The Recent Bulk Wine Conference Addressed What Can Ruin Wine In Cans

Food & Drink

This sentence popped bright and flashy from a recent Drinksbusiness report: “The majority of canned wines on the market are pale and fizzy.”

In a market Nielsen claims is worth $70 million in the U.S. (a 70% increase over 2018), and almost $5 million in the U.K., (a 125% increase from August 2018 to August 2019), will the canned wine market sustain growth with the majority of products being “pale and fizzy?” 

Drinksbusiness covered the World Bulk Wine Exhibition held Earlier this month. Apparently, the majority of canned wine starts out as bulk product, which may have something to do with them being pale and fizzy—not much wine on the bulk market can be classified as special or earth-shattering. But Ana Diogo Draper, director of winemaking at Napa Valley’s Artesa Vineyards & Winery, mentioned a more pressing concern; she warned of much variation in canned wines, and although it has grown, consumers still remain cautious about the category. She allowed that if canned wines are not handled properly they can become volatile and go off inside the can rather quickly. In her view, the aluminum canned wine phenomenon is on a path much like the one the screw cap bottled wine was on 15 years ago. That was a time when afraid of both technical problems and consumer perception, producers dared to use screw caps only on low-level products.

When the screw cap was introduced, reduction in the bottle was considered a potential problem. Reduction is a process that is kicked off when a wine is starved of oxygen, and it can be reduced to presenting a few unpleasant, non-wine aromas. Injudicious use of sulfur dioxide in wine which goes into an air-tight package can lead to reduction rather quickly. Wine under screw cap was pretty much near air tight—wine under a porous cork benefits from a minute exchange of oxygen. Also, some suspected an aluminum screw cap liner could react to sulfur dioxide and copper in the wine and that would reduce it.

What are the potential technical problems with canned wine? Look to sulfur dioxide and copper reacting to aluminum. According to Draper, canned wine requires lower sulfur dioxide and copper levels than bottled wine can handle. Higher levels of each in canned wine can create the rotting egg aroma of hydrogen sulfide. She claimed it’s a situation that can give canned wine only a few weeks of shelf life. Since a great deal of bulk wine is treated with copper it’s imperative that wine producers think ahead when developing bulk wine for the can; in other words, just like small winemaking, they need to start in the vineyard.

Another area wine producers need to watch, according to Drapa, is acidity; if it’s too high it might require a tailored can with a more accommodating liner. 

The Drinksbusiness report mentions a WiC Research blind taste test of more than 1,800 people who claimed to have been regular wine drinkers. WiC found that almost 49% of tasters preferred wine from a bottle and just over 45% preferred canned wine. The remaining approximate 6% could not determine a difference. With almost half the potential wine consumer market not much impressed by canned wine, it’s a toss up whether pale and fizzy is enough to move the category further ahead.

One of the results of that blind tasting, however, warms my heart: almost 43% preferred bottled Riesling over the canned version. Could it be that regular wine consumers know you should not fizz-up such a noble varietal wine?

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