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Wine on the Go: 24 Top-Rated Wines in Cans and Boxes

Our latest reviews show the portable side of wine is more than a fad
Forget the canteen. Pass the cans!
Photo by: AJ Wells / Union Wine Co.
Forget the canteen. Pass the cans!

Augustus Weed
Posted: May 25, 2018

Drawn by the novel, convenient packaging and great value, young wine lovers are increasingly setting aside the corkscrew and instead cracking the tab on canned wines—an extension of the growing alternative package movement, which includes bag-in-a-box and Tetra Paks.

In 2016, canned wine sales jumped 125 percent to $14.5 million, in the sales outlets tracked by Nielsen according to a report from Wine Spectator sister publication Market Watch. Last year they surged to $28 million, outpacing the growth rate of other alternative wine packages.

“Thanks to the craft beer movement, consumers are starting to believe that you can get a high-quality product in a can,” says Jordan Kivelstadt, who cofounded the Napa-based Free Flow Wines kegging and canning service and the exclusively canned brand Essentially Geared Wine Co., one of the new producers elevating the category, along with established producers adding quality wine in cans to their lineups.

The appeal of cans and boxes isn’t limited to younger drinkers. “Millennials as a whole are more open to alternative formats, which has certainly driven growth,” says Jaymie Schoenberg, vice president of marketing for Constellation’s specialty brands, including Black Box. “But we see growth across generations as more consumers become aware of the category.”

Cans provide many of the benefits of boxes: They are durable, lighter in weight so cheaper and more environmentally friendly to ship, and offer good value. Cans also protect against light and oxygen, keeping the wine fresh, and the material is inexpensive, cutting down on production costs.

But wine in single-serving cans—250ml is roughly a glass and a half—is more portable and can be enjoyed straight from the container, making this a popular option at beaches, parks, pools and festivals where glass bottles and glassware are typically prohibited.

“People now have access to wine at places that they have never had access to it before,” says Kat McDonald of Napa’s Art + Farm, who makes canned wine coolers with her husband, Rob, under their St. Mayhem label.

Since our last tasting report on alternative packages, Box Scores: 15 Top-Rated California Value Wines, Wine Spectator has reviewed 34 domestic canned wines. Tasted blind alongside their peers from boxes and glass bottles, four wines scored “very good,” or 85-89 points on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale. The majority of the wines rated “good,” or 80-84 points. White wines and rosés generally outperformed their red counterparts, with vintage wines offering slightly better quality.

The highest rated canned wine was a 2017 California Albariño from Ferdinand, owned by Evan Frazier, the assistant winemaker and general manager at Napa’s Kongsgaard, a top Chardonnay producer. “For the most part the challenge with 375ml is communicating the value of the wine that is in there,” says Frazier. Even though that size is equivalent in volume to a half-bottle of wine, Frazier felt that $10 was the ceiling for his canned wines.

Consumers can find cans in a variety of sizes, ranging from 187ml to 500ml, and styles, including some non-traditional options. St. Mayhem co-ferments white wines with ingredients such as mint and ginger, or ages them with hot peppers, and sometimes adds carbonation in the tank. Andrew Jones, who produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under his Alloy Wine Works label, is experimenting with unconventional projects such as a rosé wine spritzer blended with citrus and hops. “With some of the stuff I’m doing, I’m trying to pull craft beer drinkers into wine,” he says.

Canned wine still faces some hurdles. “The limitation on the category currently is to get the wine into can,” says Grant Hemingway, winemaker and cofounder of Essentially Geared. In Northern California, only a handful of independent facilities and mobile bottling companies are set up to can wines. In March, one of them, Sonoma Cider, abruptly closed after losing its investor funding, leaving clients such as House Wines and St. Mayhem in the lurch.

For St. Mayhem, McDonald is now investing in their own canning line to meet demand, as are other brands. Free Flow Wines recently expanded and is now canning the equivalent of 300,000 cases of wine a year using a modified beer-canning line. And larger players are jumping into the fray, such as Treasury Wine Estates with canned wines from New Zealand.

Boxed Wines Go Sleeker, Trendier

Our editors also recently reviewed 21 boxed wines from California and Washington, including examples of now-trendy rosé and red blends. Four of the wines rated very good, including Black Box’s 2016 Chardonnay and Gallo’s Naked Grape Chardonnay, which offer great value.

The category has been growing steadily as wine drinkers gravitate to 3-liter boxes that offer better quality than bulkier 5-liter containers. Nielsen reported that 3-liter boxed wine saw double-digit growth in 2017, with sales increasing 12.8 percent. Black Box—which helped launch the premium boxed wine segment in the United States in 2003, with vintage-dated and appellation-specific wines—led the way, growing 23 percent to 6.6 million 9-liter cases. That’s up from 4 million cases in 2014, according to the Market Watch report.

Value linked to quality continues to drive the segment. A 3-liter box holds the equivalent of four 750ml bottles of wine. That means a $20 box is equal to $5 a bottle. Producers are also packaging their wines in smaller, more portable formats such as 1.5-liter boxes and 500ml Tetra Paks.

Boxes and cans may never entirely replace glass bottles, but winemakers see potential for both categories to go mainstream. “There is definitely still room to grow to get people into canned wine,” says Jones, who believes the category will finally turn the corner when high-end retailers embrace the packaging. “We are miles ahead of where we were two years ago.”

Top-Scoring Recent Canned Wine Releases

The wines below were reviewed blind in Wine Spectator's Napa office, decanted into empty glass bottles to disguise their original packaging and tasted alongside wines originally bottled in glass.

FERDINAND Albariño California 2017 Score: 86 | $8/375ml
Smooth and subtle, with pear and yellow raisin flavors, and a touch of lemon curd to the juicy frame. Drink now. 800 cases made.—MaryAnn Worobiec

SANS WINE CO. Sauvignon Blanc Lake County Finley Road Vineyard 2017 Score: 86 | $10/375ml
Lemongrass, lime and melon notes are juicy and bright, with tangy a Mandarin orange note on a light frame. Drink now. 340 cases made.—M.W.

FERDINAND Rosé California 2017 Score: 85 | $10/375ml
Zesty and easygoing, with watermelon and smoky spice flavors. Tempranillo and Graciano. Drink now. 80 cases made.—Tim Fish

FRANCIS COPPOLA DIAMOND COLLECTION Chardonnay Monterey County Gold Label NV Score: 85 | $NA/250ml
Sauvignon-like, this exhibits a mix of grapefruit, white peach and nectarine flavors, enlivened by snappy, pithy acidity. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $20. Drink now.—James Laube

ALLOY WINE WORKS Pinot Noir Central Coast NV Score: 84 | $NA/375ml
Offers a mix of light berry and cherry flavors, with some cinnamon notes on the finish. Sold as a four-pack of 375ml cans for $26. Drink now. 2,500 cases made.—Kim Marcus

BONNY DOON La Bulle-Moose De Cigare Central Coast 2017 Score: 84 | $8/375ml
A straightforward quaff, with modest cherry and spice flavors. Drink now. 2,700 cases made.—T.F.

ESSENTIALLY GEARED WINE CO. Sauvignon Blanc California NV Score: 84 | $7/375ml
Hints of floral aromatics add some interest to the delicate flavors of lemon, ruby grapefruit and melon in this white, with modest acidity. Drink now. 4,500 cases made.—M.W.

NOMADICA Chenin Blanc Clarksburg 2016 Score: 84 | $7/250ml
Distinctive, with a note of sour cream to the citrus and peach flavors. Creamy and juicy, offering a chamomile-laced finish. Drink now. 462 cases made.—M.W.

NOMADICA Rosé Santa Ynez Valley 2016 Score: 84 | $7/250ml
Soft and delicate, with modest strawberry flavors. Grenache and Cabernet Franc. Drink now. 125 cases made.—T.F.

PAPER PLANES Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast Rosé Flight School NV Score: 84 | $NA/250ml
Easygoing if simple, with modest cherry flavors. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $28. Drink now. 136 cases made.—T.F.

SANS WINE CO. Carignane Mendocino County Rosé Poor Ranch Vineyards 2017 Score: 84 | $10/375ml
Spritzy and a bit simple with caddied cherry and spice flavors. Drink now. 720 cases made.—T.F.

TANGENT Sauvignon Blanc Edna Valley Paragon Vineyard 2016 Score: 84 | $8/375ml
Highlighted by fresh herbal notes of thyme, this offers direct citrus flavors at the core and an appealing juicy finish. Drink now. 3,300 cases made.—M.W.

THE DROP California Red NV Score: 84 | $NA/250ml
A zesty quaff, with user-friendly cherry and spice flavors. Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $15. Drink now. 3,000 cases made.—T.F.

THE DROP California White NV Score: 84 | $NA/250ml
Subtle pear, tangerine and melon flavors have a crisp edge in this white, with faint floral notes lingering in the background. Sauvignon Blanc and Malvasia Bianca. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $15. Drink now. 4,000 cases made.—M.W.

THE GREAT OREGON WINE COMPANY Pinot Gris Washington NV Score: 84 | $NA/187ml
Soft and simple, showing hints of pithy tropical fruit. Sold as a four-pack of 187ml cans for $13. Drink now. 2,400 cases made.—T.F.

THE GREAT OREGON WINE COMPANY Pinot Noir Oregon NV Score: 84 | $NA/187ml
Easygoing, with bright cherry and spice flavors. Sold as a four-pack of 187ml cans for $13. Drink now through 2019. 2,400 cases made.—T.F.

THE INFINITE MONKEY THEOREM Rosé American NV Score: 84 | $NA/250ml
Simple and slightly frizzante, with strawberry flavors. Merlot. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $15. Drink now.—T.F.

UNDERWOOD CELLARS Pinot Noir Oregon NV Score: 84 | $7/375ml
Easygoing and zesty, with modest raspberry and spice flavors. Drink now.—T.F.

Top-Scoring Recent Box Wine Releases

The wines below were reviewed blind in Wine Spectator's Napa office, decanted into empty glass bottles to disguise their original packaging and tasted alongside wines originally bottled in glass.

Note: Box wines are stored in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag that deflates as the wine is poured through a spigot, keeping oxygen out, so they don't have to be finished at once. Producers claim that an opened box will stay fresh for four to six weeks. Wine Spectator previously conducted a comparative tasting of boxed wines, re-evaluating them weekly for a month, and found that they tasted best within two to three weeks of opening.

BLACK BOX Chardonnay California 2016 Score: 87 | $23/3L
Juicy, with nectarine and green apple flavors that are fresh and balanced. The crisp finish offers spice and cream accents. Drink now.—K.M.

THE NAKED GRAPE Chardonnay California NV Score: 87 | $22/3L
Shows lots savoriness to the fresh-cut apple, pear and citrus flavors, finishing on a crisp, spicy note. Drink now.—K.M.

BZ CELLARS Chardonnay California Box Wize NV Score: 86 | $25/3L
Offers intense notes of dried mint and tarragon to the dried fruit flavors. Touches of sea salt show on the finish. Drink now.—K.M.

VIN VAULT Merlot California NV Score: 86 | $22/3L
Red berry flavors are accented by hints of wet underbrush in this medium-bodied red. Sanguine notes show on the finish. Drink now.—K.M.

WINE CUBE Pinot Grigio California NV Score: 84 | $5/500ml
Light, with modest lemon and white grapefruit flavors and a juicy finish. Drink now.—M.W.

WINE CUBE Pinot Noir California 2016 Score: 84 | $17/3L
Fresh and spicy, with a modest display of plum and black cherry fruit supported by firm, fine-grained tannins, ending with a dash of earthiness. Drink now.—J.L.


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