What’s in a label? The case against cleanskins


First published in Style Magazine February 2010

With the festive season behind us it’s time to restock the wine rack without breaking the bank. Everyone needs a few everyday quaffers on hand for casual lunches and unexpected visitors. Do you go for a few cleanskins or a selection of your favourite bargain labels?

If you thought there was a flood of cleanskins on the shelves last year, get ready for a tidal wave. Australia currently has a surplus of more than 100 million cases of wine (that’s a lot of parties!) and you can bet your $5.99 that plenty of these will land on the shelves as unbranded bottles.

Cleanskins are wines with minimal labelling to allow wineries to dump excess without compromising existing brands. Often this means that substandard wine is bottled as a cleanskin. There’s a reason why the winery isn’t prepared to be associated with it and it’s the same reason that you shouldn’t be, either!

Sometimes wineries find themselves overstocked on a particular wine and sell off excess bottles as cleanskins. In this case the cleanskin is the same wine as the labelled product. If you have some inside knowledge and you’ve figured out what it really is, this is a safer way to buy cleanskins. But it does beg the question of why the wine didn’t sell in the first place, so you might still be left with a dud.

If a winemaker isn’t prepared to put their name to a wine, why should you take the risk? Sure, there is the occasional cleanskin out there that’s drinkable, but how many dogs must you force down before you find one? And when you come back to buy another bottle, it may not even be the same wine!               

Most cleanskins sell between about $7 and $15. For the same price, I can show you an impressive list of labelled wines that will beat them every time. Wines that their makers are proud of, that are consistent from one bottle to the next, and that are always the latest, freshest vintage.

These are regularly discounted in the larger stores, and look for specials on six bottle buys. Which might just make them cheaper than cleanskins!