The Future of Wine is Here
The wine world is filled with varietals, sommeliers, decanting, and a bunch of other terms and practices that can make navigating it intimidating. Perhaps because wine has traditionally been made in European countries and christened with names that trouble the average American tongue, those who take drinking the fermented beverage too seriously are often labeled with words like ‘snob’ and ‘pretentious.’ Casual drinkers might not be too concerned with details like which wine glass is best, but they still have to decide if they prefer their reds and whites from Old World or New World wineries.
Wine drinkers, casual and dedicated alike, also have to contend with a growing variety of packaging choices and the stigmas that come along with some of them. The wine bottle we know today didn’t begin to emerge until the early 19th century, but bottles and corks have since been held up as the paragon of wine packaging. In recent years, the cork’s throne has been threatened by an alternative closure and more portable packaging that does away with the bottle itself.
Despite its time-honored place in bottled wine, the cork closure’s imperfections and even a risk of tainting the wine left it vulnerable to potentially better substitutes. Plastic, synthetic, and even glass corks emerged as replacements, newer options that still suffer from their own drawbacks. These range from consumer suspicion regarding manmade materials and concerns about the synthetic materials not being able to properly expand and contract with the bottle to beliefs that such toppers are too low-brow for expensive vintages. The cork closure certainly isn’t dead, although it did receive a funeral in 2002 to usher in the rise of the screw top. That premature funeral showed that the wine industry believed its consumers were finally ready to embrace a less elegant closure.
The screw cap has actually been used to seal wine bottles since the 1970s. A French manufacturer provided the new closure to Australian wineries, but consumer enthusiasm lagged until screw cap closures stopped being synonymous with low-quality wines. As that association continues to wane, cheap wines aren’t the only ones getting the screw cap treatment.
Because price often dictates expectation, consumers tend to correlate price with quality, which isn’t always fair or accurate. Boxed wine, which is cheaper than buying individual bottles, has been battling against that reputation in more recent years, as brands with more refined reputations than the much-maligned but persistently popular Franzia have found their way onto shelves in America. Black Box, Bota Box, From the Tank, and Wineberry are among those providing Americans with affordable boxed wine that doesn’t remind us of college. Boxed wine is still catching on with the masses, with more than a dozen brands enjoying sales of around a million dollars in 2014.
Aluminating the Wine Industry
The rising popularity of screw caps and boxed wine left the industry ripe for more change, and it was only a matter of time before wine found its way into cans. That time was back in 2003, when Australian brand Barokes began selling wine in cans, but the convenient packaging has finally caught on in the United States. Several canned wine brands are growing in popularity, some of which are targeting specific niches or directly challenging the perceived snobbery of wine.
Currently available in the San Francisco area, Mancan offers simply named, “specially designed blends” of red wine, white wine, and wine with fizz, marketed with taglines like “after a long day at the office” and “for giving your beer belly the night off.” While the brand has received criticism for its name and masculine advertising (which might bring to mind “not for women” campaigns of years past), a blog posted by the founder expresses his belief that “women will try it and love it too.”
Infinite Monkey Theorem operates in Denver and in Austin, Texas, and markets itself as an urban winery. The brand eschews traditional wine culture with a landing page that proclaims, “No vineyard. No pretense. Back alley winemaking at its finest.” Offerings include white, red, Moscato, and rosé wine, which it describes as “ridiculously good wine in a can,” a claim that the 4.5-star Yelp rating on the Denver location seems to support.
Underwood, a canned wine brand produced by Union Wine Co. in Oregon, offers four types of “approachable everyday drinking wines,” including Pinot noir, Pinot gris, rosé, and sparkling wine. Although these cans were originally released as part of a “Pinkies Down” campaign in 2013, Underwood doesn’t spend much time thumbing its nose at bottled wine. Instead, the brand emphasizes the convenience of wine that can be thrown in a cooler or backpack, framing canned wine as another option for consumers to enjoy and not as a replacement for classic wine.
Corks and Cans Coexisting
While it’s unlikely that wine enthusiasts will abandon the sacred bottle and cork, those who’ve had to throw out a half-empty bottle because they failed to finish it in a few days will certainly see the appeal of boxed and canned wine. Some alternative wine packaging might be aimed at knocking wine culture down a notch, but most of it is only meant to give consumers more options for enjoying their favorite fermented beverage in situations that aren’t conducive to bottles or stemware.
Screw caps eliminate the need for a corkscrew, a handy solution for party-goers bringing a bottle with them to a place that may not have one laying around. For casual at-home consumption, boxed wine allows drinkers to enjoy their wines for weeks instead of days. Wine in a can is a great choice for enjoying outdoors, after a hike or perhaps at a barbecue; it also has a place poolside, where glass is usually banned, and in laidback bars or venues. The cork will still be welcomed alongside meals at restaurants casual and upscale alike, as its unmistakable pop adds a certain je ne sais quoi.