Sacre bleu! But who would sip bubbly from an aluminum can? Those who would eat filet mignon from ze paper plate, no? View the Mona Lisa through ze sunglasses?
Ahhh, perhaps Americans. Perhaps American chicks. That was what vintners at Niebaum-Coppola Winery were betting in that moment of can-do innovation when, thinking outside the bottle, they came up with the idea of selling champagne in a can.
But let's be clear: This is not champagne in a can or in any other container. It might be called that on the street, or thought of that way due to the counterintuitive appeal, but as any oenologist would clarify, champagne comes only from the Champagne district in France and is made by the strict and exacting standards of "methode champenoise."
Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs is made in California's Napa Valley at Niebaum-Coppola, owned by legendary Hollywood producer-director Francis Ford Coppola and named after his actress-director (and rather supercool) daughter, Sofia. The winery makes no pretense that Sofia Mini Blanc is anything other than the blended sparkling white wine -- pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc and muscat cannelli; the same stuff it has sold in standard 750-ml bottles for almost five years.
But in a can now. A deep, rich pink, 187-ml aluminum can about half the size of a Coke and faintly scribbled with words such as "revolutionary" and "fragrant." In wine parlance, it's a quarter-bottle or a split, a $4.99 single-serving, pop-top, Red-Bullish can with an extendable plastic-wrapped fuchsia straw attached to the side.
"It is cute," says Niebaum-Coppola President Earl Martin, who knows how out of line a cute can is with the vast majority of wines sold in traditional 750-ml bottles closed with corks.
"If wine is going to become more popular, it has to reach out to a new audience," he says. "If we're going to find a new consumer, we have to reevaluate how we think about packaging. Basically break all the rules."
Sparkling wine in a single-serving can is "is lighter, chills quicker, is more portable" than bottles "and you don't have to think about it breaking," he says, echoing that it's not just for special occasions, the wine industry's newest mantra.
"It lends wine to some other occasions, like at picnics, poolside, sporting arenas." Places, he says, "where beer used to rule."
But, still, who wants some? Not the Cristal Roederer crowd, not the Veuve Clicquot clique. Presumably not the crush-empty-can-on-forehead crowd. "The impromptu, impetuous, live passionately for the moment kind of person," say Niebaum-Coppola promotions -- which could have added "likes long walks on the beach, moonlit nights and cuddling in front of the fireplace." A personal-ad beverage in a can!
Martin says the target demographic is personal-ad age, "echo boomers, Generation Y, largely female," he says. "And, yes, you could say it's a girly wine." The winery, which declined to give sales figures, upped Sofia Mini production last year to 50,000 cases after a test-run of 5,000 sold out, according to Wine Business Monthly, which earlier this year deemed cans "the hottest packaging innovation to hit the wine industry."
Think 21-year-olds (ladies, we ID) stepping up from wine coolers; think "Sex and the City" reruns. See Sofia's sofiamini.com for upscale-but-not-snooty still-life photos of beautiful people, mostly female, with their cans of Sofia looking like fashion accessories. (And frankly, it seems more and more like the kind of trend the discerning Sofia Coppola, who wrote and directed "Lost in Translation," would turn her nose up at.)
So hip. So chic. So . . . so?
Reviews of Sofia Mini for the most part have been bubbly. Oprah gushed it's one of her "favorite things" back in February. The prestigious Wine Spectator settled for "Bubbly aimed at a nightclub crowd and often sipped through a straw." Consumer Reports brought in wine consultants who sampled Sofia Mini in blind taste tests and noted that it is a "simple, light-bodied" wine that rates "good" overall -- though better consumed from a glass than the can. And Wired magazine reported: "The flavor is well, whatever. Think of it as Zima for 'The O.C.' generation." (Mischa Barton! That's who we see drinking these. Alas, she's 19. But her TV character is an alcoholic.)
Stephen Silver, proprietor of Plain Old Pearson's in Georgetown, says, "It is fresh, a little bit off-dry, and it goes with just about anything you want to eat." (Eat? Who eats?)
Since last year when Sofia first went on sale, it has been a steady seller at Pearson's. "People who drink it love it. I wouldn't get too serious about it. I love it," he says -- "love to sell it."
Charlie Adler is about to size up a moderately priced sparkling white wine in a traditional stemmed wineglass and a Sofia Mini in the pink can. He tastes each. "The aroma is fresh fruit, the flavor is fresh fruit, very ripe apples, good solid pears . . . not overly rich," says Adler, president of TasteDC, a company that holds wine tastings and culinary events.
But when he does the math, he concludes that at $4.99 a can, and each can about a quarter of a standard 750-ml bottle, Sofia should compare to $20 wines. Calculate in the cost for convenience packaging and it should still match with $14-$16 wines.
"Psychologically, I thought it was pricey," he says. "But it's not too bad. Okay, not top, not middle. Lower-middle. And there's no vintage, so the assumption is this is going to be gone before somebody asks what's the vintage."
But Adler says the Sofia Mini phenomenon isn't so much about taste or price as it is about the can. Inside the wine industry, a controversy is fermenting over non-cork closures and new containers -- including boxes, bags and cans. And like an increasing number of wine experts, he says that screw caps, which in the past, were synonymous with rotgut swill such as Thunderbird and MD 20/20, are gaining acceptance.
But cans? "Maybe cans, maybe not," he says.