Should you ever risk buying a 'cleanskin' wine?

For the uninitiated, a ‘Cleanskin‘ wine is a bottle of wine produced by a normal, commercial winemaker who does not wish to put the company label on the bottle, thus the bottle is ‘clean’ of any brand name. Now if you were the suspicious sort, you might immediately wonder why a company would do this, especially when the cleanskin will sell well below the normal retail price the company could get if it was labelled. The reasons for doing so are quite numerous and are different for every cleanskin release. Keep reading for more details and to see what our findings are on the matter.

A winemaker might be seeking to get some feedback on a particular vintage and a cleanskin does not tie the results to that brand. It might just be that excess wine remains after a particular order has been fulfilled, or that the winemaker is too small to have built a distribution network and is just getting established. Or it could be that an overseas order has cancelled and the winery is left with some stock it can’t otherwise move. In some cases the wines are approaching the end of their shelf life and need to be moved quickly. You will then see those bottles advertised either in a retail store or other distribution chain, or sometimes even at the winery themselves. Some come without any label on the bottle at all, and with just the base details on the box, while others will have a rather generic ‘Cleanskin’ label on the bottle giving the type of wine and not much more.

Whatever the reason, you can often pick up cleanskins for 30% to 80% below the normal retail price and that fact alone makes it attractive to drinkers who are looking to buy some ‘nice’ wines at a good price. Those people are probably not looking to take those wines to a dinner party or 21st Birthday, but to enjoy with friends at home around the barbecue, or at night with a meal.

But are they worth the risk? Are you not better off paying the full price to enjoy a good-quality wine from an established and reputable winemaker? Well, in our experience, we have found that probably close to 80% of the cleanskins we have purchased have been worthwhile. Some were very good while others were nice enough to have with dinner and not much more. The remaining 20% have been tipped out onto the lawn! They were just plain awful and after the first sip we decided to open a ‘real’ bottle we knew we could enjoy.

So doing the math, if we bought a case of 6 cleanskin at AUD$2 a bottle for a total price of $12, we normally expect ahead of time to throw two of them away, leaving us 4 bottles costing $3 each. Had we bought a cheap branded case of 6 wines at $10 each ($60 total), we might still find one that was not up to scratch, making each bottle worth $12.

Cost-wise, we were still better off cost-wise buying the cleanskins. We don’t hang on to them for long though in case they might be getting a bit old.

Taste-wise, we probably would have found the branded name wines to be of a slightly higher quality overall, and would feel more comfortable buying a single bottle to take with us to a party or to have at home with friends. We are more confident buying these wines in bigger quantities to keep for later years when we felt they would have developed further in taste. 

Everyone we speak to seems to have a slightly different approach to buying cleanskins. Some never do, others always do, while some only buy them to have at home. But what about you? Do you buy cleanskins, and if so what is your normal rule of thumb as to drinking them only at home, or on special occasions too? Leave us a comment below and let us know your thoughts.

Ave. Cleanskin Score: 3.5 out of 5

Living each adventure, 
Christine and Trevor

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DISCLAIMER: This article is written for informational purposes only and is based on Christine and Trevor’s own life experiences. No food or wine featured on this site should ever be consumed or handled if known or suspected allergies exist. Nothing featured here should be taken as medical, professional or legal advice. It is always recommended that you consult the appropriate professional before changing any routine or adopting any new procedure.

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Should you ever risk buying a ‘cleanskin’ wine?

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