The best line from the first International Canned Wine Competition (ICWC) was uttered by Handley Cellars winemaker Randy Schock, who was among the judges evaluating the more than 200 entries at the July 24 Mendocino County Fairgrounds in California. Schock said tasting the canned wines made him "think about how to approach winemaking outside of the bottle."
At a time when growth in wine sales across the United States has slowed to a crawl (year-to-year sales last year managed a meager 1 percent increase), the industry is looking for the next big thing. Canned wine, which delivers both ease of portability and convenience, could be the ticket.
Imagine enjoying wine at the beach — or poolside, for that matter — without the worry of broken glass. Packing canned wines for a picnic is a breeze, too, because cans are stackable, not bulky glass bottles. And you forgot the corkscrew? No problem.
All that's holding back the full embrace of wines in a can is perception. That's where the International Canned Wine Competition steps in. The results, with 37 gold medal winners from the 200-plus entries, are a strong indication that the industry has overcome some of the early issues surrounding canned wine.
Current production techniques utilize a lining inside the can that eliminates the possibility of a metallic taste interfering with flavor and overall balance. And quality is good to very good, meaning wineries aren't simply diverting the wines they've rejected from their bottled blends into can production.
There are now about 400 wineries producing 900-plus canned wine products, according to organizers of the ICWC, with more to come as acceptance spreads.
The two biggest winners at the first ICWC were both from California but otherwise obscure. Insomia Wines' non-vintage California pinot noir was voted best of show red wine, and Sans Wine Company's 2017 Rutherford Napa Valley riesling took best of show white wine.
The competition attracted wines from Italy, Spain, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand as well as a number of wines from across the United States. Benmarl Winery of New York, for example, earned three gold medals, as did Leelanau Cellars of Michigan.
Traditionalists may cringe at the thought of fine wine from a can, but we've seen that act before. There was resistance almost 20 years ago when domestic wineries began to use screw-cap closures for many premium wines. Oh, the horrors! Never mind that Australian and New Zealand wineries made the switch years earlier with little or no downside.
Today, many consumers go out of their way to purchase screw-cap wines, particularly white wines, rather than those with traditional cork closures. There is no downside in terms of taste, so the purchasing decision often comes down to convenience.
I don't know that wines in a can will go through the same evolution with consumers, but I wouldn't bet against it.
For the complete list of gold medal-winning canned wines, visit CannedWineCompetition.com.
Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.
Merry Edwards 2016 Pinot Noir 'Vintage 20,' Russian River Valley ($120) — This 20th anniversary cuvee is a blend of four different vineyards in the Russian River Valley. It's a celebration in a glass, with richly layered black and red fruits; hints of wood spice and forest floor; and fine, beautifully integrated tannins. It's a fitting tribute to California's queen of pinot noir. Rating: 98.
The Vineyard House 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville ($225) — The 2014 vintage from Jeremey Nickel's exceptional Oakville vineyard mirrors the outstanding 2013 vintage with flavors of ripe blackberry and cassis, though it has an attractive touch of violet and an inviting spice note. On the palate, the wine is rich and fleshy, but the tannins have more of a presence that could be simply because the wine is younger. Rating: 97.
Merry Edwards 2016 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast ($48) — Merry Edwards' (the winemaker) strength is her vineyard-designate program, but her appellation wines shouldn't be overlooked. The 2016 Sonoma Coast offers deep aromas of cherry and raspberry, an earthy back note and a touch of wood spice. It's elegant and rich and ready to drink now. Rating: 90.
Follow Robert on Twitter at @wineguru. To find out more about Robert Whitley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. Email Robert at [email protected]
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