Don’t knock Cleanskins

I recently enjoyed a blind tasting of 13 cleanskin wines aged 3 years plus from various cellars. Naturally they varied in quality but did spring up a remarkable gem.

This 1974 Murray River Red, Bin 537 was purchased for 65 cents from The Vintage Club, set up by Dan Murphy in a gallery in Chapel Street, Melbourne in the 1960’s. I got quite emotional drinking this 45 year old wine as its condition was exceptional. Soft lingering liquorice and chocolate overtones all through the palate finishing with a slight sweet vanilla finish.More remarkable was the contents were below lower shoulder and frankly I produced it as a curiosity only. I suspect it must have been a Rutherglen vineyard as a wine of this age could not really have come from anywhere else.


What a fantastic drinking experience.

This got me thinking. Do current cleanskins still maintain quality and value?

Cleanskins really became prominent in Australia in the early 2000’s as a way for the wine industry to manage a large oversupply of wine. Also, at that time the price of cleanskin wine dropped to around or below the price of bottled beer or even bottled water.

The former Gallery in Chapel Street. Home of the Vintage Club.

But it was the colourful Dan Murphy in the 1960’s and 70’s that was the founder of the cleanskin wine industry. In those days wineries did not have cellar doors and were struggling to dispose of their vintages and over supply so they would approach Dan and his Vintage Club concept and offer the vintage as a cleanskin so the source would be anonymous.

There is a famous true story that Penfold’s in the late 70’s were going through a financial crisis and sold Dan 45 gallon drums of St Henri which was on sold as a cleanskin for $1.10.

A cleanskin wine is usually from a commercial winery that decides not to sell it under their own parent label but sell it at very sharp prices off the normal price mostly in dozen lots. The labels usually only show the grape varietal and the year of bottling, as well as other information required by law such as alcohol content, volume, additives and standard drink information. But beware there can be plenty of surprises

1967 cover of The Vintage Club newsletter showing the months Bin end cleanskins selections.

Sometimes the wine in question may have been a branded wine that was originally sold at a higher price and then re-labelled as a cleanskin or they may be wines produced solely as a cleanskin. Consequently, the quality of various batches of cleanskin wines can vary significantly from bottling to bottling.

When we had little money we would buy a bottle of every cleanskin sold at the store, mask them and taste and the best was to be our home consumption. Boy there were some shockers I can tell you! But this was not a bad ploy so my advice even today is to avoid buying a case without tasting first or knowing it’s origin.

Many producers have to find inventive ways to turn their juice into profit so cleanskins allow them 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. It can be from a cancelled export order that had to have a different front and back label to meet the laws of that country. It could be that they ran out of labels during the bottling run.

Also when a winery has had trouble selling a certain line or need to clear the warehouse, or empty their wine tanks before the next harvest they may package it as a cleanskin.
But beware, some 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 there could have been a slight mistake during bottling such as the level of sulphur, or too much exposure to oxygen and the wine will age faster than desired.

The wines are usually so cheap, insist the retailer open a bottle and pour a free sample to taste.  If you like the wine buy because finding the same wine again will be difficult.



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