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 managed a good portion. Here’s the shocker: the wine that stood out for me comes in a 25cl can retailing for £5.
Admittedly, the name is memorable. “Worcester Sauce” is typical of the creativity of The Liberator, a brand owned by canned wine proselytiser and Master of Wine Richard Kelley. It comes from the Cape wine region Worcester and is a strong, sweet, pale red wine made from Red Muscadel, the dark-skinned version of the poshest sort of Muscat grape. It’s fresh and grapey but far from vapid, lingering on the palate with quite a bit of grip. I thought it a great value, and it rather distracted me from the other sweet wine there, the acclaimed wine producer Chris Alheit’s Lost and Found straw wine at £75 a half-bottle.
But Worcester Sauce is far from the only outstanding wine I have opened with a ring pull recently. Canned wine seems to be moving rapidly from convenient novelty to a category of real interest to serious wine producers and therefore drinkers.
Djuce, based in Berlin, puts wine from some surprisingly smart addresses in cans and offers free returns and shipping, although it delivers only to Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands. Verget, Guffens-Heynen and Dominique Piron in France and Meinklang in Austria have all supplied wine to Djuce. The Meinklang 2021 skin-contact 11.5 per cent orange wine has already sold out and I can understand why.
Djuce’s sales pitch does not hold back in spelling out the environmental benefits of a can over a glass bottle. It claims, on the basis of a detailed survey by the Swedish government’s alcohol monopoly Systembolaget, that a can is “28 times more efficient to recycle than bottles” and that “three-quarters of all aluminium ever mined is still in use today”.
Glass may be usefully inert for wines that were meant to be cellared for years, but for the 95 per cent of all wine consumed within months, often hours, of purchase, bottles are increasingly impractical. Every wine producer I talk to reports a shortage of glass bottles, with their cost escalating, sometimes doubling, thanks to a lack of raw materials and skyrocketing energy costs. Glass furnaces require huge amounts of energy. Some are now being converted to run off low-carbon fuel sources, but this is no overnight solution.
The production of aluminium for cans makes its own contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, but producing three 25cl aluminium cans instead of a traditional 75cl wine bottle can reduce carbon emissions by 79 per cent.
I have long argued that expecting wine newcomers to buy a full 75cl bottle, plus a corkscrew to access it, is pretty unreasonable. Cans of wine are much smaller, typically a third of a bottle, and more convenient. A 25cl can provides two of the traditional regular servings commonly encountered in the UK. So they are surely much more attractive to the sort of younger drinker that the global wine trade is desperately trying to attract in the face of competition from craft beers, artisan spirits, cocktails and no- and low-alcohol drinks. And this is without considering the convenience factor. Cans are light, unbreakable, swiftly chilled, and easy to store and recycle.
Canned wine is already massive in the US, with trade observers reporting sales doubling to $253mn last year. Grand View Research predicts that the global canned wine market will be worth $571.8mn by 2028, having grown more than 13 per cent annually. There is even an International Canned Wine Competition. This year’s, held in Boonville, California, was the fourth. Best-of-show awards went to wines from Provence, New Zealand, South Australia and California. The judges rather generously handed out 97 gold medals to 300 entries from 20 countries.
I find it difficult to imagine entertaining friends over dinner with a series of cans on the table. But I could very easily imagine bringing them out of a chilled bag at Glyndebourne or anywhere outdoors. And it seems to me that alfresco drinking has become much more popular in the UK now that, due to global warming, our weather is so much less fresco.
Of course I don’t advocate drinking wine from a can. A good quality wine glass would transform the experience. I could even imagine pouring several cans into a decanter if the wine merited it, which some of them do.
One of the many good canned wines I’ve encountered is produced by Anne-Victoire Monrozier, aka the French wine blogger Miss Vicky. She happens to be the partner of Christian Seely who, as managing director of Axa Millésimes, is responsible for wine estates as luxuriously classic as Chx Pichon Baron and Suduiraut in Bordeaux, Quinta do Noval in the Douro valley, Domaine de l’Arlot in Burgundy and Outpost in the 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 well worth trying. This juicy, fruity but captivating light-bodied red, made from handpicked grapes grown organically, is just the sort of wine I welcome in a can.
I’ve also enjoyed wines from the Canned Wine Co and the Copper Crew, both of which supply the UK market, the latter specialising in wines from South Africa, which is especially adept at canning. The Copper Crew’s 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 up individual lots of South African wine overlooked by others, each with their own memorable name.
UK supermarkets are gingerly trying out cans, though for the moment mainly for rather uninspiring wines. I hope this will change.
Of course canned wine is just one of many possible alternatives to glass bottles. Bottles made from recycled plastic or lined paper, bag in box, single-serve pouches and cartons are also worth considering, and the technology that keeps wine fresh and unsullied in them has improved enormously.
For some wine drinkers, any alternative to a glass bottle is unthinkable. I would urge them to lobby for reusable bottles instead.
Superior 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 25cl cans djucewines.com
Djuce, Verget 2019 Bourgogne Blanc 13.5%
£12 for 25cl Newcomer Wines; €9.50 for 25cl djucewines.com
The Liberator, This 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 Sauce Red Muscadel 2021 Worcester 17.5%
£5 for 25cl Liberator stockists include Brixton Wine Club; Hawkins Bros, Surrey; South Downs Cellars; Wine Reserve, Cobham; The Old Bridge, Huntingdon; Vino Gusto, Bury St Edmunds; Wright Wine Co, Skipton; Dylanwad, Wales; WoodWinters, Scotland; Valhalla’s Goat, Glasgow
Terre di Faiano Organic Primitivo Appassimento 2021 Puglia 13.5%
£3.49 for 25cl Waitrose, expected next week in store and online subsequently
Les Vins de Vicky, O Joie 2020 Fleurie 13%
$7 for 25cl Frankly Wines, New York, and others in the US. UK importer Propeller Wines
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Source: Financial Times