It’s summer in North America — the temperatures are high, and with them, the need for refreshment (with alcohol). Alongside the hazy ales and myriad hard seltzers, you may have noticed an influx of refreshing wine cans in your local grocer’s refrigeration station, candy-colored Easter eggs of vinous refreshment just waiting for you to pop the tab. It’s never been a better time to keep an open mind when it comes to wine ensconced in aluminum.
Canned wine is nothing new; mankind has endeavored to put wine in cans for decades, from French soldiers drinking tinned wine in World War I to the California moscatel brand Vin-Tin-Age, which debuted in the 1930s, to the popular Taylor Cellars cans of the 1980s, served exclusively on airplanes. But the trend has found full flower here in the third decade of the 21st century. Gone, or at least mostly gone, are the stigmas around aluminum packaging being harmful to wine, although as with all wines you’re better off pouring into a wine glass before drinking to enjoy the full nuance and aroma.
Canned wine sales exploded in 2020, growing more than 68 percent to a market cap of around $200 million nationwide, according to Market Watch. There are a couple of reasons for this: For starters, a round of more permissive regulations (regarding can size and availability) passed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau allowed for greater market access for canned wines, and opened up manufacturers to a range of product sizes and promotions. But also, we just drank more in general in 2020, an undisputed annus horribilis, during which adults drank more across the board, and adult women in particular increased their drinking habits by 41 percent, according to RAND.
All this means there is a surfeit of canned wine on the American market today, some bad, some good, some otherwise forgettable, and some simply perfect to chug on a particularly warm August day. There’s no wrong way to enjoy canned wine, but the category feels a little flooded now, frankly, which is a great place for consumers to start dialing in on the really good stuff. Here are five cans that refresh and surprise in equal measure.
Old Westminster Skin Contact Piquette
As bottle shop stockists and mixed-use cafe-bar-lounge somms across the country will happily elaborate, Old Westminster of central Maryland are making some of the most-compelling wines in America right now, locational stigma be darned. Westy’s piquette draws on the ancient winemaking tradition of using the second pressing of grape pomace (the grape bits leftover after an initial pressing), which naturally produces an effervescent, low-ABV punch-like drink beloved by farmhands and thirsty members of the lumpenproletariat. It is ideal for canning, an idea Old Westminster has absolutely nailed with a spritzy, orangey, skin-contact can that is shockingly easy to drink.
All the natural wine bona fides are here: naturally occurring yeast, zero additives, unfined, unfiltered, and a lovely candy peach-ring color thanks to white grape skin contact. A friend of mine who runs a nice grocery store wine program described this as “the ideal shower can,” and it’s really hard to argue. I recently drank one sun-soaked and surf-sprayed on hour four of a seven-hour Oregon Coast beach day, and it was also just about the most perfect utility imaginable.
Las Jaras “Waves” White
Las Jaras — cheekily billed as “the first good celebrity wine” — is a collaboration between winemaker Joel Burt and comedian, actor, and author Eric Wareheim. “Waves” is their line of attractively designed canned wines, available in white and rosé options, with a distinctive label by noted optical artist Jen Stark.
My favorite is the white blend, a melange of three really interesting grapes: barbera, chenin blanc, and colombard, the last being a grape traditionally used for making cognac, all sourced from sleeper vineyards across Mendocino Valley. Las Jaras makes this wine with six months on the lees — meaning it’s allowed to age slightly among the yeast sediment left over from fermentation — resulting in a can of wine that’s surprisingly complex, with nuanced flavors of honeydew melon, beach rocks, and Jet-Puffed marshmallow.
Here’s a canned wine you’d be happy to crush by the campfire, but could also cruise happily alongside a fresh garden salad or chirashi bowl. Versatile and rangey, Waves crushes the outdated stigma of shitty canned wine.
Cameron “Spritz” Rosé 2020 — Available via Vinopolis
If you’re looking for a symbol of how far modern canned wine has come, look no further than the new Cameron “Spritz” Rosé. Cameron winemaker John Paul is well-regarded in the Pacific Northwest for bridging an old-school French approach to Pinot Noir with a natural wine ethos, resulting in startlingly serious and reflective red and white wines capable of fetching high prices, and aging for decades. For a winemaker of this caliber to take on canned wine says something; that the results are so utterly delicious feels like an exclamation point on canned wine’s summer moment in the sun.
“Spritz” is built on pinot noir from Oregon’s Dundee Hills, blended with just a bit of pinot blanc, then canned and carbonated. For me, the dominant note here is Negroni-esque, bitter and sweet offset by an undertone of herbal complexity, while simultaneously managing a balancing act of being deeply, deceptively drinkable. This is the can you open at sunset, while someone else gets the campfire going, or else at the nicest sidewalk brunch imaginable, a tablecloth-and-cutlery situation in which one feels particularly motivated to get a nice, classy buzz on with a couple of chatty friends.
Everything we’ve talked about so far is, fundamentally, wine in a can, as opposed to, say, a wine cooler, or other derivation of the ready-to-drink doctored-up wine form. That’s because, with all due respect to wine coolers (and the catastrophic high school hangover those Seagrams Calypso Escapes gave me in 2002), most wine coolers are on the wrong side of the irony-to-enjoyment ratio. I won’t yuck your yum if that’s your thing, but this is my list, and I’ll pass on the sugar booze.
And then there is Hoxie Spritzer, which isn’t really a wine cooler but rather, a sort of brilliantly modern update on the form. Hoxie bills itself as a “natural wine spritzer,” and comes in flavors like Peach Blossom Blush, Watermelon Chile, and Cola Rouge. The key distinction is that there’s very minimal added sugar in a can of Hoxie Spritzer — just around 3 grams per can (a standard wine cooler has more like 30) — and the flavors are built in a really sophisticated, compelling way.
My personal favorite is the flagship Grapefruit Elderflower, a subtle little symphony of botanical extracts and taut carbonation, like a perfect boozy LaCroix gone lost in the garden. If all this sounds mildly cheffy, that makes sense: Hoxie was developed by chef Josh Rosenstein, who hit on a North American grape called Catawba as ideal for low-ABV canned wine. Hoxies are sleek and chic, and can be found with increasing regularity at wine shops, grocery stores, and retailers around the country. For my money Hoxie is in a kind of perfect sweet spot: readily available, very easy to drink, none too fussy, and completely delicious.
Sofia Coppola Mini Blanc de Blanc
The aughts are primed for a comeback, and while so much of the era is truly regrettable, there are certain cultural totems — Gossip Girl, Zadie Smith, bucket hats, the production discography of Scott Storch — worthy of gleeful reappraisal here in 2021. Sofia, a canned wine from the Francis Ford Coppola Winery of Geyserville, California, has been available on the U.S. market since 2004, packaged in a little red can that’s now become something of a 21st-century design icon. Nearly 20 years later, drinking Sofia feels winkingly millennial-retro, fostering happy, hazy memories of Brooklyn brunches gone by, or whatever. The wine is a blend of pinot blanc, riesling, and muscat, and uses the “Blanc de Blanc” typically reserved for Champagne (whereas Sofia is a California girl).
Not much has changed for the beloved Sofia can since the days of George W. Bush, although now it is available in a rosé variation, as well as in a handsome four-pack gift set with straws on the side, housed in a slim rectangular box that feels like something you’d buy at the dispensary. It’s refreshing and easy and great, dominated by linear mid-tone notes of raspberry leaf, yellow plum, wheat, lilikoʻi, and like a half a whiff of copper penny. It doesn’t taste like you snuck it into a screening of Marie Antoinette (2006), but it sort of feels like you snuck it into a screening of Marie Antoinette (2006), if that makes sense.
Jordan Michelman is a freelance food and wine journalist in Portland, Oregon, and the co-founder of coffee publication Sprudge and Sprudge Wine. Michelle K. Min is a food photographer based in San Francisco.