Pinkies down, thumbs…

Would you drink wine from a can? Should you?

By Mike Rosenberg

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. 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” 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…” (Check “Union Wine Company” on YouTube if you want 15 solid minutes of chuckles.)

The videos are support for Underwood—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 (which is non-vintage) for about $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.

Interestingly, we discovered that the canned and bottled Underwood pinots are completely different wines. 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 certain. The bottle’s label reads, “Notes: Cherry, Blackberry, Cola.”

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 and a 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.

Photo: Underwood pinot noir, in a can!

Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at MikeRosenberg@DaytonCityPaper.com or visit his blog at TheNakedVine.net.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Mike Rosenberg at MikeRosenberg@DaytonCityPaper.com or visit his blog at TheNakedVine.net.

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