How do you make quality, affordable canned wine? Check out the Tiamo rose
A restaurant trade magazine review of the Tiamo rose, an Italian pink, called it a “serious wine in a can.” Frankly, I can think of no higher praise.
Too much canned wine, as I’ve discovered over the past couple of years, is made to be sold in a can, and not made to be wine. The Tiamo, from the always top-notch Winesellers, Ltd., in suburban Chicago, is wine that happens to come in a can instead of a bottle. And boy, can you can taste the difference.
That means you can take the Tiamo rose ($5/375 ml can, purchased, 12%) on a picnic, to the beach, or on a camping trip and not worry that it will taste like like cherry Kool-Aid or watery and bitter lemonade. Frankly, it’s also wine you can drink at home. Open the fridge, pop open the top, pour it in a glass, and not know the difference. In other words, just the wine for the upcoming Labor Day weekend, whether you’re on the road or staying on the back porch.
The Tiamo is slightly fizzy, with some floral aromas and almost red plum fruit. It’s balanced, as all rose should be, is bone dry, and has a surprisingly long finish. The price works out to $10 a bottle, which is a fair value. One key to that, given the inflated prices of many canned wines, is that it’s non-vintage; that is, the grapes used to make it come from several vintages. This keeps the price down, and vintage doesn’t really matter any way. It’s a canned win, after all – who is going to age it?
This week’s wine news: Coke and wine – is the soft drinks giant pondering the wine business again? Plus the confusing sizes of canned wine and bias in wine scores
• We’d like to teach the world to sing: The Wine Curmudgeon reports this item with a caveat – there has already been one correction made to the story, and there may be another error in it. Still, it comes from the usually reliable drinks business trade magazine: An Australian newspaper reports that the Aussie Coca-Cola bottler, Coca-Cola Amatil, wants to buy the wine brands owned by Pernod Ricard, the luxury French booze house. Its products include Chivas Regal whisky, Absolut vodka, and Beefeater gin. Pernod’s wine holdings include Jacobs Creek in Australia, Brancott Estate in New Zealand, and California’s Kenwood. Know that this isn’t exactly like Coke’s first foray into wine, which was a disaster (and which the story in the link overlooks). The Atlanta-based company lasted six years in California and New York before selling its holdings. Coca-Cola Amatil is partly owned by Coke, and there is no indication that if it buys Pernod’s wine labels that it will be like Coke actually owning wine again. This is something else the story in the link is unclear about.
• One size doesn’t fit all: Talk to anyone in the wine business about canned wine, and their first complaint is that there are three sizes for canned wine, as opposed to one for beer and soft drinks, and none of which are 12 ounces. Plus, one size can only be sold in a three- or four-pack. That’s the legacy of federal booze law, which regulates package sizes according to alcohol content. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) wants to change that. He’s asking the federal Tax and Trade Bureau that oversees these regulations to streamline the process and make it possible for wine to be sold in 12-ounce cans.
• The inherent bias of wine scores: The Wine Gourd’s David Morrison, who apparently dislikes scores even more than the Wine Curmudgeon does, regularly runs mathematical analyses of wine scores. His current examination, looking at scores form the Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator : “All three datasets show that variation in wine-quality scores is substantial, and that it arises from several sources. When you combine these sources of variation, it is difficult to attribute any mathematical precision to the use of numbers for wine commentary.” It’s good to know that the math agrees with those of us who see scores as inherently biased, thanks to the flaws that are an integral part of post-modern wine criticism.
This edition of Ask the WC: Dependable grocery store wines, plus, Millennials and wine and canned wine
Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question .
Dear Wine Curmudgeon: I buy most of my wine at the grocery store, and you don’t review a lot of grocery store wine. Are there a couple you can recommend? Supermarket shopper
Dear Supermarket: Of course – Bogle is always worthwhile, and Line 39 and Hess from California usually are, too. The Villa Maria (closer to $15) and Matua sauvignon blancs from New Zealand are typically well made. Many of the roses offer value, like the Charles & Charles and the Bieler Sabine. There is a catch, though, even with these wines — grocery store pricing. One day the wine will be $10, and the next day it will be $18, and there is no rhyme or reason why.
Hey Jeff: Aren’t you wrong about the lack of interest in wine among younger generations? I thought I saw a study a couple of years ago that said Millennials were the biggest consumers of wine in the U.S.? Curious
Dear Curious: I think you’re referring to the infamous Wine Market Council study, which was shunted to one side and never spoken of again. I’ve been told there were problems with the methodology. Most studies since then, including this one, aren’t optimistic about Millennials taking up wine the way the Baby Boomers did.
Hi, WC: What do you think about canned wine? Isn’t it kind of cool? Tired of bottles
Dear Tired: Canned wine is like the rest of wine. Some of it is terrific, some of it isn’t, and much of the excitement is marketing driven. The smart people I’ve talked to say canned wine has a future as an alternative like boxed wine, filling a niche in the market. My other problem, besides the middling quality/price ratio for too many of them, is that I don’t like to drink out of a can. I don’t drink beer that way, either.
Probably not, but canned wine could find acceptance and a profitable niche — just like 3-liter boxes like Black and Bota
Canned wine is supposed to be the next big thing. Sales were up 52 percent last year and its growth far out-paced every other part of the wine business. To hear its supporters talk, we’ll all be sipping from cans soon – not just around the pool or at a picnic, but at the dinner table and in restaurants.
So the Wine Curmudgeon looked for statistics and facts and talked to people who research that stuff. The full story will appear in the Beverage Media trade magazine in a month or so, and I’ll link to it here.
Until then, a few thoughts about cans:
• Consumers don’t think much of quality. A recent Mintel survey found that consumers see cans as significantly inferior to screwcap wine, and they’ve been bashing screwcaps for 20 years. Only 13 percent said wine in cans was as good as wine in bottles, compared to 23 percent for premium boxes (like Black and Bota) and 31 percent for screwcaps.
• Supporters say cans will help younger consumers switch to wine from beer and spirits. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of this, says Christan Miller of Full Glass Research, who is one of the smartest people in his field. Yes, says Miller, younger consumers are more willing to try cans, but they already drink wine. They’re just not as stuffy as the Baby Boomers, who overwhelmingly prefer a bottle with some kind of cork.
• Speaking of which, the traditional glass bottle closed with some kind of cork is still about 75 percent of the market. That’s an amazing figure, given how long we’ve had screwcaps and quality wine in boxes.
Miller says – and his argument makes sense – that he doesn’t think “cans are going to be a large category, but I think they will be a permanent one.” In this, he expects cans to eventually become as popular as 3-liter boxes like Black and Bota. They have about three percent of the market, according to Nielsen.
So no, not the next big thing. But a profitable one for producers who understand the niche.
The Tiamo Grillo, a Sicilian white, is the first canned wine worth drinking
The Wine Curmudgeon has long railed against canned wine – not because I’m a Luddite who doesn’t think wine should come in cans, but because too much canned wine tastes like Kool-Aid spiked with watered down grain alcohol.
So I’m excited to report that the Tiamo Grillo ($5/375 ml can, sample, 12%), a Sicilian white wine, does for canned wine what almost no one else has done. Most canned wine seems to be made to appeal to someone who would drink wine from a can, instead of making wine that comes in a can. The difference is a funny, faux-rich and sweet mouth feel, which the Tiamo doesn’t have. It tastes like wine. Plus, it’s quality cheap wine that’s priced appropriately, the equivalent of $10 a bottle instead of $15 a bottle because you’re paying for the can. In all, it’s a surprising candidate for the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame.
Grillo produces is a crisp, lemony wine, and the Tiamo could have been a little bit more lemony. In this case, it was more soft lemon with maybe some apricots, and I would have liked a little more crispness on the finish. But it was fresh and enjoyable and delivered value, and how often have I been able to say that about canned wine?
One word of advice: The Tiamo loses something in drinking it from the can, which I tried and found lacking. Maybe it’s the taste of the can that gets in the way. But when I used a glass, it was all I had hoped it would be.
Can the idea that canned wine is the next big thing in wine packaging
People who are supposed to know these things insist that wine packaging is about to undergo a revolution – specifically, that canned wine is the next big thing and will sooner rather than later compete with bottles as the package of choice.
In this, they are wrong. Wine packaging has remained the same for centuries – a bottle with a cork – and there is absolutely no reason to believe that canned wine’s future is any different than screwcaps or boxes. It will occupy a niche, and lots of people will like it. But most of us won’t even notice it. The wine business in the U.S. has spent almost 100 years teaching us that we have to buy wine in a 750 ml bottle with a cork, and you don’t undo that overnight.
So why the enthusiasm for canned wine? First, because it has grown exponentially over the past couple of years, up 125 percent in the year through the middle of 2016. Second, it’s something that should appeal to the two generations of wine drinkers younger than the Baby Boomers, who grew up on canned soft drinks and juice boxes and who aren’t supposed to be as fussy about bottles as the rest of us. Third, because the people who do trend analysis wouldn’t have anything to write about if they didn’t find a trend, and it isn’t easy to find trends in an industry as old-fashioned as wine.
In fact, here’s what the prognosticators don’t tell you about canned wine:
• “After years of packaging innovations, the traditional 750 ml wine bottle is more important to the domestic wine industry than ever.” The number of 750ml bottles sold increased 41 percent from 2010 to 2014, which is the same period that overall wine sales in the U.S., as measured by bottles sold, was up just 11 percent. This is premiumization’s work; who is going to pay $25 for a bottle of wine in can or box? Meanwhile, sales have fallen dramatically for the very cheapest wines, which lend themselves best to cans.
• That 125 percent growth was from a very tiny base. All told, canned wine accounted for $6.4 million in a $55 billion business, or about one-tenth of one percent.
• Retailers don’t like canned wine. Store shelves are designed to sell 750 ml bottles, and canned wine doesn’t fit on the shelves. That’s what happened to boxed wine, which was supposed to be the next big thing a decade ago. Retailers could never figure out how to display it, and so they shoved it to the back of the store.
• Canned wine hasn’t solved the value/price problem. Much of it is more expensive than bottled wine, since we’re paying for convenience. But the quality of the wine usually isn’t worth the added cost. Much of the canned wine I’ve tasted was junk that would cost $4 or $5 for a 25-ounce bottle, not $5 for a 12-ounce can. Compare this to boxed wine, which has improved in quality and does offer value – and still remains a small part of the market, about three percent.
In the end, know that screw caps, which offer as much convenience as a can without any added cost to the consumer, have been around for decades. And they still account for just 20 percent of the market. How are cans going to do better than that?
Trying to break us from the 750-ml bottle has been all but impossible, and even the wise guys on Shark Tank underestimated the challenge. Which means that wine in a can will have to offer something that we can’t get from wine in a bottle, and that isn’t novelty. The Wine Curmudgeon, who goes where no other wine writer dares, recently put wine in a can – the Underwood rose ($7/375-ml, sample, 12%) – through its paces, and I’m not optimistic about its future. And not because it’s almost impossible to swirl wine in a can:
• Price/value: Not pretty. The can is half the size of a bottle, and it’s sold in a four-pack, so you’re spending $28 for two bottles, 8 to 10 glasses of wine. In other words, you could buy two bottles of $10 Hall of Fame wine, spend almost one-third less, and get better wine. Or you could buy a three-liter box of Black Box for about $24, and get four bottles – eight times as much wine – and about the same quality.
• Quality: Meh. It’s Big Wine wine in a can and tastes remarkably like E&J Gallo’s Dark Horse rose. This is a neat trick since the Underwood has an Oregon appellation, and the Dark Horse is from California. The wine is drinkable, but lacks the crisp and fresh qualities I want in rose; almost any $10 rose in a bottle will be more enjoyable.
• Ease of use/convenience: Very easy – just pull back the tab and drink. Plus, it’s easier to keep cold, and especially in an ice chest. These are wine in a can’s selling points, but even they probably won’t be enough. If I can buy quality craft beer for $12 a six-pack and get the same convenience, why would I pay twice as much for less wine of lesser quality? Or not bring boxed wine, which also works in a cooler, to the beach?
The biggest disappointment with wine in a can? I wanted to like it, if only because it’s such a poke in the eye for the wine business. Perhaps someone else can solve the pricing problem. Until then, though, wine in a can doesn’t offer enough value. So why bother?