reviews

In Which We Review 24 Canned Wines

In order to really review canned wine the way it’s mostly likely to be drunk, I put all the non-red cans in a cooler the night before, and filled that cooler with ice. I re-filled with ice periodically, and by the time our tasting panel arrived, the cans were ice-cold.

We did the tasting in groups, going from Sauvignon Blanc to Pinot Gris to Chardonnay to Riesling to Rosé to Sparkling to Red. For each group, we took the cans out of the cooler (we didn’t chill the reds), and tasted each can, pouring a taste of the can for all six of us. We all tasted simultaneously, and wrote down our thoughts on a tasting notes form before talking about them. The tasting notes form we used will be available on our Patreon, or by asking us for it. The goal was for each taster to have their notes on paper before discussing with the group, and hopefully reduce the power of influence on the tastings.

Once everything was written down, we discussed, compared notes, and moved to the next wine. We took little breaks between the varietal groups, and at the end we came up with a rating based on this question: Would you be happy to drink this wine again? Wine rating scores are often subjective to the point of meaninglessness, but a group of six people from various backgrounds saying whether or not they would be happy to drink a wine again hopefully gives you, the reader, a sense of whether or not the wine is worth you buying.
If you want to just get a list of which wines we thought were best, skip to the end. If you want details, then let’s start with some Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc

Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc

Happy to drink: 3/6

This wine split the group, and didn’t meet our bar for recommendation, although that might be because some of the group are not Sauvignon Blanc fans to begin with. The aroma was citrusy fruit and sour apple, with an undercurrent of sweet that followed through into sour or underripe fruit on the palate. The finish was artificially sweet, described by one taster as a bad Jolly Rancher. If you needed a wine for a white sangria, this wouldn’t be a bad choice, although given that it tastes identically to the bottled Cupcake Sauvignon Blanc, buy the bottle and save yourself the can.


Essentially Geared Sauvignon Blanc 

Happy to drink: 0/6

I would not drink this wine. You should probably not drink this wine. I’m not entirely sure why this wine exists. The aroma, palate, and finish were very light, and the dominant characteristic was “sweet”. “Grape Coors” was used by one taster to describe this wine, and other than some light hints of candy and Apricot, that’s pretty accurate. 

She Can New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

Happy to drink: 0/6

Where the Essentially Geared Sauvignon Blanc was absent any property beyond sweetness, the She Can might have been too much. An aroma of funk and chemical is your entry to a palate of sour stone fruit and leftover grape juice. Plum and apricot were present in the finish, but you’re left with an overall impression of the juice at the bottom of a fruit cocktail cup.

Starborough Sauvignon Blanc

Happy to drink: 4/6

Our first recommendation, and our only recommendation in the Sauv Blanc category. Bright fruity aromas of lemon and blueberry and tangerine are layered on top of jasmine, and the citrusy notes continue through the palate. A hint of minerality travels from the palate through to the finish, which dials down some of the fruitiness and leaves a pleasant taste of white tea. I’m seeing this can at more and more wine shops, and recommend grabbing some cans.

Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio

Underwood Pinot Gris

Happy to drink: 0/6

Underwood is a juggernaut in the canned wine industry. It seems like you can find them at every trendy restaurant and coffee bar where wine could theoretically be sold. Honestly, this is a bit of a shame, because Underwood regularly underperforms compared to other canned wines in their category. The aroma has some floral and funk, and if you go searching for it you might find some lemon zest. The palate… isn’t there. At a stretch, you can find white peach, but if someone handed you this as a flat La Croix you might believe it. Don’t buy, if you can.

Dark Horse Pinot Grigio

Happy to drink: 4/6

Our only recommendation in the canned Pinot Grigios we tried, the Dark Horse had pear, lemon, and floral notes on the nose, with pear and minerality on the palate. While there wasn’t a ton of body to this wine, the finish had more minerality and vanilla notes. Overall it was highly pleasant to drink. One reviewer said that she was reminded of honey and cream, and that if she needed a Pinot Grigio she would buy this one.

Crafter’s Union 2017 Pinot Grigio

Happy to drink: 2/6

I was expecting more from this can design, but it became very obvious during our tasting day that can design does not correlate with wine quality. A lot of yeast, funk, and reduction on the nose, with hints of lemon underneath. The Crafter’s Union Pinot Grigio tastes better than it smells (which is really not a great quality for wine) and the palate has honey, melon, and citrus dancing across the tongue. As the wine warms, the honey notes become more prominent, especially in the finish.

Chardonnay

Essentially Geared Chardonnay

Happy to drink: 5/6

Imagine our surprise. After our completely negative reaction to the Essentially Geared Sauvignon Blanc, the Essentially Geared Chardonnay ended up being our choice in this category. It is a completely solid example of an American Chardonnay, with aromas of apple, butter, vanilla, and lemon. Buttered popcorn and apple pie might be a great way to describe this wine, as yeasty and citrusy notes on the palate gave way to more vanilla and spice on the finish. Those vanilla and spice flavors mean that this wine was almost certainly “oaked”, either by adding oak chips to the stainless steel tank it was made in, or (unlikely but possible) actually aging this Chardonnay in oak barrels before canning. We would recommend, and would pretty happily drink again.

House Wine Chardonnay

Happy to drink: 1/6

Everything that was good about the Essentially Geared Chardonnay turned bad in the House Wine Chardonnay. Harsh, funky, yeasty, and reductive describe the palate, to the point where you might be forgiven for thinking what you were about to drink was toxic. Oily, weird, harsh vanilla crawled across the palate, ending in a sour finish with some lingering oak.

Riesling

Companion 2017 Riesling 

Happy to drink: 5/6

The one riesling I could find a single can of was this Companion 2017. What’s most fascinating about this can is that we mostly agreed we would be happy to drink it, and we couldn’t for the life of us agree on what it is. Take the aroma: Some reviewers got apple and rose, some got oak and citrus, some got almond cake and dill. Or how about the palate: Raisin and yogurt, or maybe apples and flowers, or possibly tropical fruit. The only place there was consensus was around texture: fizzy. One reviewer thought it had finished fermenting in the can. One reviewer wanted a whole glass of it. Most of us want to drink it again, and think you should too.

Rosé

Welcome to the motherlode. Far and away, rosé was the largest category, with seven. What can we say about them? Mostly that they were rosés. They almost all bore those floral-and-fruity characteristics, and for whatever reason rosé seems to be a natural fit for a can.

Underwood Rosé

Happy to drink: 3/6

The Underwood Rosé is fine. It wants you to know that it’s a rosé, with florals and berries on the nose, but reveals some more interesting notes on the palate. Some of us got watermelon, some of us got blood orange, some of us got sweet scones. It’s a rosé. Not bad, but we can do better.

Tangent Rosé

Happy to drink: 3/6

The Tangent shows some different qualities in rose-colored wine. Bubblegum notes were present in the aroma and the palate, although the aroma also had notes of seawater that were a little off-putting to some. The finish was, in something of a pattern for canned wines, tinted chemical and bitter. While we couldn’t agree on this one and wouldn’t recommend it, this one does suggest a pairing of some store-bought sushi for that parking lot lunch when you’re on the go.

She Can Rosé

Happy to drink: 0/6

One of our reviewers put it best when she said “She can, but she shouldn’t”. None of us were happy with this wine. Basic aromas of rosehip jam, citrus, and minerals to a palate that one reviewer called “cherry cola, watered down”. The color here was the lightest of all the rosés, so light it could be confused for a Pinot Grigio.

Dark Horse Rosé

Happy to drink: 5/6

Dark Horse remained consistent throughout our tastings, and the rosé was no exception. Aromas of strawberry, roses, lavender, and minerality became a palate of berries, stronger minerality, and stone fruit. The Dark Horse is sweet, but not cloying, and it’s one failing is that the finish goes nowhere.

Crafter’s Union 2017 Rosé

Happy to drink: 2/6

It was here that I despaired of any Crafter’s Union wines being good, despite the truly fantastic can art. Nothing really stuck out about this rosé, it had the florals-and-fruit you would expect, and if it had any distinguishing marks it was around the effervescent texture and the artificial flavor finish. Skip this and drink the Dark Horse.

Cupcake Rosé

Happy to drink: 5/6

For this rosé, I want you to go back and read the review of the Dark Horse rosé. Got that in your mind? Good. Now add more nectarine and bubblegum, give it a very nice, thick, rich, chewy, almost chardonnay-like texture, a hint of chemicals and lemon juice on the finish, and voilá. You have the Cupcake Rosé. We liked it, and you probably will too.

Una Lou Rosé

Happy to drink: 3/6

I want to like this rosé. The label is simple and charming, the story behind it (it’s named after the winemakers’ young daughter!) is heart-warming, and some of the proceeds go to charities. The ecosystem around this rosé is everything Adult Juice Box wants to support. If all that sounds good to you, go buy it right now, preferably from a local wine shop, and skip the rest of this review.

I can’t give this rosé a full recommendation, however, because we were split on whether or not it’s a good rosé. It was overpoweringly floral and mineral for some, without the fruit balance that they were looking for. A number of the group thought it was sour, or had an artificial finish. Some people liked the sour strawberry on the palate, others thought it was too much. Half the group said they would go out and buy it, the other half weren’t happy to drink it. While I hate to do this, you, dear reader, are going to have to make up your own mind on this one.

Sparkling

Underwood Rosé Bubbles

Happy to drink: 4/6

An Underwood we can recommend! Taking the rosé and making it sparkle changes the flavors and aromas, lightening them up, adding a bit of tartness to the palate, and dancing across the tongue. The finish was still a little chemical, which is one of the reasons this wine wasn’t recommended across the board, but this wine is an excellent choice when you’re on the patio or by the pool (or chilling in a bubble bath) and want to feel a little pampered.

Underwood The Bubbles

Happy to drink: 3/6

How ironic it is that we can recommend the Underwood Rosé Bubbles, but not the The Bubbles. The aroma on this sparkling wine is yeasty and funky, with a hint of citrus and stone fruit. The palate is like a fizzy apple tart, with some “generic sparkling wine” flavors. The finish was yeast and honey, with a hint of chemicals. While we can’t recommend this whole-heartedly, it would probably make some fine French 75s or Mimosas.

Essentially Geared Bubbles

Happy to drink: 4/6

Dial up the apple and citrus flavors from the Underwood, get rid of the weird chemical aftertaste, and you have the Essentially Geared. This sparkler tends more towards “caramel apple” than “apple tart”, and is better for it. Hints of lychee and tropical fruit drift through the aroma and palate, and this is a sparkling wine that would be closer to my choice for a patio sipper. This is the best of the Essentially Geared we tried, and worth getting.

Reds

I could only find four standalone red cans, and by the time we got here we were so desperate for some red wine that our reviews might be a little skewed.

Crafter’s Union Red Blend

Happy to drink: 5/6

All the quality that was missing from the other Crafter’s Union wines was delivered like a punch to the palate in their red blend. This wine is fantastic, and I wish I had some as I’m sitting here writing this article. The aroma is the smell of your favorite pie bakery, red fruit and vanilla and smoked butter, cinnamon and black pepper. The palate can best be described as a camp fire fruit cobbler, with more hints of that red fruit and smoke. Some leather, tobacco, and Dr. Pepper drift across the palate, and lead to a vanilla-and-spice heavy finish. This wine was definitely oaked. The tannins sit well on the tongue, a little donut-y but not bad. Go buy this, and buy one for me while you’re there.

House Wine Red Blend

Happy to drink: 1/6

At the other end of the spectrum from the Crafter’s Union, we have this House Wine Red Blend. Aromas of licorice, tobacco, olives and red fruit become a palate of green vegetable, pepper, and dark plum. The green vegetable notes continue through to the finish, which is something of a minestrone or primavera taste. The tannins form something of a U on the front and sides of the mouth, nothing in the middle. We don’t recommend this wine.

Simpler Wines Red Blend

Happy to drink: 4/6

Similar in some ways to the Crafter’s Union, the Simpler wines emphasized the fennel and pepper on the nose, while still leaning heavily into red fruit and dark fruit. The palate was white pepper and butter, with some cola. The tannins were like three lines down the middle and sides of the tongue, but the wine had some nice chew to its texture. Oakiness and blackberry juice made up the finish, and overall this was a nice red blend.

Nomadica Red Blend

Happy to drink: 5/6

Ending our tasting day on something of a high note, the Nomadica was the only red wine we tried that had hints of undergrowth on the aroma, what is sometimes referred to as “sous bois” in wine — that aroma of walking through a forest and smelling the combination of new growth and decay. Dark berry, pepper, and chocolate notes were also strongly present. The palate was surprisingly sweet, with dried fruit, tobacco, and green pepper notes. The tannins made an anchor down the tongue, and gave way to a finish of tart cherry and vanilla and spice. This is an excellent can of red wine.

Crushing the Cans

So where does our tasting day leave us? Out of the 24 wines we tried, 11 met our bar for being recommended. If you had told me before this experiment I would be recommending half the canned wine I could get my hands on, I would haven’t have believed you. I expected a few diamonds in the rough, but this is a better-than-expected showing for a style and format of wine that is still in its early days.

There is canned wine in the world that can hold up to or exceed bottled wine at the same price point. To be clear; most of these cans were around $7, and contained about half a bottle’s volume. Some of the wines we tried blew the pants off some $14 750ml bottles I’ve had; these cans are worth going out and getting on their own merits.

As the craft beer industry makes canning operations more prevalent and more efficient (there are canneries-in-a-truck that will come your local craft brewer), my hope is that we’ll see more craft winemakers selling their better wines in this newer format. There’s a future where picking up some of your favorite wines from Napa or Sonoma or Amador doesn’t involve filling a 20 pound case with bottles, but only requires six pack you keep in the iced cooler in your trunk during your day of tasting. To that idea, we at Adult Juice Box say: “Cheers”

Here’s our favorite wines from the day of tasting:

  • Essentially Geared Chardonnay(5/6)
  • Companion 2017 Riesling(5/6)
  • Dark Horse Rosé(5/6)
  • Cupcake Rosé(5/6)
  • Crafter’s Union Red Blend(5/6)
  • Nomadica Red Blend(5/6)
  • Starborough Sauvignon Blanc(4/6)
  • Dark Horse Pinot Grigio(4/6)
  • Underwood Rosé Bubbles(4/6)
  • Essentially Geared Bubbles(4/6)
  • Simpler Wines Red Blend(4/6)

Review from AJB Issue 1

2016 Houndstooth Rorick Heritage Vineyard Barbera Calaveras County. Immediately this wine hit me with black pepper and butter-basted steak and fettuccine Alfredo. Once I got under that first wave of aroma, I found the dessert course for this ultra-rich dinner; raspberries and plums and hints of spice, opening to a pie crust yeastiness. The steakhouse meal delivered by the aroma and front-palate gave way to fruit that was more heavily spiced and almost underripe in it’s sourness. This is the wine you want when you’re having a Summer barbecue with fresh berry cobbler to follow, and it’s only it’s tannins that keep it from being truly special for me: They’re well-balanced, but thin.

2017 Heidi Schrock Furmint Burgenland. Imagine you’re at a trendy restaurant in downtown Oakland, and you order the cheese board. The waiter brings you a hunk of chipped slate on which are a dizzying array of meats, cheeses, crackers, and fruit. An opening in the middle of it all is unfilled, and as you watch the waiter opens a jar and pours a healthy portion of Orange Blossom honey into the right onto the slate. That minerality and floral sweetness hits your nose all at once, and you dig in. That is this wine in a nutshell. It comes from the Austrian-Hungarian border, and this wine draws on the sweet wine roots of the area to make what is effectively orange honey as a dry white wine.

2015 Mayacamas Mt. Veeder Napa Chardonnay. Here I’ve done a more broken-down tasting.

Aroma: Butter. (Yes, that’s all I wrote. Butter.)
Weight: Medium
Texture: Butter, acidity
Taste: Butter, butterscotch, nuts, thyme, minerality
Finish: Nice long finish that clung to the palate well.
Color: Pale yellow

These notes might lead you to believe that the butter flavor in this Napa Chardonnay was overwhelming. It was not. This wasn’t movie popcorn butter, this was butter sauce, butterscotch like I said above, with an emphasis on the butter. Excellently balanced between acidity, fruitiness, and oak flavors.

V Coturri Founder’s Series “Red”. A wine that I almost couldn’t believe I was drinking as I was drinking it.

Aroma: Black cherry, aged vanilla, raisin
Weight: Medium
Texture: Rough cotton, woolly tannins
Taste: Black cherry, raising, caramelized fruit, raisin tart, golden raisin spice roll
Finish: Raisin and oak, dry, slightly woody
Color: Rusty tawny

Do the notes above put you in mind of anything? If you thought to yourself, “boy, that sounds like a Port”, you’d be right. The Coturri Red is effectively a dry Port, and it fascinated me so much I’ve bought three bottles. If you see this, and you have any inclination towards Port, buy it. Buy as much of it as you can. It is excellent.

Finally, we turn to a wine that not only surprised me, but has surprised every person I’ve tried it with. The  2017 Pheasant’s Tears Shavkapito is a wine from Georgia (the country, not the state) that blew me away with it’s complexity, and the complexity of it’s minerality. There’s elements of clay (which makes sense given the wine is aged in clay pots) but also shale and petrichor. There’s blackberry and black cherry and spice and it’s all wrapped in a tannin bundle that cries out for decanting, but also makes your tongue sit up and pay attention. There aren’t my normal tasting notes for this, but I will say this wine has made me more excited than I ever thought I would be about Georgian wines.