The irony of driving a fully loaded 2022 Bentley Flying Spur hybrid to Boonville for the Canned Wine Competition had not escaped anyone’s attention.
When we arrived at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds, everyone wanted to smell the leather interior, a scent not uncommon for the best cabs and merlots on the market. These kinds of cars make you want to spend money.
But there’s no need to brag. As the fourth annual Canned Wine Competition proved, the sense of luxury can be experienced in a well-made wine in a well-dressed can. No cork, no sediment, no drips, no hassle. Pop the tab and enjoy. No wonder cans are the fastest growing segment of the wine market.
But which are the best? Winners were announced in five categories from 300 canned wines from around the world, including Chile, South Africa, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Colorado, Japan, New York and California:
White wine—Maker Wines 2021 chardonnay, Handley Cellars, Anderson Valley, CARosé—Djuce Wines 2021 Rosé, Famille Chaudiére, Provence, FranceRed wine—Joiy 2018 The Gryphon Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand Sparkling wine—The OBC Wine Project Rosé with Bubbles , American Spritzer—Riot Wine Co. Rose Spritz, South Australia
That first winner should grab your attention. Handley Cellars of Anderson Valley is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Winemaker Milla Handley was the first woman to build her own wine brand in California. The name Renault & Handley may be familiar, as Milla’s father Raymond Handley was a scion of real estate in Silicon Valley’s heyday.
Since Milla’s death, the winery has been run by her daughter Lulu. She embraced the concept of cans when the women of Maker Wines came up to her and suggested a collaboration. Maker originated from a Stanford Business School project. They help small producers to put good wine in beautiful cans that tell a story.
The Maker girls – Sarah Hoffman, Kendra Kawala and Zoe Victor – did their homework to make sure they were using the best cans (250ml, coated) and the best science, plus they have their own canning line, which they ship straight to the send individual wineries.
Handley Cellars’ winning chardonnay was the first of this variety that Maker canned. They searched far and wide for the right expression of this queen of white wines and were richly rewarded. The Maker Handley pinot noir also scored gold at the Boonville competition, where a wine gets gold or nothing. Rejection is a hard mistress: yet 30% of the wines earned gold, slightly above average.
As with cars, wine is largely an emotional game. Maker makes it easy to sample multiple chapters of many different stories: each can is a third of a bottle, so you’re not making any major commitments. They offer everything from sparkling sauvignon blanc to merlot to zinfandel.
Especially recommended are Nicole Walsh’s sparkling Riesling and cabernet Pfeffer (she’s been making Bonny Doon wines for two decades), Wander-Must Wines’ Verdelho and the Proxy grenache blanc from Michael Michaud’s vineyard in Chalone. Michaud used to have a tasting room in Saratoga.
Maker’s can club is a great way to sample the wares. A six-pack fits easily in the glove box of the Flying Spur. Like electric vehicles, canned wines are inevitable. Might as well embrace both concepts.