Even at a time when we chase wine trends like children in pursuit of the next bright, shiny toy, the rise of canned wine happened fast. Just a few years ago, many in the industry still considered the phenomenon a passing fad at best. But judging from the ever-growing assortment of high-quality cans colonizing store shelves, the only surprising thing about the category today is how diverse it has become.
So, how did we get here? By most accounts, that story begins in 2004, the year Francis Ford Coppola introduced the Sofia Mini, a single-serve sparkler (complete with kitschy adhesive straw) that helped initiate the mass-market model that would characterize the space for the next decade. It wasn’t until the 2010s, with the arrival of a handful of early adopters—notably, Union Wine Company’s Underwood Cellars, first launched in 2013, along with projects such as the Ryme Cellars–affiliated Nomikai and Thomas Pastuszak’s Vinny—that the notion of premium canned wine started to gain traction.
The success of those early efforts, however, couldn’t have predicted the deluge of projects that has emerged over the past few years. Coinciding with the rise of natural wine, the category has exploded into a full spectrum of styles that pull from all pages of wine’s postmodern playbook. Faced with this excess of choice, consumers are in a familiar predicament: namely, how to single out the examples worth drinking versus those that exist merely to cash in on a trend.
On a fittingly warm July morning in New York City, I was joined in this effort by Talia Baiocchi, PUNCH’s editor in chief; Eliza Christen, wine director at Lilia and Misi; Zwann Grays, wine director at Olmsted and Maison Yaki; and Miguel de Leon, wine director at Pinch Chinese. Together we tasted through more than 40 wines, from pét-nat to piquette, to come up with a list of at least five wines we’d be happy to drink any day of the week. We had a tough time keeping it to 10.
For a group of wines presumably not built for contemplation, these selections generated a whole lot of philosophical discussion. Throughout our tasting, we kept returning to one fundamental question: Now that producers are canning wines of every imaginable grape and style, what do we want a canned wine to be?
On one level, the answer appears straightforward. Christen summed it up best: “If I’m drinking something out of a can, I want it to be fresh.” Regardless of color or style, the format clearly favors the sort of vibrant, fashionably thirst-quenching wines that take well to a chill, avoid excess alcohol or extraction, and, above all, overdeliver on in-your-face freshness.
With this basic principle established, however, other questions soon followed. For one, why can a wine? It wasn’t enough, we determined, for any individual example to be objectively good wine; it needed to justify its packaging—especially considering the minimal difference in per-volume cost between a 375ml can and a standard-size glass bottle. “A big question for me is the intention of how these wines should be consumed,” de Leon said. “Are they supposed to be crushed on the spot or offer something a bit more complex and interesting that you’d treat in the same way as a serious bottle of wine?”
Of course, there’s no one right way to thread that conceptual needle. But each wine that made our final cut succeeded not only as a high-quality wine, but specifically as a high-quality canned wine. In fact, we disqualified several perfectly respectable entries simply because they failed to convince us of their logic in that context. This particularly applied to the reds in our flight, some of which tasted awkwardly clamped down or muted. As Grays pointed out: “A mouthful of tannins is not what I want from a canned red.”
The packaging presented other potential drawbacks as well. Given the format's susceptibility to heat damage, securing the freshest possible can is key. Unfortunately, in the absence of a vintage or canning date printed on the label, this becomes difficult to guarantee. Several wines that should have placed didn’t make the cut because they tasted “cooked” or prematurely oxidized.
In the end, we were rewarded with a list that proves how thoughtful and inclusive the genre has grown. Different from one another as they may be, it’s worth noting that every wine listed below delivered enough depth and substance to hold its own over the course of a meal, occupying some version of that sweet spot on the Venn diagram between complexity and crushability that, for us, symbolizes canned wine’s platonic ideal. So, without any further ado, here are the cans that deserve a spot in your cooler this summer.
Artomaña Txakolina Xarmant
It’s amazing that no one thought to put txakoli in a can before now, but leave it to the good folks at De Maison Selections to partner with one of the area’s top producers to bring us this textbook take on the Basque Country’s spritzy summertime classic. As Baiocchi put it, “If there was ever a wine style built for the can, it’s this.”
- Price: $7 (250ml)
No Fine Print Lil Fizz
California’s No Fine Print project also bottles this under crown cap in a standard 750ml format, which tells you all you need to know about the low-key pét-nat–adjacent vibe they’re aiming for with this mix of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay (plus a splash of pinot noir rosé for texture). Still, a perceptible yeasty, lees-y quality elevates this beyond the usual sunny “summer water” stereotypes. “I’d drink this wine in the summer, but it’s got enough stuffing that I’d also drink it in the fall,” said Grays.
- Price: $5 (250ml)
Old Westminster Winery Seeds & Skins
For several years running, Maryland’s Old Westminster Winery has been pumping fresh energy into the natural wine scene. Case in point: this salty, slightly sparkling, skin-fermented pinot gris pét-nat that shares some of the same funky, umami-like character found in the latest crop of ancestral-method orange wines from Italy’s Emilia-Romagna. “Imagine dry watermelon Jolly Ranchers,” one panelist observed.
Ferdinand Wines Albariño
Native to northern Spain’s coastal Galicia region, the albariño grape is yet another ideal candidate for the canned treatment. Courtesy of Ferdinand winemaker Evan Frazier, this one conjures the variety’s hallmark brightness by way of the organically farmed Luna Vineyard in Lodi, California, resulting in a bit more density and flesh. “I can see drinking this cold, or even with a little ice,” Grays noted. “But if it warmed up a little I wouldn’t mind.”
- Price: $9 (375ml)
Weingut Leitz Leitz Out
From one of the Rheingau’s most celebrated names, this zippy entry-level expression is always a top value in German riesling, and the canned format only highlights why. Delivered in a faintly off-dry feinherb style, it cleans up nicely, with bracing acidity and a pop of wet slate minerality on the finish that would pair with plenty of summer fare—or heed de Leon’s advice, and “bring on the hot dogs.”
- Price: $6 (250ml)
ROSÉ / SKIN CONTACT
Scribe Winery Una Lou Rosé
If what you desire is a crisp, classic rosé and you want it in the convenience of a can, Scribe’s pinot noir has you covered. Full of white peaches and pickled watermelon, with a delicate floral aspect that de Leon called “that fresh linen thing,” it’s the platonic ideal of pink wine.
Companion Wine Co. Skin Contact
With the goal of bringing “delicious, terroir-driven, natural wine from California” to the masses, Companion Wine Co. partners with some of the state’s most talented winemakers, including Graham Tatomer of Tatomer Wines, Jolie-Laide’s Scott Schultz, Stirm Wine Co.’s Ryan Stirm, and Gina Hildebrand of Lady of the Sunshine. While we equally adored Companion’s sauvignon blanc (“I’d drink this on the beach in a heartbeat,” Christen said) and riesling, it was their slightly cloudy Skin Contact pinot gris—an homage to northern Italian ramato—that stole our hearts, drinking like the savory love child of orange wine and rosé.
Broc Cellars Love Red Blend
Winemaker Chris Brockway can apparently do no wrong. The white and rosé versions of his “Love” lineup were also runaway group favorites, but his red impresses most of all. (“This is what canned red is supposed to be,” said Baiocchi.) A partially carbonic blend of carignan, grenache and zinfandel, it will charm the hell out of fans of the juicy reds of France’s Loire Valley.
Prisma Pinot Noir
A sleeper hit of the tasting, Chile’s value-driven Prisma project showcases the foggy, cool-climate coastal terroir of the Lo Ovalle subregion of the Casablanca Valley. In addition to an herbaceous sauvignon blanc and nervy rosé, Prisma’s pinot noir bursts with crunchy sour cherry fruit and juicy acidity, avoiding the common pitfalls (excess tannin, extraction, etc.) of the canned red category.
- Price: $5 (250ml)
Roots Wine Company Lora Piquette
One auspicious consequence of the current revival of piquette (the traditional low-ABV beverage made from leftover grape scraps) has been an influx of excellent canned versions of the style. At just 5 percent ABV, this sauvignon blanc–based can will appeal to “fans of sour beer or natural cider,” according to Christen, with its gentle prickle of fizz and a slight oxidative edge that brings to mind bruised apple skins.
- Price: $4 (250ml)