South African Merlot In Can: what, how and why?

Red wine in a can. To some it’s sacrilege, but to us it was the natural next step. We launched in July 2020 with our Rosé and Chenin Blanc and were surprised that one of the most common bits of feedback we got was “come out with a red wine!”

For those of you who have read our previous blogs on canning (wine prep and process), you’ll know that making sure our wines taste great out of a can is at the forefront of our minds. Fortunately, there is absolutely no difference in canning a red wine versus a white or Rosé, so that’s exactly what we did, launching our Merlot in October.

Here’s how we went about doing it and what our Merlot is like.

What red wine makes sense in a can?

Stylistically, we think canned wine is all about freshness and giving you something which is at its absolute best, ready for drinking.  There’s also the reality of how canned wine is consumed – often out and about, with friends meeting up, or sometimes to portion control at home. Taking these realities and the sort of style we wanted to achieve, we steered away from the heavier end of the red wine spectrum. Wines that are 14-15%, with lots of tannin and strong flavours we didn’t think were the natural fit for canned wines.

Sam, the Crew’s winemaker, in action. Don’t worry it’s not the Crew’s Merlot!

The next question was what grape to choose and where to find it. There are lots of contenders for such a red in South Africa: Pinotage (SA’s answer to pinot noir), Syrah (aka Shiraz), Petit Verdot to name a few. As ever the range of options gave Sam a great excuse to call in favours and get as many samples as he could get his hands on.

After quite a few, rather enjoyable, tasting sessions (it’s hard life!), things came full circle for Sam. The wine region he had made his first ever wine from (https://www.minimalistwines.com/shop/stars-in-the-dark/), Elgin, was calling him once again.


South Africa’s stunning Elgin valley.
Photo credit https://www.pinterest.fr/pin/290693350947525472/

Elgin is South Africa’s coolest wine region both literally and in terms of the spectacular scenery it produces. As wine regions go, Elgin is relatively unknown in the big bad world of wine, but it has some fantastic Merlot plantings which were attracting Sam’s attention. Furthermore, Elgin’s recent vintages, and many across South Africa more generally, have been drought vintages which means the grapes have struggled to grow. From a producer point of view this is a nightmare as yields fall, but from a drinker’s point of view it means the grapes develop deeper and more concentrated flavours. The result, was that Elgin’s Merlot nailed our criteria for a lighter bodied red which packed bags of flavour. We’d found our wine.

Behold, the Crew’s Merlot (in raw form)

Getting our Merlot at its absolute best

Red wines often benefit from ageing because gentle exposure to oxygen (through barrel or cork, or both) helps to ‘soften’ the wine and develop its complexity. In practice, ageing helps take down the tannins a few pegs (so it’s more fine wine rather than over brewed tea) and giving time for the wine to take on more flavours. It’s similar to marinating things for cooking – leave the ingredients to get to know each other a bit better and the end result is something with deeper flavour.

To meet the aim of giving the Crew wines which are at their best, ready for drinking, ageing was a critical part for our Merlot. It’s why we chose a 2018 vintage. Until we canned it in August 2020, our Merlot had spent 24 months in 225L French Oak barrels maturing. As a result, we think we’ve created a canned red wine which is no less serious than bottled reds, and in fact might even be better than quite a few of them….

Sam in action perfecting the Crew’s Merlot as he tastes how it develops

What does it taste of?

Well, we always like to keep things simple and easy when it comes to talking about wine, so the one sentence answer is what we say on the can – blackberries, cherries and plums.

More generally, though Merlots are known for their dark fruit flavours and those which have been aged can also develop chocolate, cigar and cedar flavours. Interestingly, really well aged Merlots can even take on herbaceous flavours like dill and mint.

The Crew’s Merlot in all its glory

What are the reviews?

he first competition we submitted our Merlot to was the International Wine Challenge back in October. Head judges Jamie Goode and Martin Moran MW (stands for Master of wine, yes that’s a real thing!), awarded our Merlot a medal and had this to say, “Blackberry, a touch of mint with a savory palate, plenty of grip on the finish” Full write up here. So we must have done something right….

Sam is certainly impartial to a Merlot or two

Our most recent competition result was from the London Wine Competition, where our Merlot was awarded a Silver, something we’re really proud of, as the competition put us against wines from 36 different countries and over 135 different grape varieties. Check our nifty certificate out here

Give the Crew’s Merlot a go

Been looking for a new red to try? Never had a South African Merlot? Just want to see what a canned red wine is even like? Check out our Merlot which is available in 6, 12 and 24 packs with free shipping and delivery across the UK mainland

We live for feedback by the way so please do send any to [email protected]

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