"Tres tres tacky," one wine fancier sniffed, grimacing at the very idea of canned wine.
But six-packs of Chablis and Burgundy are on the market, and canned rose will follow soon, courtesy of Geyser Peak Winery in, where else? California. Consumers there are grabbing six-packs off the shelves, and the winery plans to expand to nationwide distribution by early 1982.
"We want to put some fun into wine. It's been too much aimed at the lite," said the winery's president, Wayne R. Downey. "We're trying to get to the mass public, ignoring snob appeal and all that. We want to people to try wine rather than beer or soda pop."
The cans are perfect for picnics, fishing and hunting, Downey said, or for a meal when only one person wants a drink.
Tres, tres tacky. That's the verdict of Jean Jacques Moreau, a French wine connoisseur whose family has produced outstanding wines since 1814. Moreau was interviewed by telephone at his home in the village of Chablis, in France's Chablis region, where the dry, white Burgundy originates.
"C'est ridicule, ca ne va pas ," Moreau sputtered. "Ca n'a pas de sense d'acheter du bon vin en autre chose qu'une bouteille de verre. Ca ne marcherait pas en Europe ." (Translation: canned wine is gauche.)
But Downey said the aluminum cans, about half the height of soft drink cans, are very convenient and will revolutionize America's drinking habits. And he's encouraged by the 4,000 cases per week Californians are snapping up.
Downey is bubbly with excitement, as effervescent as sparkling wine. He is a retired soft-drink executive who pioneered the use of plastic containers for soda pop and the use of plastic connecting rings for six-packs of soda and beer. Now he intends to market his canned wine through soft-drink distributers, in hopes of converting people who don't drink wine regularly.
The label is Summit, and the same wine is sold in bottles and in special box-like containers. A six-pack retails for $2.99 or a little less.
Tres, tres tacky, but so light that the airlines are eyeing it, too. United Airlines offered canned wine on some flights last year, and Delta may begin soon.
The incentive for the airlines is to save weight, and therefore fuel, said Andy Harville, a marketing manager of Wine Spectrum, a Coca-Cola Co. subsidiary that sells canned wine to the airlines.
A case of bottles of wine, such as the airlines now serve, weighs about 48 pounds, Harville said, while the equivalent amount of wine in cans weighs 22 pounds and takes 30 percent less space.
A critical issue in the canned wine controversy is whether the cans taint the wine. At least one effort to can wine in the past failed because the wine tasted "tinny." But the canners say they have licked the problem.
Reynolds Metals Co. claims to have a coating on the inside of the can that protects the wine from the metal. Both Geyser Peak Winery and Wine Spectrum use Reynolds cans with the coating.
In a blind taste test in which drinkers were given two glasses of identical wine, one from a can and one from a bottle, 50 percent favored wine from a can, 39 percent from a bottle and 11 percent found no difference, according to Judith M. Moore, national marketing director of Reynolds' can division.
However, a similar taste test conducted at The Washington Post with six different newsroom palates obtained different results. Five of the six correctly identified which glass of wine came from a can.
Tres, tres tacky. "A close call," one reporter said. "[I] find a twinge of metallic taste on the right. But neither is as metallic as other canned wine I have tasted." CAPTION: Picture, A loaf of bread, a can of wine. . . . A can of wine? Yes, a six-pack retails for $2.99.