In another blog post, I may have inflamed some traditionalists by suggesting (kind of) that bottles and cans were both just vessels that “hold your wine until you are ready to drink it”. If you are down with this outlook, then feel free to stop reading right here and go on ‘bout your business.
If, however, you are interested in expanding your mind with the ins and outs of bottles vs. cans, then by all means soldier on! In this post, I will endeavor to provide an honest assessment of the differences, pros and cons, and how various factors of bottles and cans could affect not only your experience as a customer, but also our approach as winemakers.
One major difference between bottles and cans is related to oxygen ingress – tiny amounts of oxygen enter a bottle through the cork, whereas cans are completely airtight (your chemist friends would call this a “reductive” environment). What does this mean for the wine? The answer, as with many things, is….it depends. Micro-oxygenation can help the wine develop, over time. Think of a young, burly red wine that leaves you feeling like you just drank a sweater. Well, time and oxygen are your friend and will help this wine mellow out. The flip side is too much oxygen, which will cause the wine to oxidize and taste like rusty dishwater. There is also the matter of “corked” wine. If you have tasted a wine that exhibited notes of wet paper bag and dank basement….it was corked, which is caused by unwelcome TCA.
The canned environment has its own strikes and gutters. First off, no cork = no TCA. Steee-rike! Winefolk like to throw around that term “reductive”, which can make you sound like a smaht kid, but the fact is, this can refer to a variety of things.
First off, a reductive environment is characterized by minimal to no oxygen – this means that once the can is sealed, whatever is in there will be unaffected by any other outside influence. This sealed environment can sometimes exacerbate reductive elements in wine, some of which people find quite pleasant – flint, matchstick, smoke, mineral. The not-so-pleasing aromas that can show up include cooked vegetable (asparagus!), rubber, and egg. These characters can be caused by different chemical reactions in the wine and they will often “blow off” after some time in the glass/bottle/decanter (note: this also happens with bottled wine). A small % of people (wine geeks) may understand this, but let’s face it, one of the lame things about drinking wine is that it sometimes feels like it should come with an instruction manual. WTF, are we drinking or studying, here?
Common opinion: bottles are better because cans make things taste like metal. Craft beer has done much to improve the reputation of the modern aluminum can. Mostly gone are the days where bottled beer is thought to be superior to that in cans. Beer connoisseurs continue to revel in a golden age of beer drinking – there are so many great breweries putting out a wide variety of delicious beers, many of which are packaged in cans. Real question – do people worry about their beer tasting of metal? Sparkling waters? Sodas?
All food and beverage cans are coated with a protective liner that prevents the product from coming into contact with the aluminum. These liners are designed to manage the specific food or beverage that can will contain. One important aspect is acidity. High acid food/drink are more corrosive and thus require a sturdier liner. Wine is more acidic than beer, but Coca-Cola is much more acidic than wine. A glass bottle does not need a liner, as glass is a non-reactive material and can hold a beverage without any problems. This means glass can hold wine for a longer period of time than even the sturdiest lined can. Can liners have a shelf life which is a function of the chemistry of the wine that it holds. Several factors determine this – acidity (pH), alcohol, sulfur, amongst others. Before a wine is canned, a sample is sent to Ball (can manufacturer) to test for appropriate chemistry levels. This ensures that the wine will spend the rest of its life in an appropriate environment.
Hold up, what about this shelf life? This is one of the points as to why bottles should not go away. Wines meant for years of aging should go into a bottle – no one is in a hurry to see canned Barolo. But, as we have mentioned before, something in the neighborhood of 90+% of all wines purchased in the U.S. are consumed within two weeks of purchase. Most of us just want to buy a wine and drink it. Cans are perfect for this, and they also provide all of the additional benefits and flexibility that we talked about here. It really can be this simple. Groove will be making wines that are meant to be drunk. This sounds kinda silly (aren’t all wines meant to be drunk?), but what I mean is that we won’t can a wine until it is ready to go – no instruction manual required.
What about BPA? I’ve heard BPA is no bueno. What is it, anyway?
BPA stands for bisphenol (biz-fee-nahl) A, which is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. These resins are useful in maintaining the integrity of epoxy can liners of packaged foods and drinks. Studies have shown that BPA can interact with the hormonal process of the human body, specifically in children. I’m going to let the Mayo Clinic handle the details right here. You back? OK. So, the FDA says exposure at the levels seen with modern packaging is safe. Other people and studies disagree. We (the royal WE) all feel like we cannot trust anyone, these days, right? Who and what should we believe?
I cannot answer that, but what I can say is that all can liners used in California canned wine are manufactured WITHOUT BPA. Specifically, this is called BPA-NI (Non-Intent), which is CYA language put in by lawyers because BPA occurs naturally in the environment, so this says that the manufacturing process itself uses no BPA. Any California cans that have liners manufactured with BPA are required to post a warning on the outside of the package. This is called Prop 65.
OK that was some heavy stuff. Chemistry, health, systemic mistrust of organizations that are supposed to protect us. Sorry ‘bout that. Hopefully you have a somewhat clearer understanding of a few differences between bottles and cans. They really are just vessels, and like us humans, they both have strengths and weaknesses and some potential issues of which to be aware. If you have any questions or would like to discuss further, hit me up on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook @groovewines or email us Team@Groovewines.com. For now, pop a cork, crack a can, or whatever makes you happy!