A Primer on Canned Wine

August 23, 2021

Canned wines seem to have taken the wine industry by storm. Is this a fad, or is there something more to this recent trend? 

Last week, our Head of Wine, Isabelle, and Customer Experience Manager, Fiona, took to Twitter Spaces to answer this question and more (you can stream the 20 minute discussion on canned wine via Soundcloud). Here, we round up the key points that you need to know about canned wine, what to look out for in a tin, and how they even came into being.

What is canned wine? 

As Isabelle explains, it is just that - wine in a can. You’ll find that most wine cans come in a 250ml serving (the equivalent of a large glass of wine), making them incredibly portable for a drink on the go. A bit like the travel size bottle of wine, canned wines are great for taking on the train, heading to the park after work, or anywhere else that involves al fresco drinking. 

Just as gin tins have popped up in just about every supermarket, wine tins are now a regular in the wine aisle. Of course, their presence is not a guarantee of quality. If anything, canned wine hasn’t always had the best reputation: “because there’s so many really cheap, rubbish ones out there, people just assume it’s going to be really bad.” (Keep reading for our top recommendation for avoiding the dud cans…)

Where did canned wine come from? 

Canned wines have been around a lot longer than you might think. It first appeared almost 60 years ago. Back in the mid-1960s, Doug Lamb, an Australian wine merchant of European wines, began importing Beaujolais in cans. Speaking to the press at the time, Doug shared that the cans were “aimed at the out-of-doors drinking market”.

Similarly, winemakers and merchants in the United States were trying to innovate canned wine as far back as the 1930s. But the technology to can wine wasn’t quite there at the time. The wine pH levels eroded cans; the shelf life was too short. And so, it wasn’t really until the turn of the century that canned wine began to take off more widely. 

What are the benefits of canned wine? 

There are many advantages to canned wine, from positive changes it can bring the wine industry, to the convenience it brings wine drinkers. Here’s some of our main takeaways:

  • Ensuring the quality of wine: “It’s really, really fresh because, when you’ve got a glass bottle, UV rays pass through the translucency of the glass. And UV really damages wine inside a bottle. So because cans are completely opaque, you don’t get any UV damage and the can keeps the wine fresh.”
  • Reducing the environmental impact of glass: “Even though wine is recyclable, it can only be recycled so many times and it takes a lot of energy to do this. Meanwhile, it’s very, very easy to recycle cans and you can recycle them as many times as you want.”
  • Easier to transport: “Cans are much lighter, so there’s less energy involved in the whole transportation process, so you can easily ship more canned wine than you can glass bottles. Not only is glass heavy, the unusual shapes of bottles and its fragility mean you can’t pack loads together. Cans fit together really well.” 
  • Chilling time: “Because cans are smaller than bottles, it takes a lot less time to chill. You can put a can in the fridge 15 minutes before drinking because it’s usually only 250ml instead of 750ml white thick glass around it. So it chills really quickly.”
  • Great wine, small price: “You’re only buying around 250ml of wine, which is the equivalent of a third of a bottle - so you can have some incredible wines without committing to the full price of a whole bottle. It makes wine more accessible - especially if you live on your own, or can’t afford a corvine and you don’t want to open a whole bottle.”

How to choose canned wine:

With so many canned wine brands and options out there, how do you know what to choose? The can format allows brands to get creative with their branding with countless bright, bubblegum-coloured canned wine companies out there, all vying for your attention. “You can definitely see why they’re going to a youthful demographic. We’re seeing them in all the supermarkets at the moment, pretty hipster cans of wine.”

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned, style does not equal substance. 

When it comes to buying a bottle of wine, it’s generally accepted that choosing based on a label alone is a (potential) recipe for disaster. So why do it with a can?

At Wine List, we have one golden rule when it comes to canned wine: The can should be the vehicle for the wine, not the story in itself. Look for a canned wine brand that talks about the region, the winemaker, how it was made - and even the grape.

Some canned wines are guilty of being very vague on the specifics. If you’re after a good can of wine, you shouldn’t have to be reading the small print to work out which grape your rosé is. 

The best canned wines

Here are a few of our favourite canned wines:

Copper Crew

Copper Crew launched in 2020 after finding the supermarket overwhelming and their purchases underwhelming. They currently sell three wines: chenin blanc, Provence-style rosé and a merlot. Their wines are made with South African grapes and are canned in South Africa. Isabelle and Fiona tried the rosé during Wine List Happy Hour, and found this to be a delicious, well-made wine. “It’s got malolactic fermentation, it’s a little bit creamy and it's a bit rounded and full. It's such a beautiful rosé. And if you didn’t see the tin, you would have no idea, you’d think that was like a £15 bottle.” Copper Crew 3-pack, £10.49 from Wine List

Alloy Wine Works Chardonnay

Just like hard seltzers, canned wines hit the USA big a few years ago and are now making their way over here. So American canned wines are a good place to start if you’re looking for quality, rather than novelty. This chardonnay, from Central Coast, California, was featured in issue 13 of our newsletter back in 2018. “Strong vanilla, pears, and lemon, with a lees-driven autolytic note too. This smashed out any concern about flavour of wine in cans straight away.” Alloy Wine Works Chardonnay, from £11 at Nekter Wines

The lowdown

We recommend trying out different cans and finding what you like. The canned wine industry is growing at an unprecedented rate, and as Isabelle points out, when screw tops first hit the wine scene, “people really thought it was just going to be a fad. But look at us now, half the wines we drink have a screw cap - even some really fancy wines.” Need more convincing? Here’s a great point from a canned wine special edition of our newsletter

“The 750ml wine bottle exists because it was the lung capacity of a French glass blower. And yet all this time later, we're still using it for 99% of wine. Maybe it's time for a change?”
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