CAN you imagine this?
Wine in a can? You've got to be kidding!
As soon as I heard myself utter this knee-jerk response to news of the recent arrival of a brand called Aussie Wine that comes in single-serving aluminum cans with the traditional pop top, I knew this was a case for "blind" tasting if ever there was one.
Frankly, the notion of putting wine in aluminum cans is hardly a new idea. A mass-market American company tried it back in the '80s, and I can testify from tasting experiments at the time that the results were practically undrinkable. I'm told that a canned wine product is currently available in the UK, but it apparently has gained little traction in the marketplace.
But Aussie Wine is different, importer Bob Bond insisted in an E-mail.
"You will not be disappointed," he wrote. "I have blind tasted these wines with others in the same price category, and Aussie Wines are superior. I have done this with distributors, sommeliers and consumers. They will impress you. The red opens up after a few minutes and gets lush and fruity."
Bold words, but hey, I've used "blind" tastings to get an unbiased analysis of box wines, jug wines, the original '80s-era canned wines; even "Two Buck Chuck." Why not take up Mr. Bond on his challenge?
I arranged to pick up a few cans from his local distributor - they come four cans to a box, 250 ml (about 1 cup) in each can making a 1-liter box that retails for $10, comparable to a $7.50 tag on a standard 750 ml wine bottle. They're available in three varieties, all from South Eastern Australia: A 2002 Cabernet-Shiraz, a 2002 Chardonnay, and a 2002 "Sweet White" of undisclosed varietal content.
As Bond suggested, I tasted the two dry wines "blind" (served to me in unmarked glasses so I didn't know which was which) against Australian wines of similar price, region and vintage in traditional bottles, Rosemount Estate 2002 South Eastern Australia Chardonnay ($8.99) and Hardy's 2001 Nottage Hill South Eastern Australia Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz ($7.99).
As it so often does, "blind" tasting proved its worth. Somewhat to my surprise, the canned wines proved fully competitive with the bottled wines. They showed absolutely no sign of unusual or offensive flavors that could be attributed to either the can or the canning process. Frankly, both canned wines showed more fruit and flavor than their bottled competitors, both of which - at least in the context of this side-by-side analysis - seemed almost "Old World" in contrast.
The Aussie Wine line is made in Australia by a Queensland company called Woomba Wines, whose James Newbury told Australian media last year that he came up with the idea while travelling in Japan, where he observed that the Japanese could get most things from a can except good wine. He launced the product early last year at the London Wine Show, and it is now being exported to the U.S. by Robert Bond's RLB Imports in Lakewood, Ohio, near Cleveland.
"They're essentially a mid-range premium wine," Woomba's Newbury told the Australian technology magazine Innovations. "Basically we didn't see any mileage in introducing a new medium for wine packaging - if we were to put a low quality cheap and nasty wine into it, at that point, we thought that the product would be damaged and particularly with a name like Aussie Wine, there's obviously the propensity for us to do some damage to the overall wine industry, with the strength of that name, so we essentially set about ensuring that we had a decent quality wine go into the can so that we would be able to build the brand effectively rather than just have it laughed at and I suppose, thrown out."
To read the full article in Innovations, click to
Here are my tasting notes on the three canned Australian wines and the two comparison bottles. (I tasted the Sweet White separately, without a "blind" competitor.)
Aussie Wine 2002 South Eastern Australia Chardonnay ($10 for four 250 ml cans) - Clear straw color with a hint of gold. Ripe and buttery, tropical fruit aromas focus on pineapple. Soft and fresh, pineapple flavors with a hint of sweetness, backed by sufficient acidity. A bit of a crowd-pleaser; frankly, I assumed that this was the Rosemount.
Rosemount Estate 2002 South Eastern Australia Chardonnay ($8.99) - Pale straw color, delicate apple scent, clean and fresh, comes up a bit with swirling in the glass. Crisp, rather tart, appley fruit and fresh acidity in balance. If I had been presented it in a wine-options game, I might have guessed it to be a simple Macon-Villages from France, not Australian.
Aussie Wine 2002 South Eastern Australia Cabernet-Shiraz ($10 for four 250 ml cans) - Very dark reddish-purple, with attractive blackcurrant and red-berry aromas, clean and fresh. Ripe and full in flavor, surprisingly tannic, but lush fruit and crisp acidity make for easy drinkability. Remarkable. If I hadn't gone back for a second taste afterward, I would find it hard to believe that this wine came from a can.
Hardy's 2001 Nottage Hill South Eastern Australia Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz ($7.99) - Clear garnet color, not too dark. Faint but pleasant cassis aromas with distinct notes of black olive. Fresh and acidic, rather austere, it almost seems more like a modest Bordeaux than an Australian red.
Aussie Wine 2002 South Eastern Australia "Sweet White" ($10 for four 250 ml cans) - Very pale straw color. Fresh apple aromas with a whiff of lime. Light, crisp and tart lime-juice flavor, simple and fresh, more fruit-juice sweet than a dessert-style "stickie," with a slight bitterness in the finish.
CAN YOU IMAGINE IT?
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California Wine Club
Say "goodbye" to Carminello!
This month The California Wine Club features two outstanding red wines from a gregarious winemaker in Paso Robles - Pasquale Mastantuono's 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2001 Carminello.
What's Carminello, you ask? Developed at UC Davis, the Carmine grape is a hybrid comprised of Cabernet, Carignane and Merlot. Pasquale Mastantuono is one of few California winemakers known to produce this "Bordeaux-like" winner and now the 2001 vintage is the last one - EVER! The vineyard block where these grapes grew has been ripped out for houses. Get it while you can! A two-bottle shipment is just $32.95 plus shipping. Or take advantage of real savings on case orders, $10.50/bottle, saving up to 62 percent off normal retail!
Call 1-800-777-4443 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
I deferred my tasting report until after the weekly announcement from our friends at California Wine Club, because the wine on tap today is the California Carmine that they're featuring this month. Having tasted this variety only once before, I couldn't resist ordering one for my own analysis and enjoyment. It's not exotic - it reminds me of a good, midrange New World Cabernet-Merlot blend - not that there's anything wrong with that. Mastantuono 2001 "Carminello" California Carmine ($10.50)
This unusual grape variety, a cross of Carignane, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot developed by the University of California wine scientist Harold Olmo in 1946, is translated here as a very dark reddish-purple wine that's almost opaque in the glass. Ripe blackberry fruit in the nose is highlighted by a distinct herbal note of tarragon, with a back beat of spicy oak. Full and ripe in flavor, juicy fruit and tart acidity over a base of dark chocolate, with substantial tannins drying out the finish. (Jan. 30, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: Very good with red meat or roast chicken; it made an intriguing match with a smoky-spicy Szechwan-style dry-shredded beef stir-fry, with the chile peppers intentionally held back a bit so it would go with wine.
VALUE: The winery Website offers it at retail for $28, so The California Wine Club's $10.50-per-bottle offer (in a case of 12) is a real bargain.
WHEN TO DRINK: It's difficult to predict ageworthiness for unfamiliar varieties, but based on its stylistic resemblance to easy-drinking Cabernet-Merlot blends, I wouldn't advise long-term cellaring. It should be fine for a year or two on a wine rack, though.
WEB LINK: here's a link to the winery Website:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: To locate Mastantuono wines, check the winery Website (above) or contact The California Wine Club, 1-800-777-4443 or E-mail email@example.com.
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This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles and features that I hope you'll enjoy:
Reports from our readers:
Finger Lakes tour
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: If 2002 was so bad in Chateauneuf ...
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Introducing Burgundy: Nuits-Saint-Georges (Feb. 6, 2004)
More on Sherry (Feb. 4, 2004)
To warm a winter night (Feb. 2, 2004)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Beef short ribs (Feb. 5, 2004)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
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Monday, Feb. 9, 2004