Wine in a Can: Cool stuff for a hot summer

Davies Wakefield

davies wakefield | wine uncorked | july 2019

As I tentatively step into my 73rd year on the planet, I keep fighting the urge to become an old fuddy dud. Believe me, it's not easy with all the crazy shit going on right now. But I found one recent product that I'm absolutely ecstatic about. Wine in a can is a great idea. But not for the reason that you might think. When I was a sailor in the Navy during the Viet Nam War, I was stationed in Hawaii at the submarine base in Pearl Harbor. But in those days, we were allowed to rent off-base housing, so a bunch of us fast attack submarine sailors got our heads together with the guys off another fast attack that switched patrols with us every three months. A group of six guys off each ship rented an apartment at the base of Diamond Head where we partied hard whenever we were in port to offset the terror of 90 days underwater spying on our Russian counterparts. Our drink of choice while we were lounging around the pool was Gallo Vin Rosé in those big gallon jugs that we used to buy by the case (you see where this is headed right?) Gallo Vin Rosé was the gateway to a lifelong love of wine, a love of wine from Bordeaux and other premier wine-producing areas of the world that all started with that rosé in Hawaii. Wine in cans has the potential to create a whole new generation of wine drinkers like that Gallo Vin Rosé did, and that is what I'm excited about.

Joe Dobbes, the founder of Wine By Joe had an idea back in 2002 to “make really good approachable wine at a really good, affordable price.” Joe wanted to put his wine in cans as an afterthought.

John and Michelle, the J and M of JaM Cellars, are second generation Napa Vintners that “decided to make some super-approachable wines that we could enjoy any time for any occasion.” Putting that wine in cans was the ultimate in convenience and portability.

Francis Ford Coppola is an iconic filmmaker that used his proceeds from his films to save the Niebaum wine estate in Napa Valley that was formerly the Christian Brothers Winery. He promised to make a sparkling wine named for his daughter that is now available in a canned version.

All of these ambitious winemakers and others who wanted to can their wines had a problem. Wine inside a can was different than in a bottle. Actually, there were several problems. There was the problem of sulfur in the wine, which was dissipated through the cork in traditional bottlings. Wine in cans is also corrosive so something needed to be done to prevent the corrosive effects of the wine. There were pressure problems with carbonated products like the sparkling wine that Mr. Coppola wanted to make in honor of his daughter.

It is ironic that a company founded in 1880 in Buffalo New York would provide the answers. The Ball Corporation, which for a century was known for its canning jars and lids solved the issue of corrosion. It seems that Ball actually sold the canning operation in 1973 as it pursued other ventures in the aerospace industry and the aluminum canning operations. One of the proprietary secrets that Ball developed was a coating for aluminum cans that allowed for the preservation of different varieties of liquids and wine was no exception. Ball, in cooperation with the winemakers wanting to put wine in cans, tests the product and developed linings that would preserve the wine without losing the taste and/or corroding the can. Two of the three wines in this review had the Ball logo printed on the side of the can.

Once the coating issue was solved, the sulfur problem was addressed by lowering the sulfur levels but carbonation was still an issue with wineries that wanted to can sparkling wine or Champagne. Carbonation tends to thin out the wine. The carbonation gives a sense of freshness and crispness which is good but the wine itself needed more stuffing or concentration. That was accomplished by using different varietals that were more intense in flavor. In the case of Coppola's Sofia, it was accomplished by adding Riesling and Muscat to the mix with the Chardonnay. The other issue with carbonated wines is the size of the can. A 375-milliliter can will only hold up to three atmospheres, so in the case of the Coppola Sofia, as well as other Charmat-method sparkling wines, the can size was to reduced to 187 milliliters to hold the pressure adequately.

Another aspect of canned wines was the discovery that red wines are much more aggressive with regards to the can lining, so the idea of aging a red wine in a can didn't pan out. The best bet is the lower pH sparkling wines and oak-aged whites as well as fresh chill-able rosés. These wines will never have the chthonic character of a Grand Cru Burgundy, but for a summer picnic in late and hot July on Rock Island in Door County, they are just perfect. Some of these cans are small enough that they could fit in your back pocket and be walked into, say, a Paul McCartney concert.

To begin with, the Joe To Go Oregon Rosé at 375 milliliters provides two and a half five-ounce glasses. The wine is made from cool-climate Oregon Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes and is fermented in stainless steel – it brings bright acidity and crispness. Aromas of bright strawberries and roses predominate and flavors of cranberries, pomegranates and dried apricots follow. The cost is $9.50 for two cans (at Woodman's), which is comparable to the price of a fairly decent Provencal Rosé.

The JaM Cellars wines are real bargains at $6 for two 250-milliliter cans. The Butter Chardonnay is rated 89 points by prestigious “Decanter” magazine. The Butter Chardonnay is cold fermented to maintain freshness and crispness but it is aged in oak (probably oak chips in a stainless fermentation vessel). A word of caution though, that this wine is 14.8 percent alcohol. The alcohol will sneak up on you if you swilling this down like Wyler's lemonade. This wine tastes buttery with hints of peach and baked lemon flavors with a long vanilla finish. The JaM Cellars California Candy is a completely different story (think Bazooka Joe bubble gum and peach rings). This wine's line drive of acidity prevents it from tipping into the realm of the saccharine. It is a blend of Syrah and Grenache, a mouthwatering taste of strawberry, watermelon and spring flowers. This wine is 12.1 percent alcohol and like its eponymous name leaves you wanting more. Owners John and Michelle have also put together music festivals in key areas of the country where they showcase their wines. The Ohana (Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family) Music Festival in Santa Monica, Bottle Rock Festival in Napa and the Voodoo Festival in NOLA are just a few. Cool!

The last wine and my favorite because of my admiration for Francis Ford Coppola – especially his successful rescue of the Old Christian Brothers Estate – is the sparkling wine named for his daughter Sofia. This wine, complete with a tiny straw for sipping, is $7 for two at Woodman's. Sofia was awarded a 90-point score and a gold medal at the Toast of the Coast Wine Competition. The wine is a thoughtful mix of 70 percent Pinot Blanc, 15 percent Riesling and 15 percent Muscat. It is 11.5 percent alcohol, which in a 187-milliliter can will not impair you, used judiciously.

These were my picks from a very large and diverse array of wines in a can. There were some other intriguing picks, especially from cool-climate Oregon. Check them out; this is a convenient and fun way to get acquainted with wine.

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