A cleanskin wine is simply a bottle of wine from a commercial winery that for any number of reasons decides not to sell it under their own parent label. You can expect to save a considerable amount off the normal price of these wines and can on occasion be good value.
They typically show good varietal and regional characters and put the focus back on the wine buyer to say ‘I like this wine’ without any label preconception. We have all heard people say ‘x’ wine must be good because it is from ‘y’ company.
Cleanskin labels usually only show the grape varietal and the year of bottling, as well as other information required by local wine laws: alcohol content, volume, additives and standard drink information - (and recently, a select few have a short tasting note).
Cleanskin wines are typically sold at very sharp prices in full dozen cases - for home consumption, though becoming more common are cafes and bars selling them as entry-level house-wines. Sometimes the wine in question may have been a branded wine that were originally sold at a higher price and then re-labelled as a cleanskin, or they may be wines produced for the purpose of being sold as cleanskins. Consequently, the quality of various batches of cleanskin wines can vary significantly from bottling to bottling.
Cleanskin wine was introduced to Australia in the early 2000’s as a way for the wine industry to manage a large oversupply of wine, and a resulting drop in prices. As a result, wine consumption in Australia has greatly increased as of 2006. Also, the price of cleanskin wine has dropped to around or below the price of bottled beer or even bottled water. The word ‘cleanskin’ comes from the Australian term for unbranded cattle. Cleanskin wine are not exclusive to Australia and can be found and are grabbing the attention of wine buyers across the globe.
Some reasons for a clean skin wine - is an oversupply of grapes and intense competition within the industry means many producers have to find inventive ways to turn the juice into profit. The no-fuss bottles allow wine producers to quietly reduce their levels of excess stock - whether it is a prestige brand's bin end or a boutique winery forced on balancing its accounts. In many cases the wine is of good quality - also on several occasions the wine can be from a cancelled export order - that was to have a different front and back label for that intended country, so it is simply given a basic-label to be sold as a clean-skin.
Also when a winery has had trouble selling a certain line, they may package it as a cleanskin. And if they need to clear the warehouse or empty their wine tanks before the next harvest, they can do the same.
But beware, as sometimes a few companies use it as a way to clear out a blend that is not as the winemaker expected, or can be the ends of several tanks or barrels that did not make the intended label or their could have been a slight mistake during bottling (i.e. the level of sulphur, or too much exposure to oxygen and the wine will age faster than desired), so they want to have it drunk earlier than normal. But to be fair, this can happen under any known wine brand, so the only way you will know for sure is to try the cleanskin first - which is done in retail stores and even at cellar doors.
The wines are usually so cheap, a retailer is happy to open a bottle and pour a free sample taste. On the occasion where you are not able to taste it first, if you ask a few simple questions you can generally find out who made the wine, sometimes from a well-known brand that you know and trust. Especially when well-known, mass-marketed wine brands are being aggressively discounted to amazingly low prices these days. An unexpected catch with cleanskins can be if you like the wine, finding the same wine again can be difficult.