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Canned red wine is a whole new ball game

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HOME RUN Don't drop the ball on these wines. - JAMES KNIGHT
  • James Knight
  • HOME RUN Don't drop the ball on these wines.

Who sips Pinot Noir at an Oakland A's game? I did, last summer, and found that it's perfectly fine to break out the fancy red wine at the ballpark, if that fancy wine comes in a can.

The good folks at Francis Ford Coppola Winery (FFC) stocked a coliseum suite with a selection of their canned wines, to show how nicely they pair with casual, outdoor events. The gambit worked so well on me, I looked for canned wine in the supermarket cold case on the next hot afternoon, settling for another brand's Oregon Pinot.

But this time, no pleasant berry aroma erupted after a crack of the stay-tab. Instead, a big stink escaped. Reduction: it's not a price cut, it's a term that describes muted fruit, at best, or smells like cooked cabbage or winery drain, at worst. I bought a second can later, and it was fine. I called up FFC winemaker Tondo Bolkan to get the scoop on what's going on.

"You definitely hit the mark on can-to-can variation," Bolkan says. Wine in a can is in a more reductive state from the get-go than wine in a corked bottle; and then variables like uneven coating on the inside of the can, the balance of oxygen and nitrogen levels, sulfur and the inevitable hiccups in the canning process may cause problems.

"It honestly just comes with the territory," Bolkan says. "There's no perfect canning line, where it just runs smoothly when you turn it on." But don't chuck that can, because it's not a mortal wine flaw. "It just needs some air and some time and it should be fine."

FFC Pinot Noir ($24 4-pack 250ml) Pleasantly smoky despite being unoaked, teases the tongue with a little puckery tannin, this goes down easy like cranberry tea. No reductive cans out of six or so opened—they've spent a lot of R&D dialing it in here.

Bonterra Young Red ($17.99 4-pack 250ml) This organically grown entrant in the purportedly hot new "chilled red" category is smooth and fruity, like a Beaujolais Nouveau. Easy on the tannins, it's red that's made like the rosé version, also available in cans. I had to ask: flash détente, "organic mega"? Nope. If your Thanksgiving table isn't too formal, here's the can for you.

If You See Kay Red ($6.99 12-ounce) Kooky, tattoo art–inspired Cabernet blend, originally cooked up by brandmeister Jayson Woodbridge. This doesn't stint on big, furry tannins and lurid blackberry color and fruit, yet seems engineered to go down well chilled, too. Just don't say it too fast, and don't mistake a can for a single serving.

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