Sunday, August 16, 2015

Underwood Wine in a Can: Pinkies Down, Thumbs...

Would you drink wine from a can? Should you?

Wine in a can? Sure. Let's do this!
Our neighbor, Christine the Pie Queen, relayed the results of a bit of work-related research performed by her loving hubby Jeff, both of whom you may remember from several write-ups over the years (including the ever-popular “Jeff’s Dinner Club” series). Jeff had uncovered a series of videos produced by Union Wine Company in Oregon for their Underwood Pinot Noir.

These videos, presented with the hashtag #pinkiesdown, are humorous takes on the overblown, overwritten world of wine reviews. The “sommelier,” “hipster wine bro,” and “sweater around neck guy” humorously hit your humble reviewer far too close to home with lines like “You know, I’m getting some strong notes of Axl Rose and a hint of heirloom purple carrots…” (Look for “Union Wine Company” on YouTube if you want to see. 15 solid minutes of chuckles.)

The videos are support for Underwood’s…yes, it’s true…wine in a can. Can-as-delivery-system is an interesting idea to be sure, just from hiking and poolside possibilities alone! The operatively begged question, of course, is “Is the damned stuff any good?”

As I usually do when there are oenological curiosities like this, I hit up the PR contact for Underwood to ask for review samples. Most companies are pretty good about sending along tasters for me to try. Underwood, however, informed me that press samples were not available “due to high demand.” In my mind, that either meant that they’re moving so much volume that they don’t need reviews to generate interest – or perhaps they don’t want reviewers looking too closely. Or maybe they just don’t have any to spare.

Undeterred, I popped down to Big Wine Store and made a couple of selections. I picked up two cans of Underwood Pinot Noir for ~$6 apiece. Each can is 375ml, slightly larger than a typical beer can. A standard wine bottle is 750ml, so each Underwood can is equivalent to a half-bottle or “split.” (Part of Jeff’s work, which includes occasional international espionage, consists of enforcing standards on alcohol labels.)

For science, I also snagged a bottle of Underwood 2013 Pinot Noir ($13), and a bottle of King’s Ridge 2013 Oregon Pinot Noir ($19), which is a higher end bottling from Union. (They also do an even more expensive one called “Alchemist” at $28, which wasn’t available.)

The Sweet Partner in Crime and I invited Jeff and Christine to Vine HQ for a “scientific comparison” of the various Union Wine offerings. To establish a “cross-inexpensive-vino” comparison, we also poured some Bota Box Pinot Noir because, well, it was cheap and we had it around. We took up our places around the living room and began to carefully pour, swirl, and…oh, who am I kidding? We commenced to pounding pinot whilst taking notes.

We started with the cans, of course. The unmistakeable “pffft” of opening aluminum proceeded pours all around. (We did our best to emulate the various characters from the videos as we tried the stuff.) Our first impression – this wine ain’t bad! It’s not the rich, earthy Oregon pinot that I can get all William Burroughs about (as in “If God made anything better, he kept it for himself…”), but the basic flavors certainly are along the lines of a solid, inexpensive Oregon wine. 

The can label helpfully suggests: “Notes: Raspberry, Cherry, Chocolate.” The actual flavors are pretty much along those lines. For wine that you can schlep in a cooler or backpack and slap a koozy on, it’s quite decent. For a picnic or other outdoor activity where glass isn’t practical, I’d consider it certainly workable. It’s also miles better wine when compared to the Bota Box, which tasted heavier, thicker, and sweeter than the Underwood.

We also had a tableful of snacks to go alongside our wine: Christine’s Caprese Skewers with homemade squeaky cheese; Jeff’s Smoky Baba Ganoush; and some dry sausage, gouda, and crackers. The wine went well enough with the entire spectrum of flavors, so it should be workable with nearly everything.

As I mentioned, we poured the wine into glasses to sample it, but I was the first of the group to step up and take a big ol’ chug straight from the can. In all honesty, I can’t recommend that particular technique. Since so much of wine’s flavor is scent, you get nothing aroma-wise when you drink it like a Coors Light, so make sure you pour it into some kind of available container – glass, mug, Solo cup, what have you – for best results.

Jeff also pointed out that its alcohol content (13%) is basically the same as Four Loko, so if you wanted to either mimic These Kids Today or pretend you’re back at a college kegger, you could #ShotgunAnUnderwood – but I wouldn’t recommend it. (However, if you’re going to try, I want video.)

Interestingly, we discovered that the canned and bottled Underwood pinots are completely different wines. The bottle’s label reads, “Notes: Cherry, Blackberry, Cola.” As I mentioned already, the Underwood in a bottle has a vintage, which means that all of the grapes were harvested the same year. The canned wine is non-vintage, meaning that it’s a blend of grapes or wines from different years. My guess is that the can wine is the “leftovers” at the end of a bottling run from a couple of subsequent vintages, but I’m not for certain. 

In any case, the bottled version of Underwood pinot is, by unanimous consent of our little foursome, a superior wine to the canned version, even though the price is basically the same. The fruit is brighter, there’s a nice smoky flavor that I liked, and there’s better balance overall. It’s very good for a $12 pinot.

We then poured some of the King’s Ridge for price point comparison purposes. The King’s Ridge, while somewhat more expensive than the Underwood, proved to be a bit of a disappointment. The flavors were darker and heavier, but that didn’t make them more interesting. In fact, when we compared the Underwoods to the King’s Ridge, which also has “Notes: Cherry, Blackberry, Cola,” we ranked them: Underwood bottle, King’s Ridge, Underwood can. In short, I wouldn’t bother with the King’s Ridge. There are better pinots out there for around $20.

Bottom line – if you’re considering taking wine to your next softball game, tailgate, or backyard hootenanny, you can safely snag some of these Underwood cans if you want to reduce the risk of ending up with shards of glass in your feet from an accidentally misthrown football. Or, if you’re hiking, it’s an excellent alternative to the traditional dinner flask of bourbon. Or maybe that’s just the Pie Queen’s tradition...

As an addendum, a few days later, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I tried a can of the Underwood Pinot Gris. Again, a decent enough white (notes: peach, grapefruit, and pear). It’s much more interesting than most inexpensive pinot grigio. I thought it had an odd yeasty scent that faded as it got some air. It’s certainly dangerously drinkable on a hot day. Underwood also is releasing a rosé, which I have not tried yet.

Bottom line – Underwood is a quality wine for any occasion where a can is your best beverage delivery option. It’s worth a try.


Anonymous said...

As a wholesaler for Union Wine Co, I just wanted you to know that the wine in cans has been identical to the wine in the bottle on Underwood for both years in which the wine in the can has been produced. It is not different juice or "left-overs". The currently available Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Rose' in cans, is the same as you would get from the 750ml bottle. It is all from the 2014 harvest.

The Naked Vine said...

Thank you for your comment, "Anonymous Underwood Wholesaler." That is some interesting information -- however, if what you say is actually true:

a) Why they would market the bottle as vintage and the can as nonvintage? Why not just put the 2013 on the can if the juice is all from that year?
b) Why do the can and the bottle list different tasting notes if they're made from identical juice? Since the container shouldn't have any effect, hypothetically, on the wine's flavor once poured -- why wouldn't the two wines, made from the same juice, have the same qualities?

Any answers would be helpful.

Anonymous said...

"Why do the can and the bottle list different tasting notes if they're made from identical juice? "

Haha... tasting notes are harmless marketing fictions, is my guess. Taste (and value) are subjective.

Might the book-cover-blurb on a second edition of a book be different, even if the book contents are identical? You bet.