The problem with wine in a can, which several Big Wine companies want to be the next big thing, is not necessarily price or quality or the idea that it’s canned wine – all of which are huge obstacles.
The problem is that Americans aren’t particularly interested in drinking wine that doesn’t come in a traditional, 750-ml bottle, and no one in the past 40 years has convinced us otherwise.
The chart at the link shows that the glass bottle accounts for almost three-quarters of the wine sold in the U.S. As the report accompanying the chart says, “After years of packaging innovations, the traditional 750-ml wine bottle is more important to the domestic wine industry than ever.”
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?