Wine must be one of the most conservative of all consumer products. Believe it or not, it was roughly in 800 BCE, that the Phoenicians first decided to store wine in glass. The Romans were the first to use cork. That was a long time ago. Three hundred years ago the idea of putting wine in a glass bottle became in vogue. In time, the bottle shape evolved to the cylindrical shape we know today. Yet here we are in the 21st century, and we are still selling wine in glass, which is heavy, and we are still demanding the customer buy five glasses in one go, the contents of a 750 ml. bottle. In these environmental caring days, it should be understood that most of the carbon footprint of wine stems from the production, packaging and transport of this glass. Furthermore we are still stoppering a bottle with a bit of tree bark as we have done for centuries. The developments over the last 30 years, has been unbelievable. The technology in the vineyard and winery is a different world from what the grandparents of today’s winemakers were used to. Yet in the packaging of wine, we are in a kind of time warp.
Israel for all of its start-up creativity is one of the most conservative of all wine markets. Bag in the box did not stick here, and other ways of retailing like the tetra pack or carton did not even arrive. The consumer with inverted snobbery thinks that ‘the wine I drink should come out with a glass bottle stoppered by a traditional cork.’
The biggest new craze in wine is the Bag in Box, except is not so new. There was a Bag in Box boom in the 1980’s led by the Australians. These are usually three liter bags of wine with a tap, which are marketed in a colorful box. You would think these would be ideal for wine by the glass in restaurants or the occasional glass of wine at home, but the concept did not catch the imagination here. Maybe people remember the bag in the box of Carmel Mizrahi in the 1990’s which was semi dry white and Carignan red, which was mainly used as cooking wine. Possibly the bad memory causes amnesia.
Screw cap is another innovation which has really caught the imagination and almost became the preferred closure in New Zealand and Australia. Here people that were brought up with screw cap Kiddush wine and Tirosh grape juice, felt that wine in a screw cap was a step too far for the consumer to stomach. Some wineries have introduced screw caps mainly for young whites, but we are way behind on this too.
However we are not totally stuck in the mud. Suddenly canned wine has arrived. Not a flood but a trickle brought by enterprising entrepreneurs. Paradoxically, because Gal Zohar, a figure to look up to in our professional wine bubble, is involved in one initiative, the wine police have been far more accepting of this new trend than if it occurred on its own and out of the blue.
Why cans? They are obvious options for millennials who feel they are not bound by the traditions of their upbringing. They are far more experimental with their drinking and are also far more likely to purchase products that are kinder to the environment than their parents. The can is lightweight, practical and easy to recycle. They are quick to cool and you don’t have to find the wretched bottle opener or know how to use it!
When I first came to Israel I said wine would not take off as a consumer product until its price was similar to a can of beer. In the early 1990’s I introduced what was then considered by my peers to be the first wine by the glass campaign. Now there is even a wine by the glass list in most restaurants. We are thankfully no longer bound to the House Wine concept, of the cheapest wine only being served by the glass.
The can is also attractively priced. Here, they generally come in sizes of a glass and a half, and they are sold in packs of four. They are for drinking wines, not tasting wines. By that I mean they are wines to drink, and not admire and talk about. The most successful wines to put in the can are easy drinking, light white wines, roses and gently sparkling wines. They should be served cold and will normally be drunk direct from the can. Aromatic or oak aged whites and tannic reds are less suitable for cans. The idea that canned wine tastes metallic, is more in the mind of the anti-can consumer than reality. None of the wines I tasted were metallic in any way at all. However, no doubt a canned wine served in a glass is the best way to enjoy the wine. I know some wineries, like the Golan Heights Winery, have plastic bowl tasting glasses, which are stemless and designed for re-use. They are ideal for a picnic and are a great partners for your canned wines, but most often they will be drunk direct from the can.
The first wine in a can in Israel was the Carmel Buzz Moscato in 2017. One would think it was an ideal wine to put in a can, but maybe the look and anemic launch were not good enough, because it is no longer made. It disappeared as quietly as it was launched. The marketing was just not good enough.
Bartenura went into cans soon after with the same product, a Moscato, but here the approach and quality was immeasurably better and the marketing was far more professional. Bartenura Moscato is the largest brand of Moscato produced in the Asti region of Piedmont. It is also arguably the largest selling kosher brand worldwide, outside the iconic kosher Kiddush wines, like Manischewitz. It is the authentic taste of the Moscato d’Asti made from the Muscat Canelli grape variety, also known as Muscat de Frontignan or Muscat Blanc a Petit Grains. Bartenura were the first to sell in the iconic blue bottle and what you get in the can is the same as the bottle. The wine is grapey, lightly sparking, full of frothy flavor and sweet. As it is low alcohol (5%), some countries will not even categorize it as a wine. This should be served ice cold. Those who do not normally like wine, will adore it. There is also a rose, which is slightly higher alcohol (7%) and less sweet, and but also less full flavored. They both cost NIS 20 for a 250 ml. can and NIS 70 for a pack of four. They are Kosher. It is the only can which is a well-known, existing brand.
Quiet pioneers in our industry are the company DeVine, run by two impressive Mums, Gali Feigin and Yael Lev Avidor. They do a great job, provide a great service, without unnecessary noise and marketing fluff. They introduced the concept of a wine club to Israel, using the iconic Direct Wine – Laithwaite concept for inspiration. They offer interesting selections by regular gift boxes to consumers eager to expand their horizons, who are looking to learn and be led. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and their initiative has been copied by others. It is impressive how they arrived on the chauvinist wine scene with a new concept and stayed the course. Anyway, they are marketing a canned brand called Private Beach in Israel. It is beautifully and stylishly packaged and focusing on the two trends of today, rose and sparkling, in one product. The wine is dry, frizzante, onion skin colored rose, 10.5% alcohol and it is also Italian. Nice and easy drinking. It costs 69 shekels for a four-pack, but note the cans are only 200 ml. Not Kosher.
Whenever there is a new trend, the importer-retailer-distributor Shaked normally leads the way or is not far behind. They are arguably Israel’s leading wine importer. They have also imported cans. These are produced by a company called the Zai Urban Winery, from Verona in Italy. Zai Winery’s love of comics is clear as the cans are illustrated by garish super hero cartoon characters. They fit into a story that is told in 2150, where they need to save wine from extinction due to pollution and a lack of care for the environment. The characters include names such as Mr. Bubble, Lady Blendy and Cork Borg. One is referred to as the last sommelier. The wines are organic, low alcohol, low calories, vegan, but not kosher. The word Zai is an acronym of the phrase ‘Highly Innovative Zone’ in Italian. There is a PJ White Pinot Grigio (12% alc), a one dimensional dry white wine, and Glera Sparkling wine (9.5 % alc). Glera is the grape variety of Prosseco. The wine is fragrant and bubbly, but not especially flavorful. Lady Blendy Merlot Cab (11% alc) is a light blend. It is the only red. My advice is to drink it chilled and quickly. Cork Borg Moscato (7% Alc) is not as aromatic or typical as the Bartenura. The cans sell for 20 shekels each and NIS 60 for four 250 ml. cans. Not Kosher.
Most innovative is the concept Drink Mine, which is a new Israeli Start-Up. It is a joint venture between Roy Itzaky, Gal Zohar and Amnon Illuz. Roy Itzaky is the CEO and founder of Tulip Winery, Maia Winery and the Adom Kehe importer-distributors. He is a most impressive person; Intelligent, innovative, dynamic, and always ahead of the game. It was not a surprise when I heard he was involved. Sommelier-educator Gal Zohar, is one of only a handful of Israelis to have a WSET Diploma, and he represents the WSET in Israel through his W Wine & Spirits School. It is the leading place for wine education in Israel. He immediately gives the project credibility. Amnon Illuz is a graphic designer, owner of Re-Levant Design. His talents are obvious to anyone observing the outstanding, innovative Mine campaign on social media. In the presentation pack I received the pack of four cans, with a wine bottle opener. On the opener it was written: ‘For your Dad!’ Implying you drink as young people do, leave the glass bottles to the old fogeys. The wines are kosher and there are two to choose from, white and rose, both 11% alcohol. I preferred the white. It is lightly sparkling, refreshing and dry, with a nice CO2 bite on the finish. Not much aroma, but this is not important with cans. The price for a four-pack is NIS 60 and NIS 16-18 for an individual can of 250 ml. and they are Kosher. Their brilliant campaign is creating this new category.
It seems even wrong to taste these cans like regular wines, because they are mood wines for drinking at the appropriate time. However the concept receives the expected knee jerk opposition from the wine intelligentsia. These are the same people who pontificate with statements which always annoy me like: “I only drink red”, “I never drink a wine under 50 shekels”, “Blue Nun is not wine.” No-one is suggesting we should put Chateau Lafite or Castel Grand Vin in cans, or that they are for suitable for a formal dinner. Yet there is no doubt canned wine is one of the fastest growing wine categories worldwide. In Israel it is just a tentative dipping ones toe in the water. However there is no reason these should not become the new norm for outside wine drinking. Think of wine in a can on the beach, in the pool, at a picnic, in the kiosk fridge or at a party. A heavy glass bottle is never the ideal partner to outdoor events. So my message is that it is ok to release yourselves from the wine tradition straight jacket, and if you can’t, please do not disenfranchise the growing number of people who like wines in cans just because of wine snobbery. Wine is fun and can be at its best when it is not complicated.
Adam Montefiore is a wine industry insider turned wine writer, who has advanced Israeli wine for 35 years. He is referred to as the English voice of Israeli wines. He is the wine writer of the Jerusalem Post. www.adammontefiore.com
Photo Mine: Ben Palhov