Local Wine Experts Rank 48 Canned Wines Available in Austin
Good wine comes in cans, too
By Tom Thornton, Fri., July 12, 2019
While we can all agree that Austin is first and foremost a beer town, there's a significant portion of local drinkers who'd always prefer to order a glass of wine. Over the past few years, savvy marketers at some of the country's premium wine brands have become packaging innovators: Where your options were once simply bottle or box, there are now myriad single and half-bottle servings of canned wine available at most grocery stores and big-box liquor retailers. This isn't jug wine material – big, premium brands like Chateau Ste. Michelle, Francis Ford Coppola, Stoller, and Bonny Doon are each now producing a range of cans meant for picnics, hikes, and porch drinking.
Sandra Spalding, marketing director for Twin Liquors, says, "[Canned wine] started as novelty and convenience, but with more quality offerings available, customers are purchasing these wines specifically to enjoy the juice. The proliferation of high-end canned soda water has made people more comfortable drinking out of a can, meaning it's not just for cola and beer anymore."
In order to sort out which cans are the best bets for your summer, we assembled a panel of Austin wine professionals to taste nearly 50 different selections and recommend the best three cans in each wine category. Over a few hours (and more than a few grimaces) in South Austin, our esteemed group fought through palate fatigue and a number of troublesome entries in order to find the hidden gems. Though there was some rough sledding, especially in the still red category, the panel found some wineries rising above the crowd and delivering affordable crowd-pleasers that readers should enjoy seeking out.
A selection of 48 different canned white, red, sparkling, and rosé offerings from 15 brands, including Ava Grace, Francis Ford Coppola (and their Sofia brand), Mancan, 14 Hands, Underwood, Sway Rosé, MERF, Canned Oregon, House Wine, Infinite Monkey Theorem, Boony Doon, Wine by Joe, Una Lou (of Scribe Winery), and Cascadian. (All wines sampled are currently distributed in Texas, though selection will vary greatly by retailer.)
The Tasting Panel
Denise Clarke: DC Communications, Certified Sommelier, Certified Wine Educator
Mandi Nelson: Sales manager, European Cellars, Certified Sommelier, WSET III
Tom Thornton: Food and drink writer, Certified Sommelier
Cody White: Buyer, Twin Liquors, WSET III
Joanna Wilczoch: Winemaker, Pedernales Cellars, WSET III
The Process and Results
Wines were poured blind and discussed, then graded on a scale of 1-20 by each panelist; the top three scorers for each category are listed, with panelist comments in quotes.
Besides rosé, white wines are the ones you'll want most when outdoors in warmer weather. The overall quality wasn't as consistently high as we'd hoped, but our three winners are each well worth a taste.
1st place: Coppola 2016 Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc (78 points, $5) Said one panelist: "It's just crisp, clean, and easy." While some found it "a touch sweet," the flavors of "apple, pear, citrus, and stone" were a hit with the tasters and the Coppola was a clear winner in the category.
2nd place: 14 Hands Washington State Pinot Grigio (68 points, $5) Another solid entry, the 14 Hands was "light, with nice acidity and a slightly bitter finish." Panelists saw lots of "easy pear and apple" flavors, and found the wine "refreshing and pool-friendly."
3rd place: Canned Oregon White Pinot Gris (62 points, $7) This was a "down the line, easy to spot Pinot Grigio," with panelists calling it "well-made, but nothing too fancy," with "sweetness on the palate and a bitter finish."
Overall, this was the roughest category in the tasting. The mix of metallic cans and red wine flavors aren't ideal, and the buyer should be extra careful in the category. Here are the best options we found.
1st place: Underwood Oregon Pinot Noir (57 points, $7) This entry was "bright and easy," with some "baked fruit" and "sweeter notes." One dissenter found it "too tart."
2nd place: Merf Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (54 points, price not available) While most canned red wines are Pinot Noirs, this Cabernet is "grippy," "full of sweet vanilla flavors," and "jammy AF." Said one taster: "At least you know what you're getting – it's a big, oaky red."
3rd place: Joe to Go Oregon Pinot Noir (49 points, $6.50) This Pinot Noir was dubbed "fruity" and "like boozy Kool-Aid," with "pretty high acidity" and "lighter bodied fruit." Some panelists found it "a little thin."
This is probably the safest overall category to choose a can from: The market is competitive, and overall quality was high. The winning cans below scored well and fended off some reasonable competition.
1st place: 14 Hands Washington State Rosé (79 points, $5) The winner, a blend of mostly Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, is "sweet and floral on the nose" and "actually smells and tastes like rosé – yum!" There were flavors of "strawberry, raspberry, and lime," and a "classic tartness." One of only two wines with a unanimous thumbs up from our panel.
2nd place: Ava Grace California Rosé (73 points, $5) A strong alternative to the 14 Hands, Ava Grace's offering is "bright and refreshing," with "strawberry and watermelon" flavors that are "fruity, yet not too sweet."
3rd place: Joe to Go Oregon Rosé (71 points, $6.50) With a "pale color" and "crisp and bright" flavors of "lime and tart strawberry," Wine by Joe's can had what one panelist called "a nice finish and the yum factor – one of my favorites."
While more consistent than the red wine category, the panel found a lot of sparkling wines either erred on the side of too much sweetness or fell flat with overly bitter or tart flavors. A few managed to buck the trend with balance and approachability.
1st place: Underwood Sparkling Wine "The Bubbles" (70 points, $6) – "This tastes like Segura Viudas Cava," said one taster, while another described it as "crisp, sweet, and better than OK."
2nd place: Canned Oregon Rosé Bubbles (65 points, $7) – These bubbles had "nice balance," with a "pretty nose of strawberry" and a "SweeTart" vibe. The verdict: "Seems like one everyone would like."
3rd place: Bonny Doon La Bulle-Moose de Cigare 2017 Fizzy Pink (63 points, $6) – This unconventional blend of Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Mourvèdre, and Roussanne was "dry, tart, and lees-y," with "a little bitterness," but "an easy sipper overall."
Best in Show
Our panel felt that for most wine drinkers, the 14 Hands Rosé ($5/375ml) or the Coppola Diamond Collection Sauvignon Blanc ($5/250ml) cans were the best quality available on Austin shelves. Each were comparable to a by-the-glass selection at a restaurant, and punched well above their weight when compared to the other cans in their categories.
Over the course of a full evening of canned wines, it became apparent that while there are some good canned wines available, a fair amount of them favor convenience over quality. That's to be expected, of course – the price points lean toward the low to medium tiers of bottled wine – but our tasters felt like some established brands could be trying harder to get more quality into their trendy packaging. At the very least, the dozen picks above are safe quaffers for Austin's long, hot summer ahead, especially when portability is a factor.