Fined & Filtered

The Canning Line
Canned wine comes of age—and pressure is put on its packaging.

As canned wines gain momentum, everyone from natty wine producers to Trader Joe’s is getting in on the game. But, as our recent tasting made clear, packaging wine in a can presents a different set of challenges than bottling it.

Like other canners, Faith Armstrong of Onward and Farmstrong Wines has worked to find the right level of sulfur on the canning line. She thinks some of the original issues with wine in cans had to do with sulfur levels that were more appropriate to cork-finished bottles. So, she did some tests and found that it was important to include some sulfur, but at lower levels. “With cork, you are going to have some transfer of oxygen across that cork,” she points out, “and people use sulfur to promote freshness as the wine ages. With a can, there is absolutely no transfer of anything. It’s a fully sealed vessel. There’s no oxygen getting in; there’s nothing getting in or out of that can.” So, too much sulfur can create reductive compounds, which lend the wines off odors.

Thomas Pastuszak, who leads the wine program at NYC’s NoMad, recalls his first experiences with canning wine when he set out to produce Vinny, his sparkling wine in cans. “I realized that to make a wine that is balanced once it is effervescent, the wine itself would need to be a little bit more generous, so when you carbonate, it does not become too shrill or thin. When you add carbonation, it basically thins out the wine. You get the benefit of the crispness and the freshness, but you need to have a little bit more stuffing in the wine to begin with. So, that was one really important learning curve.” He also chose a 250-millimeter can that would hold the pressure he hoped to sustain in the wine.

Even in still wines, there’s a challenge in getting the right pressure on the can wall, as Jake Stover of Sans Wine in Napa Valley pointed out: “It’s really important to get the liquid nitrogen dosing right, to force out any oxygen,” which helps to avoid “squishy” cans.

THE RED WINE CONUNDRUM

In our small sample set, the sparkling wines, whites and rosés were far more successful in cans than still reds. When questioned about this, several producers noted that people are used to drinking cold, carbonated beverages, not red wine, out of cans.

But we tasted out of glasses, at room temperature. Our findings weren’t based on an intrinsic bias; they were based on our reactions to the wines in the glass.

Josh Schaffner works with Ninth Planet Beverage Solutions, a mobile canning line that got its start with the craft beer movement and has expanded to canning wine. They use Ball products, the industry standard (and the same Ball that produces canning jars). He told me that while the lining of the can is proprietary, Ball requires that all wines be tested for their interaction with that liner. “It’s called corrosivity testing,” he said. “It takes about three weeks, and they performed this test free of charge.”

“I wanted to do a Charmat method sparkler, like a Prosecco, but 375-milliliter cans only hold up to three atmospheres—a frizzante style. So, 250-milliliter cans seemed like the logical step to get the higher pressure.”
—Thomas Pastuszak
According to Melanie Edwards Virreira, director of strategy and marketing at Ball, who responded via email, “The tests we perform are for structural compatibility only, i.e., how the wine affects the structure of the can, and are the same analyses we perform on all new beverages getting packaged in cans. The tests…ensure the can is able to hold the beverage for a specified period of time without corrosion. Through years of canning a variety of wines, we have found that every wine evolves and behaves differently in the can, just as they do in other packaging formats. We have seen variances even within the same varietal and across vintages. We have a wide range of both red wines and white wines that are successfully packaged in cans.”

Still, according to Schaffner, “The corrosivity test is what tells you whether or not the can lining can withstand the beverage in the can and for how long, and [some] red wines are much more aggressive than [most] whites are.” So, even if a red wine passes the corrosivity test, it still may be reacting with the lining of the can. In other words, it’s best not to age red wine in a can.

We did find both fresh, chillable, unoaked reds and oak-aged styles that were successful, but the lower-pH sparklers and whites had a better batting average. If you’re looking for the convenience of wine in a can, your best best is to pop the top on some bubbles.


This feature appears in the print edition of June 2019.
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