’m a wine “sipper”, and it’s harder to sip from a can than glass”
Merlot is my go-to red as I find it smooth and easy to drink, but I can’t say the same for this one. It has more of a vinegary taste – but still, takes the edge off after a busy day. I leave a little in the glass and don’t end up finishing it.
My editor, Nancy, tries each of them, too – the red with her dinner, the white on a sunny afternoon in the garden – and the rosé after a long day of work. She likes each more than the last, she says. The red is serviceable with food, but a little tannin heavy on its own. The white is full but zesty enough for day drinking. As for the rosé, she admit to being a bit of a basic in her tastes – it’s blush or nothing – but when she pours this one into a glass to check the colour, it’s pale as you like, salmon pink like a Provencal wine, which gets her approval.
That’s one aspect of canned wine that she also notes – unless you drink it from a glass, you don’t ever actually see the product. How much of our judgement and enjoyment of wine is based not just on its taste and smell, but the colour and lucidity? More than we might think, perhaps. It’s definitely a different experience drinking from the can, more convenient, but less of a treat.
The pros of canned wine
“Canned wine has made major gains over the past few years,” says Tom Gearing, CEO and co-founder of the wine investment company Cult Wines.
Sustainability and ease of use are the big sells, he says: “69% of drinks cans were recycled globally, compared to 46% for glass as of 2019, and they’re much easier to pop into a picnic basket!” Gearing says his company’s investors – and the world at large – are accustomed to glass bottles, but we “may see a continued shift towards alternative packaging for fine wine, too.”
Ben Robinson, head sommelier at Moor Hall Restaurant in Lancashire agrees on the sustainability point. “Aluminium is a lot easier to recycle, and is much more widely accepted. It’s lighter which makes it more efficient to ship, plus you can tightly pack the cans and save space. Wastage is reduced as they’re a single serving and you don’t need to open a bottle to only drink half. Secondly, it’s about the ease of use. They’re much smaller than a bottle and therefore chill quicker. They’re easily portable and the perfect accompaniment for a picnic.”
What’s not so good about it?
The cons, says Robinson, are mainly about perception. “There is a common misconception that canned wines are associated with poor quality which is simply not the case anymore. However, the types of wines you get can be limited – as being a sealed unit, they’re not a vehicle for ageing wine.
“The wines tend to be more on the young and fresh side, so if that’s not your thing, they might not be the best for you. Do keep looking out though as more and more are coming on the market.”
Does he drink canned wine? “Yes, definitely! There are some really good ones out there such as the Curator Collection from AA Badenhorst.”
If you want to try cans, do your research, he says. “Look at wine websites,” he says, recommending this Decanter round-up. “Wine critics have reviewed canned wines recently as well so check out some of those pieces. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your sommelier next time you are out at a restaurant!”