An increasing range of vino is now available in cans, so The Spinoff team took it upon themselves to review and rank each one.
Have you ever tried to carry a bottle of wine in your handbag? It’s niggly as. Once, while living in London, I was heading to a party with a bottle of red wine in my handbag. It was snowing, which was very exciting for a lass from the colonies, so I did a little jig of joy, then slipped over in the snow, smashing said bottle. I was left boozeless, with nothing to show for it but a handbag of broken glass and an aroma that embedded itself in the leather to linger for ever more.
This would never have happened if that wine had been contained in cans. Cans can be damaged – as I discovered the other day when I knocked a Garage Project Cereal Milk Stout out of the fridge and the delicious dark sticky contents sprayed all over my kitchen – but the potential for harm is much lower, as is the scale of the resulting harm.
Cans, as a general rule, are excellent for transportation: so small, so light, so sturdy. You can fit many cans of beer in a good handbag; even a Crowler or two. And these days, a lot of great craft beer comes in cans. Also, a can isn’t so obviously alcohol: you can pretend you’re drinking some sort of energy drink/fancy soda if you’re somewhere where you want to retain an air of social acceptability, like, I don’t know, at Pilates or on the bus or at church on Easter Sunday.
But some people – winos, you might call them – don’t like to drink beer all the time. They like to drink wine. They might be going to a picnic, or on a boat, or to a festival or gig that allows BYO (do these exist in New Zealand?), or simply to a party that involves a high-risk journey over rugged terrain. And they want to take wine with them without the risk of ruining their expensive Deadly Ponies handbag.
Thankfully, in recent years, these wine-swigging wanderers have been presented with a new solution: wine in cans. In the United States, it’s a $45 million business that grew 45% from June 2017 to June 2018. Expect to see it everywhere in 2019, Forbes predicted in December.
It’s a growing phenomenon here in Aotearoa too, if the sheer number of wine cans popping up in the supermarket liquor aisle is anything to go by. But are cans likely to replace your standard 750ml glass bott any time soon? From a quality perspective, there doesn’t appear to be any reason why glass is better than aluminium at keeping a wine in top shape. Where you face problems is in the drinking of the stuff: smell is a big thing with wine, and if you’re swigging from a hole in a can, you’re not going to get much on the nose. You can pour it into a glass, sure (and I do this with canned beer most of the time), but for many people that defeats the purpose of the ease of a can.
I gathered together a crack team of wine connoisseurs (OK, just Spinoff staff who like drinking for free) and scoured the city for every canned wine I could find (OK, I went to Countdown and New World).
The result was 16 different varieties of canned wine, a fair whack of The Spinoff food section’s monthly budget and an eager judging panel of four – culture editor Sam Brooks, senior writer Alex Casey, graphic designer/podcast producer Tina Tiller and yours truly.
The initial plan was to taste all the wines in one sitting, but, as certain members of the panel overindulged in the early wines and felt their judging capabilities were too compromised to continue, we ended up holding two tastings over a few days. We tried all sparklings first, then still whites, then still rosés, then the sole red, and ranked not only on taste but on packaging and the general vibe of the thing, you know?
A couple of members dropped in and out, and we had a few interlopers who gave their thoughts, but each official taster scored each wine out of 10, with the total averaged out to produce these, The Spinoff’s official canned wine rankings, listed from worst to best.
– Alice Neville
15 Selaks One Standard Drink Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc
NZ, 6.5%, 200ml, $6 each
Spinoff rating: 2.5/10
As the name suggests, the can contains exactly one standard drink: 200ml of 6.5% New Zealand sauvignon blanc. That’s a lovely idea and all, but there’s one problem: it’s gross.
Alice Neville detected urine on the nose, while passing Spinoffer Leonie Hayden compared the aroma to a “hangover fart”. Alex Casey knew it smelled like something from her past but couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Eventually, the penny dropped: “When I was 15 I worked in a salon and I had to wash out the perm solution from the hair of old ladies, and it smelled exactly like that.”
Tasting the stuff didn’t improve matters. “Not a smooth gulp,” commented Tina Tiller. “You hold it in your mouth, you just know it’s not going to go down well.” Neville compared it to grape juice, but the worst grape juice you’ve ever had.
14 Selaks One Standard Drink Sparkling Rosé
NZ, 6.5%, 200ml, $6 each
Spinoff rating: 3.25/10
Selaks’ other offering in the One Standard Drink range fared slightly – but only slightly – better than its savvy sibling.
Tiller thought it smelled like a burp, and Neville found it fakely sweet tasting. “It has the feeling of rosé rather than the taste of rosé,” commented Sam Brooks poetically, while a visiting media personality who hopped aboard the tasting put it best: “It’s like you’re drinking water and someone whispers rosé in your ear.”
13 Baby Doll Sparkling Blush
Marlborough, 12.5%, 250ml, $8 each
Spinoff rating: 4.1/10
Our least favourite non-Selaks can was the creepily named Baby Doll Sparkling Blush, which, as with a surprising number of the wines we tasted, resembled a tampon packet. None of us really minded the taste, but marked it down on branding. “Inoffensive”, “it’s fine” and “mellow” were some of the judges’ comments. It was also one of the most expensive wines in our line-up.
12 Joiy Shimmering Bubbles White Wine
Australia, 10%, 250ml, $6 each
Spinoff rating: 4.5/10
The judging panel was disappointed in this one’s lack of bubbles, shimmering or otherwise. “You ain’t shit cos you ain’t got no shimmering bubbles,” was how Tiller eloquently put it. Neville could detect a hint of fizz but it was an off fizz, reminiscent of yoghurt past its use-by date.
Brooks, meanwhile, took issue with the French words on the can. “It tries to make it look like it’s from France but it says right here it’s from Australia. I hate it. No, I don’t hate it, it’s misleading.”
As for the wine itself, Brooks said it was nice at first but had a terrible aftertaste. Casey reckoned it smelled like Warehouse Stationery and “catches in the teeth”.
11 Joiy The Gryphon Pinot Noir
Central Otago, 13.5%, 250ml, $7 each
Spinoff rating: 5/10
The only red among the pack, The Gryphon was the final member of the Joiy family we tasted (see also 12, 9th equal and 6th). “What is the Joiy universe?” pondered Casey of the kind of medieval fever-dream imagery upon the cans that appeared to have no story behind it. “It’s dragons, it’s the town crier, and now the gryphon. They’re missing some context. It’s 2019, gryphons aren’t real.”
Before tasting, we all agreed that the idea of red wine in a can was a tad disconcerting, but we went in with an open mind. The general consensus, however, was “meh”. “It’s fine, I’m not hating it,” said Neville. “It’s just watered-down tasting. It has a kind of astringent nature to it but no flavour.”
Casey realised her main problem with drinking wine from a can: she was unable to sip slowly. “I’m taking massive Red Bull-esque gulps because I’m an idiot.”
The slim, energy drink-style can implies urgency, she reckoned. “I find a weird disconnect between wine, which I consider a slow-drinking thing, and a can. I find that challenging. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s weird. It’s a slow drink in a fast vessel.”
9= Joiy Shimmering Bubbles Dry Rosé
Australia, 12%, 250ml, $6 each
Spinoff rating: 5.1/10
This rosé is definitely one to drink from the can, as the colour is decidedly disconcerting, with unnamed tasters comparing it to UTI wee and urinating when you have your period. Think that’s gross? Sorry, but maybe you should go watch On the Rag and harden up.
Brooks enjoyed the taste, saying “it’s real smooth”. Neville wasn’t mad at it, reckoning it “tastes like wine”, which is more than could be said for some of the others. Tiller was not a fan, however. “If I got this at a party I would drink it but I would not get another one, even if it was for free,” she said. Huge call.
9= Joiy Angel Blues Chardonnay
Hawke’s Bay, 13%, 250ml, $6 each
Spinoff rating: 5.1/10
The chardonnay, meanwhile, features some form of terrifying angel against a backdrop of dragon. We were by and large fans of Joiy’s branding, however, because it is gender neutral, unlike some of the others, which appear to be marketing to the stereotypically “girliest” small child you know.
“In any sort of liquor ban area you could walk down the street with this can and no one would blink twice,” pointed out Casey.
The wine itself was discernibly chardonnay, which is good. “It tastes like a watered-down chardonnay, which is not necessarily a bad thing on certain occasions,” said Neville.
Casey, meanwhile, wasn’t convinced it was smooth nor luscious, as proclaimed on the can. “It’s not the yuckest thing I’ve ever had. It’s pretty no frills and I respect that. I’d drink it at end of the evening, when all the other booze is gone and you’re rustling through the chiller, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend.”
Tiller said “if it was a ride it would be a merry-go-round. There’s no thrills, baby! I feel like it doesn’t do much.”
8 Brancott Estate Flight Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Marlborough, 9%, 250ml, $4 each
Flight is Brancott Estate’s lower-alcohol range, which they sell in bottles too. This canned sav was wildly polarising, with consensus reached only on the unpleasantness of its aroma, with tasters comparing it variously to chlorine, urine, and like the wine you’re pouring down the sink the next day when you’re deeply hungover and gagging.
“I hate it so much,” “it gets better the more you drink of it”, “this makes me sad” and “I ain’t mad at it” were a selection of comments.
It took Neville back to her misspent youth of drinking cheap sav to excess. “It’s your classic cat’s piss on a gooseberry bush sav. It’s what I overdosed on in my 20s and why I now largely drink beer rather than wine.”
7 Brancott Estate Flight Rosé 2018
Marlborough, 250ml, 9%, $4 each
Spinoff rating: 5.4/10
“I hate the Tim Burton nightmare on the can,” said Casey. “I do not want to spend any time with this woman at all.”
On cracking the can open, Neville thought it smelled like “an unhealthy wee”, while Tiller detected egg. As for the taste, it was a bit… nothing. “It’s a weak offer,” said Casey. “It’s not bad, it just tastes very muted.”
“I taste no red berries,” added Tiller, in reference to the blurb on the back of the can. “Man, what a letdown.”
“It’s a bit cloying,” said Neville. “It coats the roof of your mouth.” Casey agreed. “It’s not refreshing. And it’s 20% lower in alcohol, so there’s another strike against it.”
“It’s not gross,” concluded Tiller. “It’s just not delicious. Would I drink it? Yes. Would I enjoy it? No.”
6 Joiy Savvy Society Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
13%, 250ml, $6 each
Spinoff rating: 5.5/10
Tiller enjoyed the “cool-as naked baby on a fish” that bedecked this can of Joiy. “I really like that. That’s cool.” (Please note that this was tasted after 10 or so different wines had been consumed.)
“It’s subtle,” said Neville. “I like it much more than the last abomination,” she added, referring to the Flight sauvignon at number seven.
“Real simple,” added Brooks. “I could have half a bottle of this and be fine.” (Joke’s on you, Sam: it doesn’t come in a bottle.)
5 Jacob’s Creek Moscato
Australia, 250ml, 7.6%, $15 for four
Spinoff rating: 6/10
Tiller was a big fan of this sweet number. “I could smash this, not gonna lie. Would I buy it? No. But I agree with what it’s trying to do.”
Casey thought it smelled like a fart and tasted like Chardon. Neville said “oh my god it’s so sweet” but still drank quite a lot of it.
4 Presto Sparkling Cuvee
Italy, 11%, 187ml, $18 for four
Spinoff rating: 6.75/10
This dinky little number comes all the way from Italy. We enjoyed the cheery hue of the little orange cans. “Pocket sized!” exclaimed Casey. “I like it, good for hiding,” added Tiller.
The general consensus was that it would make a fine breakfast drink, calling to mind the Lula Inn, an Auckland establishment infamous for its raucous bottomless brunches.
3 Prosecco Mascareri
Australia, 10%, 250ml, $20 for four
Spinoff rating: 6.8/10
This one had a kind of creepy masked ball vibe, but we were into it. The can looked a bit like a tampon packet, thought Neville, but Brooks said he would feel safe holding it. “I would feel no shame.”
Casey enjoyed the fact it “doesn’t catch in your tooth”. “I could drink a lot of this without gagging.” High praise indeed.
2 Crafters Union Pinot Gris
Hawke’s Bay, 13%, 250ml, $7
Spinoff rating: 8/10
We were very much sold on Crafters Union’s branding, and particularly the fact there is a frog on the pinot gris can. “The can is absolutely stunning,” said Casey. “I feel a tremendous amount of warmth towards this brand because of its local roots and its commitment to nature.”
Unlike many in the tasting, it smelled pretty good. “It doesn’t make you recoil. I could sniff that all day,” said Casey.
The blurb on the can said the wine had a “voluptuous texture”, with which Tiller concurred, poetically equating the wine going down her gullet to “a satisfying sled going down a mountain leaving its marks in the snow”. Someone get that woman a copywriting gig, amirite?
1 Crafters Union Rosé
Hawke’s Bay, 13% 250ml, $7
Spinoff rating: 8.1/10
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Crafters Union is the undisputed king of canned wine in this country, with its rosé just pipping the pinot gris for the top spot. “These people have brought their game,” said Casey.
“It’s a beautiful can,” she added. “It’s almost too beautiful. It makes me feel dressed down. I feel like I should dress up for this can.” Tiller marked it down for lack of frog, however.
As with the pinot gris, it had a decent aroma, like it hadn’t been “injected with farts” as some of the others seemed to have been. The wine itself was delicate and a touch sweet, and drinkable as hell. “Ooh, I like it,” said Tiller. “It goes down super easy.”
“I’m for it,” added Casey. “It does what it says on the tin. A superior wine.”
The Spinoff’s food content is brought to you by Freedom Farms. They believe talking about food is nearly as much fun as eating it, and they’re excited to facilitate some good conversations around food provenance in Aotearoa New Zealand.