It’s August, which means the Bay Area summer is just getting started. During this time of year, we’re spending as much time as possible outside on hikes and camping trips, at swimming holes and pools, and at picnics in parks. And, thanks to the newest innovation in wine packaging — canned wines — we’re doing all these outdoor activities while sipping on wine.
Cans are ideal for time spent outdoors because they’re so portable. You can drink right out of them, so there’s no need to bring a wine glass. They weigh less than bottles, so they can be easily stuffed into daypacks or tote bags without adding too much to your load. And they can be crushed after consuming to be recycled, which makes packing out much easier than lugging heavy empty glass bottles.
Sales of canned wines are skyrocketing. Last year, adventurous drinkers bought $14.5 million worth of the stuff, a 125% increase over 2015, according to Nielsen. As a result, more wineries, both small and gigantic, are getting into this category.
Not all canned wine is great, but more and more canned wine is good, and a few kinds are very good. As more wines come on the market, the competition has driven winemakers to improve the quality of the wines, according to Dan Polsby, the manager/buyer for Vintage Berkeley on College Avenue. That’s not to say these are complex wines worth aging in a cellar, but many canned wines are simple but tasty.
“A lot of them aren’t necessarily trying to compete with the most interesting bottles,” said Polsby. “At their best, canned wines are properly made.”
To make it easy, Nosh has visited a number of liquor and grocery stores in the East Bay to see what is available and what is worth buying. (And there were many cans we tried that we could not recommend.) Be warned that drinking a beer-can-size canned wine is the equivalent of drinking two-and-a-half glasses of wine. It may go down easily, but you will feel the effects.
The best canned wine we found was Hans Gruner, a white Grüner Veltliner made by Field Recordings. This should not be a surprise because Field Recordings proprietor Andrew Jones has been on the forefront of the canned wine business. He first put a red wine in a can in 2013 and watched in surprise at the rate of its sales. We were able to find a 375 ml can of this white wine at Berkeley Bowl for $6.99. It’s a light floral white with hints of tropical fruit and is eminently drinkable. The grapes come from the Paragon Vineyard in the Edna Valley near San Luis Obispo. “Hans Gruner” is a play on the name of the villain in the movie “Die Hard,” Hans Gruber.
Another winner is House Wine, a collection of wines made in Walla Walla, Washington from the company Original House Wine. The company, which is part of Precept Wine, the largest privately held wine company in the Northwest, just started shipping its cans in May and they can already be found in numerous places. The company expects to produce 2.4 million cans of wine by Labor Day, according to Chantelle Lusebrink, the communications and public relations manager for Precept.
Nosh found all three varieties of House Wine — white, red and rosé — quite quaffable and comparable to a decent everyday bottle. The grapes for the red blend are mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes from Chile, with a bit of Syrah thrown in. The white, made mostly from Chardonnay grapes, and rosé, made mostly with grenache grapes, come from Washington vineyards. Cans of House Wine can be found at Berkeley Bowl and BevMo! in Oakland’s Jack London Square. A single can sells for about $5.49.
Another nice-tasting white may be the only one on the market made from 100% estate grown grapes. Tangent Wines, owned by Niven Family Wine Estates, makes a crisp Sauvignon Blanc also produced from grapes grown in the Paragon Vineyard in the Edna Valley. Tangent just started shipping its cans in June. The 2016 rosé, a blend of Albariño and Viognier with splashes of Pinot Noir, Grenache and Syrah, also comes from grapes sourced from the Paragon Vineyard. Nosh found Tangent’s canned white at Vintage Berkeley on College Avenue for $7.75.
Another early adaptor is the Union Wine Company of Oregon, which has been producing its Oregon-grown Underwood Pinot Noir for a number of years. I found this red to be smooth and light and tasty. Ryan Harms started the company in 2005 and now produces five canned wines. There is a Pinot Noir, a Pinot Gris, a bubbly rosé and a bubbly white, along with bottled wines under different names. The canned Pinot Grigio is available at the BevMo! in Jack London Square. A four-pack of Underwood canned wines is $28. Trader Joe’s sells single cans for $4.99
A large number of sparkling wines have come onto the market in recent years, following in the footsteps of Coppola’s Sofia Mini cans. Many of the canned wines are very sweet.
Presto Sparkling Cuvée
One that strikes a nice balance is Presto Sparkling Cuvée (Prosecco), an Italian product that is carried in Whole Foods. It has a nice number of bubbles and offers a crisp taste. The cans are also 187 ml, which means you only consume about a glass at a time compared to a half bottle. Presto sells for $13 for a 4-pack at Whole Foods Market.
Seven Daughters Moscato Veneto
Another good sparkling is Seven Daughters Moscato Veneto, available at Ledger’s Liquors on University Avenue. This Italian sparkling wine is sweeter than the Presto sparkling, but it is not overly sweet. A 187 ml can costs $4.81.