A break-through award for a wine that comes in a can may be a sign of a new trend in Kiwi drinking habits.
A sauvignon blanc produced by Wellington-based winemakers, Joiy Wines, has won a gold medal in the recently announced New World Wine Awards, recognition believed to be the first in New Zealand for a wine in a can.
The company's winemaker, Chris Archer, says the award for its Savvy Society Sauvignon Blanc 2019 is vindication for its decision to produce wine in cans: "Not only are customers judging our wines, but they're also judging its packaging and probably thinking 'can wine in a can be any good?'"
Archer says when Joiy first decided to sell its premium wines this way "we were seen as mad."
But this attitude appears to be changing. A year ago there were less than 10 such individual products in the New Zealand market; now there are more than 40.
And it is following international trends. In the United States and European markets there has been a 43 per cent year-on-year growth in sales of canned wine between June 2017 and 2018 and is now a $US45 million industry according to data released by Nielsen last year.
Joiy founders Chris and Cath Archer say the awards were a test of the best: more than 1200 different wines from 176 wineries were entered for wines retailing under $25.
The New World awards are the ones everyone wants to be recognised by, Archer says. And a win does not come easy. To earn a gold medal, the wine had to be tasted and graded at least 19 times by 11 different judges, and then tasted again, to be ranked in - or out - of The Top 50.
Not only is it believed to be the first gold medal for wine in a can in New Zealand, it is also the first canned wine to place in The Top 50 in the 17-year history of the awards.
Archer, however, already knew he was onto a winner; Joiy is enjoyed in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and China, and is the top-selling canned wine in Canada.
The company moved to a complete can format four years ago. "We guarantee our wines will stand up to what customers would expect with a glass bottle," says Archer.
Not only does it allow for portion control (the cans are 250 mls); portability and environmental protection without compromise are also part of the package.
Archer has never been one for convention (by his own description, he is an entrepreneur and chief adventurer). "I've never really fitted in," he says. "When you're younger, you feel that as a negativity - but now it is a strength."
This perhaps explains the Archers' initial decision to pursue the aluminium option. With 35 years' winemaking experience plus a swag of awards under his belt, Archer knows his stuff.
Although he is Australian-born and trained, he's been living in New Zealand for 17 years and now considers himself a true Kiwi. He further believes that being a winemaker is one of the best jobs in the world - so he's got the best of both.
So, what do you match the Savvy Society Sauvignon Blanc with? With its "powerhouse" pineapple and citrus flavours, Archer suggests all summertime cuisine with bright salads, roast eggplant and charred grilled fish.
Chair of judges for the awards Jim Harré says that with a focus on connecting customers with the best quality wines in store, the awards have an important role to play.
"Winemakers can enjoy the prestige of an award judged to international best practice, and customers can choose a winner with total confidence in how its gold medal has been awarded."
The awards use the internationally-recognised 100-point system, under which wines are benchmarked and scored against what a perfect wine should be like. All entries are tasted 'blind', which means judges only ever see the wine in a glass - never a brand or bottle - or a can, for that matter.
The rise of rosé has also been noted in this year's awards, with nine placing in The Top 50, and more than 70 winning a medal in the competition overall.
Harrè says 2019 is a fantastic year for consumers to explore other wines in the top 50. "As well as crowd-pleasers like sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, and repeat winners from well-known wineries across the country, this year's list boasts exciting new varieties to New Zealand like Coopers Creek Select Vineyards 'Bell-Ringer' Albariño 2019 and Chalk Hill's Grenache Tempranillo 2018."
The Top 50 Gold medal-winning wines are available in all liquor-selling New World stores nationwide until November 10 or while stocks last.
Click here for a full list of this year's New World Wine Award winners.