Can it be wine in a can? Joseph Swafford gives his opinion on three varieties that he sampled.

For six out of the last seven years, there has been a “First Taste Oregon,” as the food and wine festival is called at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem. It is called First Taste because it is usually held around the first week in January, but COVID-19 shut down 2021 completely and pushed 2022 into mid-April on the Friday and Saturday before Easter Sunday.

Again I was invited to assemble a panel of judges, as I have since 2016, to award gold, silver or bronze medals to the most deserving wines entered in a commercial competition. We were four judges rating the wines this year: Bobbi Price, organizer of Newport’s Seafood and Wine Festival; Thomas “Mac” McLaren, long-time judge at our Newport Festival; Patrick McElligott, enology instructor at Chemeketa College in Salem; and myself (I was a founder of the Newport Commercial Wine Competition 36 years ago).

The numbers were down this pandemic beleaguered year. Instead of the usual nearly 100 wines we would see, there were 54 entries. But the quality was notably high. Two small Oregon wineries, Awen Winecraft, in Jacksonville, and Chris James Cellars, in McMinnville, were awarded Best-of-Show for red and white wine respectively.

The Awen (a Celtic word pronounced “ahh-oh-when”) winning red was a 2018 Malbec, with nice aromas and tastes of dark berry fruit, dried cherries and a hint of smoke. The Chris James white was an interesting blend of 2/3 Sauvignon blanc and 1/3 Semillon from the 2021 vintage. The grapes were grown in Washington’s Columbia Valley and delivered flavors of green apple and honey. Both wines are in limited quantity, so you will need to go to website and tasting room to learn more.

Can it be wine in a can?

I finally got around to trying wine in a can, which Christina and I had put off until now on the basis that aesthetically the only way to enjoy wine was to pull the cork from the bottle and pour it into your glass. Surely the taste would be off; the aroma and color not right and pouring it into stemware from a “can” would not be enough to make it a true wine experience. We set off to Grocery Outlet to enlist wine buyer Eric Vaughn’s help in this research project.

Eric sent us home with three cans: a red, a white and a Rosé, each 375 milliliters in volume, or the equivalent of a half bottle, and costing less than $3 per can. The first two were from Frances Ford Coppola — Pool House California Rosé and Pool House California Sauvignon blanc — and both boldly stated on the can: calories (75), carbohydrates (4 grams), alcohol (9 percent) and sugar (1 gram). The third can was labeled Butternut, Pinot Noir, California, cellared and bottled (not canned?) by BNA Wine Group. None was vintage dated. I struggled with the pop tabs — we don’t drink soda, and our beer comes in bottles — and poured the canned wine into glasses for dinner that night.

OK, here’s the verdict from the Swafford On Wine Official Tasting Panel: None of my fears, stated above, were realized. Wine from a can is indistinguishable from wine from a bottle. These three were pleasant, unpretentious and quaffable. The cans are easy to transport and should be very appropriate at picnics, concerts and other outdoor events. I’ll let you know when I hear that Dom Perignon can be found in a can.

And that reminds me of the time years ago when I attended a trade tasting at the warehouse of one of my wine distributors. On a table as we entered was a screw-capped gallon jug of red table wine that had an authentic Chateau Lafite-Rothschild label. After a momentary slow take, we turned to each other with a could-this-be-real look on our faces before breaking into laughter at the E & J Gallo label switch!


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