You Sure Can! - Wine in Cans. And Pouches!
A few months ago, Caro sent me a link to some new-kids-on-the-block wine cans and asked for my thoughts. Those thoughts can be summed up as: wines in cans serve a purpose, are aesthetically awful, and that I’m never drinking wine out of a can. However, we visited this year’s LIWF and I was kind of impressed by some of the most recent wine packaging innovations, in particular the innovations of the folks at Off-Piste Wines. It was while walking past their stand that Caro said, "Oh! Wine in cans!" and there they were, cute little single-serving-sized cans of PinotPinot Pinot Grigio Sparkling wine. They also had their Most Wanted wine available in single-serving-sized pouches, but more on all that later. First we need to talk about closures.
Before we jump head-first into the the subject of cans, we need to take two steps back andaddress the question I’m always asked at wine tastings:
The answer is yes and no as it’s not a straightforward question to answer. After all, books have been written on screw caps alone! (Though, they have not yet made it to my reading list, I may add) It needs to be understood that whatever the closure, a container needs to be designed to retain whatever is inside, ensure that it stays there and that it stays intact. To make it more complicated, all wines are different and some are made to be drunk in youth, like a fresh and vibrant New Zealand Sauvignon, and in this case a winery would wish for you to enjoy the wine exactly the way it left the winery. Other wines, however, benefit with a little aging and a small - tiny! minuscule! – amount of oxygen purposely entering the wine through the cork to improve the wine inside over time.
I, like many, love the sound of a ‘pop’ when you open a bottle with a cork and enjoy the grace (okay, maybe not always grace... Shoe trick anyone?) and the elegance of the cork emerging from its vessel. But what a nuisance when it all goes a bit wrong! Corks can be damp, crumbly, can result in cork-taint, and, heaven-forbid, you may not even be able to get the sodding thing out! These types of problems have driven the wine industry to act on 'better’, more reliable substitutes.
Screw caps therefore offer the perfect solution. They're designed to be an intact seal on the wine. Nowadays, screw caps are even designed with various liners in which a film on the inside of the cap provides different levels of oxygen to enter the wine as it ages, perfect for those afore mentioned wines that improve with a little oxygen. Seems like a winning and genius invention, no?
For most people, though, screw caps still come across as aesthetically unpleasing and it's still taking time for the old world wine industry to adopt the changes. Saying this, they can be forgiven as it's still unknown what the affect of long periods of aging with a screw cap has on a wine. Still, I'd defy anyone to pick out the sound of a twisting screw cap and not be excited.
Onto the issue at hand! Is wine in a can the way forward? Will this be the new innovation for wine packaging? Will we one day find glass bottles sitting in museums alongside calf skins and clay pots? Putting aside the fact that this takes ‘aesthetically unpleasing’ up a notch and for those not even on the screw top wagon yet (and its been nearly 60 years, btw…) there is still a long way to go and we need to address why we are now seeing wine in cans. It’s not as simple as trendsetting; there are other factors involved, including economic packaging, distribution, ease of use and environmental impact, and this is before we even get to the positive impacts on the wine, including protection from light exposure and freshness.
Let's just be real: Cans of wine are obviously not designed to be consumed at a dinner party but they're ideal for day trips, train journeys, pool decks, or sporting events (sure, why not?). The packing is perfect for wines requiring no aging – wines which are young, fresh and vibrant, perhaps even with a little fizz – so we’re not going to upset the red-trouser Bordeaux brigade here! If there's a market and it pleases consumers, where’s the harm?
When we spoke with Rachel and Paul of Off-Piste Wines at The London Wine Fair, they were keen to highlight the concept as a way forward to fill a gap for drinks on-the-go that are visually pleasing, balanced in flavour, and have overall value for money. These are not wines for a sit down Friday night dinner, but then they never claim to be. After cracking open the cans of PinotPinot Pinot Grigio (the hiss of a can opening is quite pleasing, if we're being honest) we sipped half of the wine straight from the can to get a feel for the experience. The second half we poured into plastic glasses, the kind that you'd likely bring on a picnic to continue the on-the-go theme. Overall, we found the wine more pleasing from the can due to the fact that the bubbles were larger and a little more overbearing than your everyday glass of Prosecco or Champagne. After all, we're used to big fizz coming out of a can.
The two of us unanimously decided that if we were enjoying a walk in the sunshine, at a park, partying at a festival, or at Kate’s dream location: on a boat (any boat will do) these cans wouldn’t be half bad. The wines are balanced and refreshing and absolutely suited the purpose at hand (which in our case was sitting on a patio in the sun). Plus the cans are incredibly cute! The branding is eye-catching, the cans are adorable in the way that all mini things are adorable, they're light, and they're easy to stack in refrigerators or stash in portable coolers which again make them great for storing and transporting.
But what about wine pouches?
Then handy-dandy single-serving wine pouches are only 187ml but when you're lugging a picnic basket, throwing them into a rucksack for an afternoon hike, or popping a few in your handbag to sneak into a movie theatre (we'd obviously never do this), a single-serving (or two) is all you really want. The packaging is light, easy to use, and, as they're 100% recyclable, easy to dispose of, too.
Though the Most Wanted wine pouches aren't as sleek and sexy as the Pinot Pinot cans, they are informative and even come with tips on food and wine pairings on the back. Both the wines looked youthful and vibrant in the glass and offered an enjoyable drinking experience. The Most Wanted Malbec showed surprising complexity with its liquorice and tobacco notes and lingered on the palate, crying out for a BBQ chicken wing. We felt that the Malbec could also benefit from being a little chilled as it was so fresh and vibrant, so don't be afraid of throwing the pouch in a cooler with the other drinks when packing up your picnic basket.
Because we are very sophisticated women, we enjoyed both the Most Wanted wines from a glass rather than straight from the pouch, and a diagram at the back of the pouch reinforced this decision. That being said, we reckon you could get away with drinking these wines right out of the pouch if you're in a very tight spot, though we rather hope we never find ourselves in that spot because the idea of sucking wine out of a pouch is just too much for us.
At time of this writing, both these products are due to hit the shelves of major UK retailers this month, priced under around £5 per unit. I’ve recently found myself in a post-festival/long commute scenario with a group of friends and having succumbed to the offering of Clapham Junction's beer can, pre-mixed gin, and Bacardi Mojito offerings, I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to seeing these single-serving wine offerings on shelves. Long live the train wine!