The good, the bad, and the concealable
Up until fairly recently, at most wine or liquor stores, wine containers were limited to two forms: box or bottle. While boxed wine has the advantage of being economical, they rarely came in sizes smaller than gigantic, and bottles have all the usual portability problems of glass: heavy, unwieldy, and prone to smashing if, say, they fell out of your bag onto the subway platform. But finally, in the last few years, winemakers have heeded the call for a more dirtbag-friendly way to port your wine to the beach or the park or the movies: Enter canned wine.
The advantages of canned wine are many. It's not finicky. It doesn't require stemwear, or even any kind of cup. (I believe strongly that stemwear is a scam for 80% of people; wine tastes just fine out of normal, not-insanely-fragile receptacles.) It's sort of inconspicuous. And as the gang in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia discovered, it's great if you want to avoid spilling wine all over yourself and your friends. "I think it's brilliant," Dennis says, holding a Diet Coke can filled with Franzia. "I mean I'm active, I'm gesturing with my hands, and I don't feel restricted. If I was holding a wine glass right now I'd be spilling wine all over the goddamn place."
Now that vintners have heeded the call for canned wine, more brands are popping up all over the place. And so in the name of journalism, we decided to try a range of canned wine to see which one is perfect for smuggling in your brunch picnic.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are fewer red canned wine options than white canned wine options. Cans are good for keeping things cold, and most people don't chill their red wine. In fact, if it needs to be chilled, that is probably not a great sign for a sub-$10 wine.
The Worst: MANCAN Red Wine Blend, $24.99/4-Pack
Granted that I was pre-disposed to disliking this wine based on its gendered packaging, which proclaimed MANCAN in all caps, and encouraged drinkers to "crush one" during a game or camping trip. Wine in a can shouldn't be concerned with the gender spectrum, IMO, and anyway, the whole "beer is for men, wine is for ladies" feels like a tired joke from 30 years ago. Nonetheless, as it was our sacred duty, I gave the MANCAN a shot alongside with our intrepid assistant culture editor Kate Welsh and resident cheap wine enthusiast/intern Gabrielle Van Tassel. Each can had 375 ml, as much as a standard beer can, and was equivalent to half a bottle of wine. "It has that Natty Light sound," Gabbie observed once we popped the tab, and things only went down from there. The MANCAN red blend had a fruity roundness and cloying sweetness that reminded me of your large-format cheap wines, if you will: Carlo Rossi and Franzia. To me, it tasted like church wine. "That is not good," Kate agreed. Audience engagement editor Meghan Cetera, who we roped into tasting it as she passed by, similarly gave it a thumbs down. "It doesn't taste unlike Welch's," she said. Plus the glaring red can made the wine not as concealable as you might desire. Basically: If it's there at a party and you want wine, sure. But none of us would pick it up again.
Aggregate Taste Score: 3 out of 10 points
The Best: Alloy Pinot Noir, $30.00/4-pack
Hands down the favorite canned red wine that we tasted was the Alloy Wine & Works Pinot Noir. The can is a pricier option than the other two, but it also gave more bang for your buck: Each can contained 500 ml of wine, or roughly 3/4 a standard bottle of wine. That's pretty good. It had a dry, rich flavor that, as Kate observed "kind of tastes like cranberries." All three of us would have picked it up happily in bottle form. The only drawback is that, as a larger, tall-boy-sized can, the Alloy was far less concealable than the other options. It's also not great if you don't want to go through all that wine at once—there's not a way to reseal it. That's of course true for every single one of these cans, it's one of the drawbacks of the can as packaging. In a bigger can, that might be more of a problem, depending on how turnt you're trying to get. But for a party, or sneaking into a movie, Alloy is ideal.
Aggregate Taste Score: 8 points out of 10
The Most Concealable: Underwood Pinot Noir, $9 each or $28.00/4-pack
Underwood Pinot Noir is one of the most widely available brands of canned wine. It was the winner in the conceal-ability category, and came in second out of the three reds we tried in terms of taste. Its sleek silver can made it the most likely candidate to be mistaken for a soda, which made is optimal for an outdoor sipping experience. It's a drier, thinner-tasting red wine with some vaguely woody notes—not quite oak, but maybe balsa? "It's like, fine," Kate declared. "It's drier, but there's nothing behind it," Gabbie agreed. Underwood is also available by the bottle, and yeah, depending on what else was in the store, I might pick it up on my way to a party. It's a solid wine-in-a-can.
Aggregate Taste Score: 6 out of 10 points
Perhaps the OG of wine in a can, if you don't count pouring Franzia into an empty soda receptacle, was a sparkling wine: The Sofia Coppola Blanc de Blanc minis, which rolled out in 2004. Can is a good format for sparkling wine. You can have just one or two servings without worrying about the rest of it losing its fizz, and it's a nice way to celebrate. In this round-up we included a spritzer in a can, another format that's gaining steam, but yes, I understand, is not exactly the same.
The Worst: Hoxie Blanc Lemon Linden Spritzer, $28.00/8-pack
These slim cans, at 250 ml each, are clearly going for the Red Bull aesthetic, which makes them concealable. They're also a lower ABV than wine, naturally, since they're cut with sparkling water. (They come in at 5% ABV as opposed tot he 12-13% of most of the other wine cans.) If that's what you're looking for in a beverage, than the Hoxie Spritzer might be for you. But in our taste test, it came in dead last, because of an off-putting chemical smell, and an aggressive fake lemon taste that wasn't much better. As Gabbie put it, "this tastes like toilet bowl cleaner." As Kate said, "If I went to a party and there was this and just water, I would rather have water." At least they're kind of cheap?
Aggregate Taste Score: 2 out of 10 points
The Best: Sofia Coppola Blanc De Blanc Mini, $20.00/4-pack
These cans are called "mini" for a reason: at just 187 ml, there is really not all that much wine being had per can. It's more like one hearty glass of wine than the two to three glasses most of the other cans afforded. Like the MANCAN, though I suppose not as explicit, I found the packaging annoyingly gendered. Every little can has a variety of nonsensical descriptors stamped all over it, including "fragrant," "revolutionary," and "petulant." It's like a terrible '90s perfume commercial. Also, each can comes with a tiny straw, which is dumb. Have you ever drunk champagne out of a straw? It is not a pleasant experience. The whole thing feels very bachelorette party-ready, like very last season of Sex and the City era. But packaging gripes aside, the Sofia Minis are far and away the best cans of sparkling wine we tried. It's a drier sparkling wine, with a mellow floral aroma, and a nice finish. I would pick this up in a bottle, i would pick it up in a can, I would probably drink it out of a shoe.
Aggregate Taste Score: 8 out of 10 points
The "If It's There OK": MANCAN Fizz, $24.99/4-pack
MANCAN explicitly notes on the packaging that this is a "fizzy white wine" rather than a prosecco or white wine, which is an accurate descriptor, though it was still less fizzy than I had hoped. The fizz can is slightly less obnoxious than the red wine blend. It's silver and gold instead of Ferrari red, which makes it more concealable. Unlike most bottom-shelf fizzy wines (hello Andre, my old friend), the MANCAN Fizz isn't overly sweet. It's, as Kate put it "piney," and as Gabrielle put it, "a little like the white grape juice you're supposed to drink before you get a colonoscopy." But honestly, it's not bad, it's just not great. I wouldn't buy a bottle of it, but if it was around at a lakehouse, I wouldn't shun it, either
Aggregate Taste Score: 4.5 out of 10 points
By far the most popular of can wine format is white wine. It makes sense: something cold and crisp is perfect for a warm day in the park, or a picnic, or at the beach.
The Worst: MANCAN White Wine, $24.99/4-pack
After the relative success of the fizzy wine, I had some hope for the MANCAN white wine. White, after all, is, one of the major wine groups. Alas, when we tasted it, all three intrepid wine sippers simultaneously made the same face a dog makes when it has got peanut butter stuck to the roof of its mouth, as if trying to scrape the taste of the wine out with our tongues. "Is that rancid pineapple?" Kate asked. "It reminds me of coffee pee," Gabrielle noted. This one did taste better directly out of the can—the metallic undernotes seemed to help. We pulled over our videographer Alex Tepper, a certified man (tm), to see if he liked it better. "This has a pretty bland foretaste but a strong aftertaste," Alex said, which is true. He didn't hate it, but he was the only one.
Aggregate Taste Score: 3 out of 10 points
The Best: Infinite Monkey Theorum, $15.00/4-pack
The Infinite Monkey can is over-designed in the manner of hygiene products marketed to teenage boys. It's an all black can with a monkey on the front, and the monkey has gold chevrons for it's eyes. It's a lot. Like the MANCAN, Infinite Monkey suggests that you bring the canned wine hiking or biking, which I personally cannot recommend, as drunk hiking sounds to me like hell on earth. At 250 ml, Infinite Monkey is on the smaller side of the canned wine options, but it's also very reasonably priced. And the wine was far and away the most delicious of the whites we tried. It's a lightly carbonated citrus-y white, and it feels exactly perfect for drinking outside in the park or on a stoop. It's bright and clean and crisp, and all of us would purchase it in bottle form. It's also fairly good in terms of conceal-ability, as the can makes it look more like an energy drink than an open container of alcohol.
Aggregate Taste Score: 9 out of 10 points
Like Infinite Monkey, the Dancing Coyote canned wine came in a slim energy drink container, at 250 ml. And also like Infinite Monkey, it was priced pretty well for the size. It was fruitier and sweeter than Infinite Monkey, and I came away feeling like it was a pretty OK table wine. I wasn't mad at it, but nor would I go out of my way to find it. "It's a fairly generic white," Kate said, and I think that's right. Not objectionable, but nothing to write home about. Why not, you know?
Aggregate Taste Score: 5 out of 10 points
The Pleasingly Straightforward: Underwood Pinot Grigio, $28.00/4-pack
The more canned wine I tasted, the more I appreciated the simple, no-frills approach that Underwood has to its wine in a can. Underwood does not suggest that you "crush one at a game" or "bring one hiking." Underwood understands that the joy of wine in a can doesn't need all that much explaining. The packaging is sleek and neutral, block letters and silver. And though none of the flavors blew me away, none of them left me feeling upset about it either. This is a Pinot Grigio that I would happily drink at a party. It's not fussy, it's not too full of itself. It's dry, and a little thin, but it tastes good right out of the can, as well as from a glass. To be honest, it grew on me. Come summer, you will probably find me in an open space, happily sipping on one of these.
Aggregate Taste Score: 6 out of 10 points