Badass Sommelier: Wine In A Can (And A Bottle And A Box And A Pouch And…)

On the occasion of THE BLING RING's release, Dan discusses that little pink can named after its director.

This weekend sees the release of the most anticipated movie of the summer. A heroic effort from a beloved director, a film that promises both spectacle and an undeniable sense of hope. A film about what it means to become myth, to become legend. A film about gods.

I am, of course, referring to Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring.

Every three or four years Coppola puts a small, intimate movie into theaters, and every time she does, it is one of the best films of that year. Her first, 1999’s The Virgin Suicides, is filled with so much raw emotion that it’s almost painful to watch, one of the most vibrant and honest explorations of adolescence in any art form. She followed it up in 2003 with Lost in Translation, which garnered enough acclaim to pull her out of her father’s shadow entirely. 2006’s Marie Antoinette is Coppola’s best film, and I think both her most personal and most misunderstood. And in 2010 she stretched her legs with Somewhere, a film that continues her ongoing exploration of femininity, this time from an outsider’s perspective, albeit the most personal and intimate one possessed by a young girl’s father (it also rewarded my faith in Stephen Dorff, an actor I have long felt has been unfairly relegated to being a poor man’s Christian Slater).

And now The Bling Ring, which looks to be Coppola’s most entertaining film to date. I am incredibly excited to see what she has in store for us. The premise, a group of celebrity-obsessed kids break into famous people’s houses and steal their shit in order to feel closer to them, feels ripe for a pitch-black comedic satire of our modern fame-obsessed culture, a Dr. Strangelove for the Kardashian set. But knowing Sofia Coppola’s filmography, this is merely the framework for a deeply human and insightful piece, and I cannot wait to see it.

But of course I’ll have to. So in anticipation, as I do pretty much any time I get particularly excited for a new release, I have been drinking lots and lots of wine.

Sofia Blanc de Blancs Comes in a Can and That’s Okay.

Sofia is Francis Coppola’s tribute to his daughter. The Francis Ford Coppola Winery actually makes several different wines under the Sofia label, all of them light and slightly sweet, but the most well-known is the sparkling Blanc de Blancs. It comes in a can.

The wine is, admittedly, not my favorite. It’s a little too light and a little too sweet for my taste. It’s almost…giggly in its presentation. But it is well-made wine, honest, and eminently drinkable. Most importantly though, and the reason I will continue to champion it and wines like it*, it’s fun.

Of course it’s fun, it’s bubbly. Sparkling wine is always fun, that is kind of the Entire Point. Nobody ever sat around feeling morose while drinking Champagne; that’s what brandy’s for. But even so, that Sofia is so nonchalant and approachable is absolutely part of its appeal. And, frankly, that it comes in a can with a little pink bendy straw also helps.

Now, I will be the first to say it. Drink your fucking wine out of a stemmed glass like an adult. But goddamn it if seeing people on the dance floor holding cans and tiny bottles of bubbly (the best thing that ever happened to Champagne Pommery was the decision to start selling splits of POP Champagne in nightclubs) in the air doesn’t make my curmudgeonly heart stop the words in my throat.

Wine should be fun because wine is fun. I’m glad Sofia gets that.

I’m also glad that pouring Sofia out of a can (and into a proper flute, children, for god’s sake) doesn’t affect the taste. It shouldn’t, of course. What the wine is wearing doesn’t really matter, at least not in the way we think it does.

In for a Good Bottling.

So we have been making wine for a Very Long Time. Not quite as long as we’ve been making beer (beer kind of makes itself) but longer than we’ve had, you know, the written word. And certainly longer than we’ve had glass.

For a good long time wine was bottled (urned?) in big ceramic or clay pots and sealed with hemp or wax. But with the exception of something like the Mer Soleil Silver (a very good unoaked Chardonnay from California, all pineapple and flint), we’ve kind of gotten past that as a culture. Now we are more modern! Now we use glass!

And have been. For, like, ever. Weren’t they using glass in Mesopotamia? Anyway, glass became the preferred vessel for wine for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them is that glass is both tougher and lighter than clay. And wine bottles come in a pretty wide variety of different shapes.

Your Bordeaux or Port bottle, with its pronounced shoulders, is designed to catch the sediment that will accumulate over a number of years of aging. You don’t want to chew your wine, after all**. The Bordeaux varietals, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from California, Argentine Malbec, California Sauvignon Blanc, will often use these bottles.

The fatter, sloping Burgundy bottles mimic the shape of Champagne bottles, appropriately as they are both regions in the north of France. You’ll find Burgundian varietals around the world, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, usually in these bottles. Sauvignon Blanc in the style of Sancerre, like those from New Zealand, will also use these. Champagne bottles, and those used for the overwhelming majority of sparkling wine, will also be much heavier due to their thicker glass (so that they don’t explode from the added pressure, which is a legitimate concern).

The German flutes, tall and thin and slender, are dominant throughout that country, and many Rieslings around the world will typically borrow this shape. In Alsace, all wine will be in these bottles. These are my favorite, I find them elegant and eye-catching.

Those are the major ones. There are weirder ones, like the Italian Fiasco with its straw skirt, which is primarily used for table wines in Chianti.

Or the flask-shaped Bocksbeutel, which in keeping with German logic and engineering, is designed so that it can be placed on the ground and not roll away.

Others, like the lopsided Travaglini Gattinara, simply look kind of cool.

One more thing about glass bottles. The punt. That indentation on the bottom of the bottle? It doesn’t mean anything. There’s an old wives tale about being able to tell a wine’s quality by how deep the kick is, but that’s hogwash. Louis Roederer Cristal has no punt at all, for example***, and that’s one of the best Champagnes in the world.

Some Things that are Not Bottles.

I mentioned it before, but I’m going to say it again. The packaging is just that. A wine in a heavy bottle does not taste better, but we are more likely to take it more seriously (our brains think heavy things are more important…our brains are kind of stupid sometimes). Likewise, a box does not make a bad wine.

The Yellow & Blue wines, in their goofy juice-box packaging, are perfectly good wines. Pleasant and approachable, displaying both varietal (that should be a given…it often isn’t, but it should) and appellation characteristics. Their Malbec tastes like Argentine Malbec, and their Sauvignon Blanc tastes like Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. The company chooses to package their wines in tetrapak (that’s fancy wine talk for “box”) because it’s better for the environment and, as their name implies, they are an environmentally conscious company.

Also great for picnics.

Sofia, as I mentioned before, is well known for its eye-catching pink cans, but the can thing is catching on all over the place. Parts of Europe are embracing it, and Australia (always ahead of the curve when it comes to wine tech) has been selling wine in pint-sized tinnys for a while now.

You can even get wine in kegs! Like, with a tap and everything! I have had some surprisingly good house wines poured from the tap, skeptical of its gimmicky novelty only to be convinced of its quality. I wouldn’t want to store one of my Precious Babies in a keg for a few years, but for everyday drinking? I’d be happy to install a wine-kegerator.

It seems every time I turn around, somebody’s offering me wine in a new container. And I’m okay with it. Keep playing with it, treat it like screwcaps (we’ve all come around to the screwcaps, right? I love my cork collection, but come on). Most importantly, though, make good wine first.

Which is what I like about Sofia. Whether I like it or not, it is properly good wine. That it comes in a can is all well and good, but it’s ultimately an affectation. Because at the end of the day, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Group hug.

*Understand that when I say “wines like it” I am not referring to this distressing trend of marketing shitty wine to women. SkinnyGirl thinks you’re fat and Cupcake thinks you’re an idiot. Wines like Sofia, and the short-lived Bitch Bubbly from Australia, may be wines that are directly marketed towards women, but they’re wines that are actually good first. If you want to see how it’s done right, take a look at the Kung Fu Girl Riesling from Washington. “Girls and Riesling Kick Ass” indeed.

**So about sediment. Sediment is basically all of the microscopic particulates floating around in wine that, over time, gradually clump together. Mostly it is a combination of dead yeast and nitrates. The lion’s share of modern wine won’t develop sediment thanks to modern winemaking and filtering methods and blah blah boring. Here’s the fun bit. The Romans did not have modern winemaking and filtering methods, but they were a bunch of sloppy winos. There was a game played in drinking halls where a platter would be balanced on a pole, and men would sit around it flicking sediment from their wine bowls at it until it fell over, and whoever won didn’t pay for drinks.

***The legend goes that Cristal was Czar Alexander II’s favorite wine, but his fear of assassination meant the bottle had to be…altered. But that is a Whole Other Thing.