Can You Imagine This...Wine in a Can?
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed February 9, 2004. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
Wine in a can? You've got to be kidding!
As soon as I heard myself utter this knee-jerk response to news of the recent arrival of a brand called Aussie Wine that comes in single-serving aluminum cans with the traditional pop top, I knew this was a case for blind tasting if ever there was one.
Frankly, the notion of putting wine in aluminum cans is hardly a new idea. A mass-market American company tried it back in the '80s, and I can testify from tasting experiments at the time that the results were practically undrinkable. I'm told that a canned wine product is currently available in the UK, but it apparently has gained little traction in the marketplace.
But Aussie Wine is different, importer Bob Bond insisted in an e-mail.
"You will not be disappointed," he wrote. "I have blind tasted these wines with others in the same price category, and Aussie Wines are superior. I have done this with distributors, sommeliers and consumers. They will impress you. The red opens up after a few minutes and gets lush and fruity."
Bold words, but hey, I've used blind tastings to get an unbiased analysis of box wines, jug wines, the original '80s-era canned wines; even "Two Buck Chuck." Why not take Mr. Bond up on his challenge?
I arranged to pick up a few cans from his local distributor - they come four cans to a box, 250 ml (about 1 cup) in each can making a 1-liter box that retails for $10, comparable to a $7.50 tag on a standard 750 ml wine bottle. They're available in three varieties, all from South Eastern Australia: A 2002 Cabernet-Shiraz, a 2002 Chardonnay, and a 2002 "Sweet White" of undisclosed varietal content.
As Bond suggested, I tasted the two dry wines blind (served to me in unmarked glasses so I didn't know which was which) against Australian wines of similar price, region and vintage in traditional bottles, Rosemount Estate 2002 South Eastern Australia Chardonnay and Hardy's 2001 Nottage Hill South Eastern Australia Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz.
As it so often does, blind tasting proved its worth. Somewhat to my surprise, the canned wines proved fully competitive with the bottled wines. They showed absolutely no sign of unusual or offensive flavors that could be attributed to either the can or the canning process. Frankly, both canned wines showed more fruit and flavor than their bottled competitors, both of which - at least in the context of this side-by-side analysis - seemed almost "Old World" in contrast.
The Aussie Wine line is made in Australia by a Queensland company called Woomba Wines, whose James Newbury told Australian media last year that he came up with the idea while travelling in Japan, where he observed that the Japanese could get most things from a can except good wine. He launced the product early last year at the London Wine Show, and it is now being exported to the U.S. by Robert Bond's RLB Imports in Lakewood, Ohio, near Cleveland.
"They're essentially a mid-range premium wine," Woomba's Newbury told the Australian technology magazine Innovations. "Basically we didn't see any mileage in introducing a new medium for wine packaging if we were to put a low quality cheap and nasty wine into it. At that point, we thought that the product would be damaged and particularly with a name like Aussie Wine...so we essentially set about ensuring that we had a decent quality wine go into the can so that we would be able to build the brand effectively rather than just have it laughed at and, I suppose, thrown out."
Read the full article in Innovations.
Here are my tasting notes on the three canned Australian wines and the two comparison bottles. (I tasted the Sweet White separately, without a blind competitor.)
AUSSIE WINE 2002 South Eastern Australia Chardonnay ($10 for four 250ml cans) - Clear straw color with a hint of gold. Ripe and buttery, tropical fruit aromas focus on pineapple. Soft and fresh, pineapple flavors with a hint of sweetness, backed by sufficient acidity. A bit of a crowd-pleaser; frankly, I assumed that this was the Rosemount.
ROSEMOUNT ESTATE 2002 South Eastern Australia Chardonnay ($8.99) - Pale straw color, delicate apple scent, clean and fresh, comes up a bit with swirling in the glass. Crisp, rather tart, appley fruit and fresh acidity in balance. If I had been presented it in a wine- options game, I might have guessed it to be a simple Macon-Villages from France, not Australian.
AUSSIE WINE 2002 South Eastern Australia Cabernet-Shiraz ($10 for four 250ml cans) - Very dark reddish-purple, with attractive blackcurrant and red-berry aromas, clean and fresh. Ripe and full in flavor, surprisingly tannic, but lush fruit and crisp acidity make for easy drinkability. Remarkable. If I hadn't gone back for a second taste afterward, I would find it hard to believe that this wine came from a can.
HARDY'S 2001 NOTTAGE HILL South Eastern Australia Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz ($7.99) - Clear garnet color, not too dark. Faint but pleasant cassis aromas with distinct notes of black olive. Fresh and acidic, rather austere, it almost seems more like a modest Bordeaux than an Australian red.
AUSSIE WINE 2002 South Eastern Australia Sweet White Wine ($10 for four 250ml cans) - Very pale straw color. Fresh apple aromas with a whiff of lime. Light, crisp and tart lime-juice flavor, simple and fresh, more fruit-juice sweet than a dessert-style "stickie," with a slight bitterness in the finish.