The canned wine market is being pulled in different directions. One way is chock full of affordable, mass-produced, widely available products of middling quality, often sharing shelf space with ready-to-drink cocktails and hard seltzers. The other, and perhaps more intriguing, path is in the premium sector—higher-priced wines made from quality grapes by well-known winemakers, giving consumers confidence with every pop of the top.
Sales numbers continue to show that canned wines' popularity is growing. Marketing firm Grand View Research reported the canned wine market in 2021 was at $235.7 million in sales and forecasted that the global canned wine market will continue expanding, surpassing $570 million by 2028.
Since last year's report, "Is Canned Wine Growing Up?", we've blind tasted nearly 60 canned wines, with approximately half scoring between 85 and 89 points, or very good, on Wine Spectator’s 100-point scale. Those numbers are similar to those of previous years.
Below you will find reviews and prices for the best wines we tasted. The top-scoring example came from Companion Wine Co., a partnership between designer Robert Van Horne and winemaker Ryan Stirm. Their Sunny B Oliver's Vineyard Edna Valley (90 points, $11 per 375ml can) is made primarily from Sauvignon Blanc, with a splash of Chardonnay. The wine is barrel-fermented and aged for six months, resulting in a plump, fragrant and juicy version.
This is also the first year that red wine quality has matched that of whites and rosés in our tastings. Maker's Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and its Paso Robles Zinfandel clocked in at 89 and 88 points, respectively. Groove notched 88 points with its Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir while a Merlot-based Napa Valley red blend from Larkin scored 87. Additionally, a category once dominated by domestic producers is looking more global, with canned imports arriving from Italy, France, Chile, Argentina and South Africa.
"Once people get it out of their head that there's some issue with wine in cans, we're going to see more wineries get into the game, and as more people get in, it buoys us all up," said Van Horne.
A mixed market
Where does canned wine go from here? Do consumers prefer the easy and affordable quaff, or the sophisticated, premium wine in a can? The simple answer is both. But if you're willing to spend a few extra dollars per can, the results won't disappoint.
Comparing the results from our blind tastings, the higher-priced wines achieved scores that were, on average, two points higher. Wines that were priced $10 or more per can averaged 86.25 points, while those less than $10 averaged 84 points. In general, the $10-plus cans also carried specific appellations. In contrast, the under-$10 cans often had broad appellations such as California.
Van Horne said he targets markets and wine shops where consumers can buy canned wine without feeling embarrassed. "When you see bottles for $10, $15 and then $40, your mind, in terms of quality, is already aligning," he said. "We are not trying to find the cheapest way to make wine in a can; we want to be the best wine in a can," he added, pointing to a placement in Los Angeles' Erewhon Market, an upscale health-food store, where sales are booming.
Sean Larkin of Larkin Wines is also pursuing markets that can support the slightly higher cost. "I wasn't going after Target," he said, noting that in Napa Valley, Oakville Grocery and Kelly's Filling Station both carry his products. "If you walk into Oakville Grocery to get a sandwich, you're not going to grab a bottle, but you might grab a can, and that's what I'm going after."
Larkin has also found a niche with custom cans, partnering with chef Thomas Keller for a line of private-label cans sold in the chef's restaurants Ad Hoc and Bouchon. Partnerships with a high-end hotel chain are also in the works. But, of course, the quality needs to be there to target these higher-end establishments. "I'm not going to put a bad wine in a can. I can't sell Thomas Keller garbage," he laughed.
The Larkin wines have been among the highest-scoring every year Wine Spectator has reviewed canned wines. However, using Napa Valley grapes inherently demands a higher price, which Larkin admits is a challenge. "The market is price sensitive," he explained. "You can't just cut [the price] in half because it just doesn't equate mentally that you're getting a third or half of a bottle."
Van Horne echoes Larkin, stating that buying two 375ml cans of Companion is equivalent to buying a $20 bottle. "We want to be the most competitive we can be [in that price range] without compromising."
Kenneth Rochford and Matt Allan's mandate since founding West + Wilder in 2018 has been about making wine more fun and accessible while not sacrificing quality. Now they hope to deliver to a broader audience. Earlier this year, they partnered with C. Mondavi and Family to bring more visibility and distribution to the brand, making the premium canned wines available nationwide.
"We were just hugely flattered and honored that a company like [C. Mondavi and Family] liked what we were doing," said Rochford.
He added that, early on, they conducted various studies and focus groups and learned that few consumers cared about vintage when it came to wine in a can. "They're not interested in standard wine criteria; the main thing was, 'How does this taste?'" he said, observing that the quickest way to convert people is to get them to try it. "When we started, we were like evangelists and almost had to show people how versatile cans are. It's nice to fast-forward now. There are still lots of challenges, but there's momentum."
A future in cans?
"It's clear that cans are, by far, the best alternative package in terms of sales [for wine] right now," argues Companion Wine Co.'s Stirm. The wine industry has not been exempt from inflation and supply chain issues. Delays in procuring equipment, barrels, glass and other supplies have stymied vintners, with many waiting months for product or looking for alternatives.
"This year, glass doubled in price," he added. Stirm also runs Stirm Wine Co., a Santa Cruz–based brand that puts all of its wine into glass bottles. Most glass for wine bottles is imported, whereas nearly 100 percent of aluminum used in canning in the U.S is domestic. "Aluminum is efficient and sustainable."
Larkin agreed. "The way things are going right now with glass, you might have no choice," he said, citing how he tried to order glass for a yet-to-be-made 2022 Sauvignon Blanc. "Three cans at $10 a piece vs. a bottle at $40 … yeah, I make more money putting it in a bottle. But there's no glass to be had."
But cans do require planning—they are different vessels than glass. The winemakers caution that putting wine into a can should be about more than chasing trends for a one-off opportunity. West + Wilder often plans 12 to 18 months ahead to ensure they're supplied with aluminum. Part of that is forward thinking, but it also has to do with quality. Beyond logistics, serious canned wine brands like West + Wilder can their wines up to 10 times a year to ensure consistent quality.
"People are putting the wine into bottles and cans and expecting the same outcome, but freshness in the can is imperative," said Allen, mentioning that they took a lot of inspiration from craft beer when it came to multiple canning runs.
Eco-consciousness continues to be part of the category's spirit. Canned wines are an easy green win over bottles when it comes to production and shipping. Forty percent of the wine industry's emissions come from the creation of the bottle, and that’s not including shipping emissions, which are also higher for bottles than for cans. And only about 30 percent of all bottles can be recycled in the U.S. On the other hand, up to 70 percent of aluminum is made of recycled materials, and aluminum’s lightweight nature means significantly fewer carbon emissions in transport.
"If you're looking for a way to get your carbon footprint down and make the world a less bad place, this is it," said Rochford. "If you're attracted to cans, they are the most sustainable format."
Many canned producers, like West + Wilder, are embracing their carbon footprint (or lack thereof) and also contributing to environmental charities. The winery partners with One Percent for the Planet, and 1 percent of their sales goes to supporting the preservation of wild spaces. Companion's Stirm and Van Horne, both avid fishermen, donate a portion of the yearly profits from their rosé to CalTrout, an agency working to ensure healthy waters for fish in California.
According to NielsenIQ research, 17 percent of American consumers are more likely to purchase sustainable or environmentally conscious products, and 16 percent are more likely to buy socially responsible products. "We wanted to be a platform to do good and give back," said Allan. "I believe there's a buyer out there that's willing to spend a little bit more, knowing that's the mission."
While the market is hot, it's still not clear if there is a significant profit to be made for smaller brands in the canned wine category. For Larkin, making wines exclusively from Napa Valley grapes comes with limitations. "I couldn't afford to put Cabernet Sauvignon or Franc in cans. Merlot is on the border." He has to watch fruit costs to make the program work, but believes anything can happen, and references his first bottled Cabernet Franc in 1999 as a comparison to the canned wine market. "It was $60 and people looked at me like I was crazy. But you can demand the price if you have the quality," he said.
Then again, some are already testing the viability of high-priced cans. Jean-Charles Boisset produced an Oakville Wine Merchant Cabernet Sauvignon, sold exclusively at Oakville Grocery, which retails for $65 per 250ml can.
The consensus is that consumers need to accept that there is quality wine in cans. When you buy a three- or four-pack from a good winery, it's going to cost the same as a bottle. "This is a slow-moving industry," said Rochford, observing that it might take something radical, like putting aged wine in a can, to change perceptions. "But that's how we can grow and make wine more approachable and fun, and that's what wine is all about."
COMPANION WINE CO.
Sunny B Oliver's Vineyard Edna Valley 2021
Score: 90 | $11 / 375ml
WS review: Plump, fragrant and juicy, with pineapple, peach and melon flavors that are seamless, fresh and succulent, showing an aromatic note of lemon blossom and a touch of candied ginger on the long, expressive finish. Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Sold as a 375ml can. Drink now. 410 cases made.—MaryAnn Worobiec
COMPANION WINE CO.
Pinot Gris San Benito County Skin Contact 2021
Score: 89 | $11 / 375ml
WS review: Pale salmon in color, with an appealing salty note, this offers watermelon, lemon curd and fresh ginger flavors, with firm acidity and notes of orange skin on the finish. Sold as a 375ml can. Drink now. 384 cases made.—M.W.
Larkan White Napa Valley 2021
Score: 89 | $10 / 250ml
WS review: Focused and distinctive, with litsea oil, lemongrass and a hint of celery leaf, adding a savory edge to the smooth and juicy core of pomelo and lemon zest. Sold as 250ml can. Drink now. 800 cases made.—M.W.
Sauvignon Blanc North Coast 2021
Score: 89 | $7 / 250ml
WS review: Lemon-lime, green apple and grapefruit flavors mingle with matcha green tea and white pepper accents, backed by terrific acidity. Sold as a 250ml can. Drink now. 198 cases made.—M.W.
Pinot Noir Anderson Valley 2020
Score: 89 | $11 / 250ml
WS review: Lively, showing a mix of dark cherry and raspberry fruit flavors that aren't shy, along with black licorice and fruitcake hints. Features a flash of toast on the finish. Obvious in style but keeps good energy throughout, with fresh acidity for balance. Sold as a 250ml can. Drink now through 2024. 757 cases made.—James Molesworth
Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley NV
Score: 88 | $19 for four 250ml cans
WS review: A vibrant and juicy white, with ripe pineapple and citrus rind flavors balanced by black currant and oregano. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $19. Drink now. 5,490 cases made.—Aaron Romano
Love White California 2021
Score: 88 | $10 / 350ml
WS review: Reveals lovely aromatics up front, with jasmine and orange blossom details to the core of melon, papaya and peach. Juicy finish. Marsanne, Albariño, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Picpoul. Sold as 355ml can. Drink now. 800 cases made.—M.W.
Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast The Raconteur 2020
Score: 88 | $7 / 250ml
WS review: Shows a lively savory note that peeks out from a core of sleek, vibrant red currant and raspberry coulis, while light blood orange and mineral hints underscore the racy finish. Sold as 250ml can. Better than previously reviewed. Drink now through 2023. 800 cases made.—J.M.
Chardonnay California NV
Score: 88 | $25 for four 250ml cans
WS review: Distinctive, with smoky, nutmeg-spice aromatics to complement the pure, intense flavors of peach, citrus and Fuji apple, followed by a crisp, juicy finish. Sold as a four-pack of 250ml cans for $25. Drink now. 0 cases made.—M.W.
Zinfandel Paso Robles 2019
Score: 88 | $13 / 250ml
WS review: A juicy, fruit-forward red, with lively cherry, toasty cinnamon and pepper flavors. Sold as 250ml can. Drink now through 2026. 694 cases made.—Tim Fish
WEST + WILDER
White American NV
Score: 88 | $18 for three 250ml cans
WS review: Plump apricot, lemon curd and melon flavors show a touch of green tea, white flowers and spice on the juicy finish. Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Viognier. Sold as a three-pack of 250ml cans for $18. Drink now. 4,850 cases made.—M.W.
Malbec Mendoza NV
Score: 87 | $19 for four 250ml cans
WS review: Offers a nice roasted herb cast to the black cherry and plum flavors, with earth and mineral notes weaving in around vanilla-tinged, smooth tannins. Sold as 4-pack of 250ml cans for $19. Drink now. 3,590 cases made.—A.R.
Napa Valley Larkan 2019
Score: 87 | $10 / 250ml
WS review: Generous and well-framed, with snappy black cherry and savory herb undertones. Sold as a 250ml can. Drink now through 2025. 600 cases made.—T.F.
California Red Blend NV
Score: 87 | $54 for eight 250ml cans
WS review: Appealing notes of black tea and dried savory herbs mingle with flavors of berry and red licorice on a smooth, juicy frame. This is full of harmony, with supple tannins. Sold as an eight-pack of 250ml cans for $54. Drink now. 0 cases made.—M.W.
Albariño California NV
Score: 86 | $10 / 375ml
WS review: This has an appealing salty lime note on a sleek frame, with a hint of lemongrass lingering on the juicy finish. Sold as 375ml can. Drink now. 610 cases made.—M.W.
SIPWELL WINE CO.
Go Getter San Antonio Valley-California 2020
Score: 86 | $7 / 250ml
WS review: Presents fresh, tangy red fruit flavors that are pure and juicy, with accents of spice, orange peel and green tea on a fizzy frame. Drink now. 160 cases made.—M.W.
Blanc de Blancs California Mini NV
Score: 86 | $20 for four 187ml cans
WS review: A snappy spritz, with easygoing citrus and spice flavors. Sold as a four-pack of 187ml cans for $20. Drink now. 4,700 cases made.—T.F.
Love Red North Coast 2021
Score: 85 | $10 / 350ml
WS review: Offers appealing notes of blood orange, strawberry and fresh herbs set against a tangy frame, with a hint of cherry cough drop lingering on the firm finish. Carignan, Syrah, Valdiguié, Mourvèdre, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Grenache Noir. Sold as a 355ml can. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.—M.W.
Love Rosé North Coast 2021
Score: 85 | $10 / 350ml
WS review: A zesty quaff, with modest sweet cherry and rhubarb flavors. Valdiguié, Zinfandel and Trousseau. Sold as 355ml can. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.—T.F.
COMPANION WINE CO.
Rosé San Benito County 2021
Score: 85 | $11 / 375ml
WS review: A snappy little pink, with modest cherry and toasty spice flavors that echo a touch of sweetness and tannins. Grenache Blanc and Grenache. Drink now. 193 cases made.—T.F.
Rosé Sparkling California Kindred Spirit 2020
Score: 85 | $7 / 250ml
WS review: A zesty blush, with easygoing orange blossom and peach sorbet flavors. Counoise, Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault and Pinot Noir. Sold as 250ml can. Drink now. 277 cases made.—T.F.
White California 2018
Score: 85 | $20 for four 250ml cans
WS review: There are notes of beeswax to the dried white fruit and spice flavors in this white, with shiso leaf notes on the finish. Chardonnay. Sold as a 4-pack of 250ml cans for $20. Drink now. 1,000 cases made.—K.M.
SIPWELL WINE CO.
White Sparkling Paso Robles Tiny Victories 2021
Score: 85 | $7 / 250ml
WS review: Packs a frothy mix of fresh chamomile, melon and citrus on a juicy frame, with a hint of candied ginger lingering on the finish. Albariño and Gewürztraminer. Sold as 250ml can. Drink now. 148 cases made.—M.W.
WEST + WILDER
Sparkling White American NV
Score: 85 | $18 for three 250ml cans
WS review: Snappy and refreshing, with easygoing lemon, kiwi and spiced nut flavors. Pinot Gris, Albariño and Chardonnay. Sold as a 3-pack of 250ml cans for $18. Drink now. 0 cases made.—T.F.