I recently went to a tasting of 120 wines from some of South Africa’s most admired producers. I didn’t taste them all but I managed a good portion. Here’s the shocker: the wine that stood out for me comes in a 25cl can for £5.
Certainly the name is memorable. “Worcester Sauce” is typical of the creativity of The Liberator, a brand owned by canned wine proselytizer and Master of Wine Richard Kelley. It comes from the Cape wine region of Worcester and is a strong and sweet pale red wine made from red Muscadel, the darker-skinned version of the fanciest type of Muscat grape. It’s fresh and grapey but far from being tasteless, lingering in the mouth with quite a grip. I thought it was good value for money, and it rather distracted me from the other sweet wine out there, the Lost and Found Straw Wine from famed winemaker Chris Alheit at £75 a half. bottle.
But Worcester sauce is far from the only outstanding wine I’ve recently opened with a ring. Canned wine seems to be rapidly moving from a practical novelty to a category of real interest for serious wine producers and therefore drinkers.
Berlin-based Djuce puts wine from some surprisingly smart addresses into cans and offers free returns and deliveries, though it only ships to Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Verget, Guffens-Heynen and Dominique Piron in France and Meinklang in Austria all supplied wine to Djuce. The 2021 Meinklang 11.5% Skin Contact Orange Wine is already sold out and I can see why.
Djuce’s sales pitch doesn’t shy away from laying out the environmental benefits of a can over a glass bottle. It claims, based on a detailed survey by the Swedish government’s alcohol monopoly Systembolaget, that a can is “28 times more efficient at recycling than bottles” and that “three quarters of all aluminum ever extract are still used today”.
Glass can be usefully inert for wines meant to be stored for years, but for the 95% of all wine consumed within months, often hours of purchase, bottles are becoming less practical. Every winemaker I talk to reports a shortage of glass bottles, the cost of which is rising or even doubling due to lack of raw materials and soaring energy costs. Glass furnaces require huge amounts of energy. Some are now being converted to run on low carbon fuel sources, but this is not an overnight solution.
Producing aluminum for cans makes its own contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, but producing three 25cl aluminum cans instead of a traditional 75cl wine bottle can reduce carbon emissions by 79% .
I have long argued that expecting newcomers to wine to buy a full 75cl bottle, plus a corkscrew to access it, is pretty unreasonable. Wine cans are much smaller, usually a third of a bottle, and more practical. A 25cl can provides two of the traditional regular servings commonly seen in the UK. Surely they are therefore much more appealing to the type of young drinker that the global wine trade is desperately trying to attract in the face of competition from craft beers, craft spirits, cocktails and non- and low-alcohol beverages. And that’s without considering the convenience factor. Cans are lightweight, unbreakable, cool quickly, and easy to store and recycle.
Canned wine is already massive in the United States, with trade watchers reporting that sales doubled to $253 million last year. Grand View Research forecasts the global canned wine market to reach $571.8 million by 2028, growing at more than 13% annually. There is even an international canned wine competition. This year, held in Boonville, California, was the fourth. Best-of-show awards went to wines from Provence, New Zealand, South Australia and California. The judges instead generously awarded 97 gold medals to 300 participants from 20 countries.
I find it hard to imagine having friends over for dinner with a bunch of cans on the table. But I could very easily imagine pulling them out of a chilled bag in Glyndebourne or anywhere outside. And it seems to me that drinking outdoors has become much more popular in the UK now that due to global warming our weather is so much less cold.
Of course, I’m not advocating drinking wine from a can. A good quality wine glass would transform the experience. I could even imagine pouring several cans into a carafe if the wine deserved it, which some of them do.
One of the many great canned wines I’ve come across is produced by Anne-Victoire Monrozier, aka French blogger Miss Vicky. She happens to be the partner of Christian Seely who, as managing director of Axa Millésimes, is responsible for such luxuriously classic wine estates as Chx Pichon Baron and Suduiraut in Bordeaux, Quinta do Noval in the Douro Valley, Domaine de Arlot in Burgundy and outpost in Napa Valley.
Monrozier is also the daughter of a wine producer in Fleurie, so no prizes for guessing what she puts in her cans. But it is worth trying. This juicy, fruity yet captivating light red, made from hand-picked organically grown grapes, is exactly the kind of wine I welcome in a can.
I also enjoyed wines from Canned Wine Co and Copper Crew, both of which supply the UK market, the latter specializing in wines from South Africa, which is particularly adept at canning. The Copper Crew winemaker is the talented young Sam Lambson.
But Richard Kelley’s The Liberator range is the most innovative, the name inspired by the fact that he buys individual batches of South African wines overlooked by others, each with their own memorable name.
British supermarkets are cautiously trying cans, but at the moment mainly for rather uninspiring wines. I hope that will change.
Of course, canned wine is just one of many possible alternatives to glass bottles. Recycled plastic or lined paper bottles, boxed bags, single-use pouches and cartons are also worth considering, and the technology that keeps wine fresh and pristine has improved dramatically.
For some wine drinkers, any alternative to a glass bottle is unthinkable. I would urge them to push for reusable bottles instead.
Premium Canned Wines
Canned Wine Co, No 5 Old-Vine Garnacha 2019 Vino de España 14.5%
£16.50 for three 25cl cans cannedwine.co
The Copper Crew Chenin Blanc 2021 Western Cape 13.5%
£24.99 for six 25cl cans Coppercrew.co.uk
Djuce, Maine & Jean-Marie Guffens Marsanne 2020 France 13.5%
£8.50 for a 25cl Newcomer Wines, €64 for 12 cans of 25cl djucewines.com
Djuce, Verget 2019 Burgundy White 13.5%
£12 for 25 cl new arrival wines; €9.50 for 25cl djucewines.com
The liberator is the sea Albariño 2021 Coastal Region 11%
Around £5 for 25cl
The Liberator, New Blood and Chocolate Cabernet/Shiraz 2020 Coastal Region 14.5%
Around £6 for 25cl
The Liberator, Worcester Red Nutmeg Sauce 2021 Worcester 17.5%
£5 for 25cl Liberator stockists include Brixton Wine Club; Hawkins Bros., Surrey; the cellars of the South Downs; Wine Reserve, Cobham; The Old Bridge, Huntingdon; Vino Gusto, Bury St Edmunds; Wright Wine Co, Skipton; Dylanwad, Wales; WoodWinters, Scotland; Goat of Valhalla, Glasgow
Terre di Faiano Primitivo Appassimento Organic 2021 Apulia 13.5%
£3.49 for 25cl Waitrose, expected next week in stores and online thereafter
Vicky’s Wines, O Joy 2020 Fleurie 13%
$7 for 25 cl Frankly Wines, New York and others in the US. UK importer Propeller Wines
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