The case for cans

Tuesday, 31 March, 2020
Malu Lambert
Tasting through 20 canned wines to find the best of the bunch

It’s a strange feeling walking through the doors of a website. Logically, you know there’s an office filled with people, somewhere, tapping away at keyboards, uploading all this content that you’re currently reading. But it still feels like slipping through a glitch in the matrix, disrupting the deal you made with reality. That’s how I felt in any case when the team from this very site invited me over for the largest (known) local canned wine tasting.

20 samples were cracked open, covered with a roll of white paper, and numbered. Co-owner of, Kevin Kidson walked in, seeming amused at all the cans.

“Back in the day we always had a couple of cans in the back of the car, for after the surf,” he shared with us. Kevin is right. Canned wine in South Africa is not a new phenomenon. In the thesis titled ‘The Impact of Liquor on the Working Class’ Wilfried Schärf writes that cans were consumed in their thousands, speaking of a specific shebeen he writes: One hundred four-and-a-half litre cans of wine and one hundred cases of quarts of beer constitute the average sales volume at one of his two outlets each Friday night.

What has changed in the post-modern era of cracking cans is that there’s a shift towards the more premium market. From the outset, it’s very clear from the packaging for whom the cans are intended: young, visually-literate, millennials.

Or for those who have always been a bit anti-establishment, like CanCan by Renegade Wines. A collaboration between Jaap Pijl, formerly GM at Waterford and winemaker, Francois Haasbroek of Blackwater Wine. I asked Jaap how the project came to be and how many hoops he had to jump through to get it off the ground.

“Francois and I were having lunch, discussing an article by Jancis Robinson about the trend in sales of canned wine in the USA. Right there and then we decided to introduce this concept of canned wine to the South African market. This would be something rebellious, unconventional, hence our company name, Renegade Wines.

“Upon enquiring with SAWIS/ WSB we learned that there had been a few enquiries but no one had submitted any research to them for approval. This entailed actually canning wine and submitting it for stringent testing. In March 2019 we canned our first batch of wines, most of which was then sent to Nampak, with the rest distributed amongst family and friends to test the concept. In October we then submitted a white paper to the Wine and Spirits Board, with a brief presentation, upon which industry wide approval was then granted to the South African wine industry to package certified wine in cans, subject to certain production criteria.”

They currently have two in the range, La Goulue Chenin Blanc and the Satine Rosé, which I’ve tasted previously and can highly recommend. The packaging is evocative of the Moulin Rouge cancan era, and the wines are named after famous characters from those days gone by.

When it comes to cans, more than ever will people buy with their eyes. Sure, they’re interested in the stuff inside—but it’s the outside that will capture the attention of consumers first. The most successful cans tell a story, like CanCan, or Bruce Jack’s richly illustrated tins. Graphic, bold design and the use of colour blocking also work well, as with Black Elephant Vintners’ range. In this age of visual-literacy, producers can’t make a misstep with the packaging, or they’ll miss their chance entirely.

But it’s not just about beautiful design; the fact that cans come in a single-serving size is also attractive (no need to commit to a whole bottle, or keep one open in the fridge). Plus, the whole point of the can—is to drink from it, negating the need to lug around wine glasses, or for that matter a corkscrew. This portability lends itself to the outdoors and makes the beverage choice easy for picnics, hikes and the like. It’s also easier to cool down.

Overall the quality of the wines we tried was good, with the lighter styles trumping the more full-bodied. The dry bubbly was a surprising hit, as was a merlot; the other more full-bodied reds didn’t quite make the mark. Rosé shows beautifully in a can as do cinsault and chenin. My thoughts on the wines below:

The Wines

Flight 1: sauvignon blanc

Black Elephant Vintners & Co Sauvignon Blanc

The wine is the same as used in the winery’s Two Dogs a Peacock and a Horse 2019. Sauvignon blanc acolytes will be happy with this, it ticks all the boxes in terms of varietal typicity and that savvy freshness is sewn in with a line of tight acidity.

Ben Wren Sauvignon Blanc
Where the Black Elephant was steely; this one flits over to the more softer, tropical side of sauvignon.It offersgood freshness and fruit concentration, and I can imagine it going down swimmingly at a picnic.

Robertson Winery Sauvignon Blanc
The least successful of the sauvignon blanc flight, simple though still pleasant enough.

Flight 2: chenin blanc
Marras Swartland Los Tros Chenin Blanc


Luscious layers of stone fruit and white pear, zippy acidity and a lovely, creamy, leesy palate.

Vinette Chenin Blanc
Super-primary: apples and pears, lemon peel, peach, and some white blossom. Fresh and fruity—it does what it says on the tin!

Bruce Jack Chenin Blanc
Layers of summer citrus, lemon-lime, pithy grapefruit and kumquat with precise, detailed acidity.Accomplished.

Cape Town Wine Hub Chenin
Textured and creamy with flavours of citrus and stone fruit. Good acidity and freshness, but it doesn’t quite have the chenin clout of the examples above.

Flight 3: rose

Vinette Rosé
A delight: aromatics of watermelon, cranberries, pomegranate and rose-water lead to a crunchy red-fruited palate.

Black Elephant Rosé
Resplendent copper-pink in colour, bright raspberry and lemony-citrus, join juicy watermelon and red apple on the palate, there’s a distinct stoniness to the finish, which makes this wine quite elegant.

Ben Wren Rosé

The strawberry treacle and candyfloss nose is nicely balanced by fresh red fruit and citrus on the palate.

Flight 4: light reds

Bruce Jack Cinsault
Dried herbs, red-berry fruit, black cherries and a graphite note of slate draws you into the juicy palate of wild strawberries, nice fresh acidity, and some fine tannins. Just delicious.

Black Elephant Pinot Noir
Red and black cherries, turned earth and dark violets abound, the palate offers more smooth red and black fruit, with a charcuterie-spiced finish. 

Marras Cinsault
Utterly smashable. Bright red fruits and crushed stone lead to a strawberry and cranberry palate;very juicy and very fun.

Flight 5: reds

Robertson Winery Merlot


Damson fruit, black cherry and hints of milk chocolate on entry. Followed by a soft and velvety mouthfeel, ripe tannins and a chocolaty finish; which all make for a rather delicious wine. Crack this at the braai with some tjoppies.

Cape Town Wine Hub Red
Red and black fruit, some toasty smoke, followed by black plums and dried fig on the palate.

Vinette Shiraz
A lot of ripe, confected red fruit. The least successful in the flight. I suspect it would be better chilled.

Flight 6: bubbly

Chateau Del Rei Sparkling Dry

Made in a brut style of predominantly Chenin Blanc grapes, it offers refreshment value by the mile. Nothing serious, but good fruit flavours of green apple, lemon and pear, with a persistent mousse.

Ben Wren Bubbly Rosé
Also delicious and refreshing (canned bubblies are the way forward…), bright with loads of red fruit, zingy acid and creamy bubbles.

Chateau Del Rei Sparkling Semi-Sweet Rosé
Like things a bit sweeter?A blend of muscat, chenin blanc and pinotage, it’s as uncomplicated as a summer afternoon by the pool, and that’s just where you should drink it.

Chateau Del Rei Original Sweet
Like drinking Asti! Muscat grapeyness, litchi and some rosewater on the nose lead to a straightforward muscat style palate, the bubbles add some much-needed refreshment. 

*Currently, the majority of canned wines are not that easy to find in your usual liquor outlet, for now. To purchase them, look online via the various brands (some are selling straight from their website) or shop at your preferred online retailers.