Eat and Drink Spring 2018
Unpopular opinion about canned wine: Actually, the stuff is great.
No longer relegated to weirdo gas station blends of lighter fuel mixed with turpentine, the market for canned wines is popping off, with Nielsen reporting nationwide sales of $28 million last year from $6.4 million in 2015. Plus, the boom of affordable and portable wines is being dominated by Oregon wineries, particularly Underwood, and a handful of local newcomers are poised to take it even further.
Cans are showing up in specialty bottle shops and grocery stores— since last July, even Plaid Pantries have stocked a great selection of tab-topped options.
The trend for cans is “crazy high,” even though it’s still a small part of the Portland-based chain’s sales base, says Tim Cote, Vice President for Marketing at Plaid Pantry. He explains they started selling House Wine, Underwood, and Portland Sangria after noticing both a jump in canned wine sales and how well the format fits a convenience store.
“Typically a can has two standard servings of wine inside, where a bottle has four,” Cote says. “This is better for our typical customer’s needs. Cans are also better for the wine, since they eliminate light damage, and the weight of aluminum requires less fuel to transport the product.”
While Underwood and Portland Sangria claim more than one-third of the national market for canned wine, newcomers Free Public and Dear Mom Wine are putting out high-quality quaffs that are worth seeking out.
“The wine is intentionally crafted for a can,” says Free Public founder Michael Etter. “It’s meant to be tossed into coolers, backpacks, and your back pocket. When we started this company, we envisioned a wine that people would enjoy while lounging around campfires or at the end of a hike. Or maybe even on the sly at your kid’s soccer games. The possibilities seem endless once it’s glass-free.”
Free Public launched in January in the Portland market with some serious pedigree, including former Stumptown and Union Wine Co. execs, along with Ron Penner-Ash, a co-founder of the Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, which specializes in high-end wines. Penner-Ash sources all the grapes, and their red, white, and rosé blends are better than most similarly priced bottles.
Most canned wines come in 12-ounce servings—AKA half a bottle—and Free Public charges $12.99 for a three pack of 250 ml cans. And Dear Mom Wines goes even smaller, selling four 187 ml cans for $13.99.
“We built our brand around the idea of single-serving canned wines,” says Robert Karmin, who co-founded Coopers Hall Winery and Taproom before starting Dear Mom with a group of partners and investors. “We listened to several distributors, and after hearing from many influential persons in the market, single-serve was the gap that needed to be filled.”
Pro tip: I’ve found that pouring the can into a glass keeps me from slurping wine the way I’d drink a PBR—because there have been a few times where I’ve wound up tipsier than planned. (Those half-bottle cans add up!) But keep it to one or two, and you’ve solved the problem of drinking wine on a Wednesday without draining a bottle and waking up all fuzzy-headed.
Here are a few of my Oregon-made favorite canned wines to crack into:
Underwood’s “The Bubbles”
This one’s an instant classic. Crisp and not sweet, the cans make it all the fizzier. Sure, canned champagne may sound gross—but you’re just wrong. Also, a bottle of bubbles doesn’t keep, so limiting it to a can reduces the pressure to drain a whole bottle.
Dear Mom’s Oregon White Wine
Want to see the cutest can ever? Dear Mom’s white wine comes in li’l cans festooned with turquoise classic cars and a little heart on the logo. Made with Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne grapes grown in Southern Oregon for acidity and character, this is some serious craft. The result is aromatic and crisp, just like a good white wine should be.
Portland Sangria’s Raspberry, Loganberry, and Cardamom
With the addition of raspberry and loganberry juices to a dry Syrah rosé, Portland Sangria takes the alcohol content way down to 6.5 percent ABV. It’s sweeter and different than the purely grape-based cans, but served super cold on a hot day by the river is where this sangria will really shine.
Free Public’s Rosé
I think my favorite canned brand is Free Public, and their white and red blends are also very much worth trying. But their new rosé is really fantastic: Made from Syrah from the Columbia Valley AVA in Washington, it’s clean and refreshing with some serious fruit notes—without going overboard on the sweetness.