Beer drinkers have it easy – when the sun starts to shine, they just grab a can from the fridge and head outside. Wine fans face a tougher task: deciding whether to bring plastic cups or ‘proper’ glasses, how to keep a whole bottle cool, and whether they need a corkscrew. Does wine in cans hold the answer? Judging by the number of brands on the internet and the increasing amount of shelf space given over to them in supermarket fridges, it’s a format worth exploring. The 110 cans I assembled fell into two categories – those aiming for the convenience market and those prioritising more serious liquids. That’s no surprise; after all, the same could be said for the split between wine and fine wine in other formats too, whether it’s traditional glass bottles or bag-in-box.
Scroll down to see Peter Ranscombe’s top picks of canned wines
Evangelists (e-can-gelists?) hail the can not only as a practical format for picnics, but also portion control. Opening a 187ml or 250ml can limits the size of servings and perhaps prevents leftovers from an open bottle going to waste.
At the basic end, wines of European Union origin – blends from across the continent – are popular, with or without an an injection of carbon dioxide for a slight spritz, although their scores failed to trouble my top choices. Other examples are likely seen as a way of soaking up excess production in countries such as Italy, Spain and South Africa.
Yet some very serious producers in the Cape and beyond are putting high-quality wines into cans. Organic examples from Italy and Spain also made me sit up and take notice, while several English wineries have embraced cans as a way to reach new consumers unsure about buying a full-priced bottle.
The biggest plus-point is their environmental credentials. Producers trumpet their lower carbon footprint when compared with glass, with cans requiring less fuel for transport, and the aluminium itself 100% recyclable.
But picking apart the environmental claims is tricky. Shipping wine in bulk and then canning it in the country in which it will be sold is preferable – just as it is with bottling bulk shipments. So many carbon footprint calculations depend on recycling rates for glass and metals, which vary widely from country to country – in 2020 in the UK, 68% of all aluminium packaging sold was recycled (alupro.org.uk).
Following a can through its life cycle – from its metals being mined and refined, then through transportation and finally recycling and reuse – is just as complex as tracing a glass bottle. Throw the source of power used for production and recycling processes into the mix – whether generated by burning fossil fuels or from renewable sources – and the picture becomes even more complicated.
Having digested a dozen reports, I’ve seen no single authoritative study comparing a can and a bottle’s carbon footprint. The jury’s still out. Yet that doesn’t detract from the high-quality liquid going into many of these cans, or the fresh and fruity entry-level value offered by others. Both deserve their place in the world of wine – and their space in your fridge this summer.
And remember, whether it’s glass or plastic, canned wines need a receptacle. Just as slurping from a bottle dulls wine, canned wines need air to release their aromas and flavours.