Sunday, March 15, 2009


Cleanskins is the name given to unlabelled wine.
According to Wine Australia, "a cleanskin normally is defined as a bottle or other package that does not carry, in any form, a label bearing mandatory information. Unlabelled bottles cannot be sold at retail to the public, but unbroken cartons can be sold if the mandatory information appears on the carton in an acceptable form. Cleanskins cannot be exported."
But it is not unusual now to see individual labelled "cleanskin" bottles specifying the grape variety, vintage and region.
The advantage of buying this class of wine is that it is usually very cheap, up to 75% off the medium wine price bracket, and in many cases it can be of very good quantity.
The disadvantage was that there is always a chance of buying a duffer that has to be poured down the sink. And when you have shelved out for a dozen, the saving all but evaporates. Initially most cleanskin purveyors insisted they sell in dozen lots but market forces have dictated they offer now single bottles for pre bulk purchase evaluation hence the individual bottle labelling. Where do cleanskins come from?

During times of wine glut, many wine companies are over stocked. To reduce stocks but not reduce the value of their branded wine by discounting it, they sell bottles unbranded.
So in fact it is possible to buy top class wines at ridiculously low prices.
This is not a new development. In the hey days of the wine cask (bag in a box / Chateau Cardboard) and wine gluts it was possible to buy wine originally intended for the bottle in this type of container.
The cleanskin market in Australia was quite strong for many years but it seems to have waned a little in the last year or two.
I had read that the Marlborough region of New Zealand, famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, was experiencing over production. This was reflected in many new brands and quite competitive prices in our liquor supply stores. In fact New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is now the biggest selling white wine in Australia finally putting the ubiquitous Chardonnay well and truly in second place after 20 years at the top.
Three of the five top-selling white wines in Australia (of any grape variety) hail from that region. The biggest selling white wine in Australia is Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, which has come from nowhere six years ago to about $40 million in retail sales, with 1.7 million litres of the wine poured down Australian throats last year.

The Marlborough 2008 harvest was 195,000 tonnes, up from 121,000 tonnes the previous year. The '09 vintage is on track to set another record.
So I thought that Marlborough cleanskins couldn't be too far away.
And I was right. A few weeks ago in my local wine outlet, there they were, at 50% off branded wines prices.
As you can see from our wine consumption in the side bar we are fans of this region/variety.
So we bought a few bottles to trial.
The result?
Not too bad, but not a real bargain. Better to spend a few dollars more on a known brand on discount!

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