Winelander March 8, 2024


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T he other week, a fellow golfer stopped me and had a chat about cleanskins, a subject I don’t think we have covered before, so let’s begin at the beginning and bring the subject up to date. Firstly, cleanskins are, as the name suggests, wines without labels, which strictly speaking are illegal to sell because alcohol should have all the necessary warnings, alcohol levels, number of standard glasses, etc, which can be got around if you buy a carton, for example, and putting a label on the side of the box.

Cleanskins initially started in the 1980s when wineries produced an amount of wine and purchased a number of labels when the labels ran out it was too expensive to do another label run so they sold the unlabelled wine at the cellar door, where it was possible to inform the public what was actually in the bottle and because it had no label was considerably cheaper than the original wine. The winery didn’t try masquerading the wine with another wine to try and fool the public because a regular drinker would soon cotton on, and the reputation of the wine was compromised.

In fact, as a side issue, I remember one winery producing a wine that took the industry by storm, which came as a complete surprise to the winery, and the press around Australia gave it a huge wrap, and eventually, it ran out before the next vintage could be picked. To maintain the product with the demand, the winery bought grapes from around the region and produced a similar, but not the same wine, and came in for huge criticism for trying to capitalise on producing more of the wine using outside sources. It took years to get over this misrepresentation and to be honest forty years later I’m not sure they have.

The action of producing cleanskins became very popular amongst the premium winedrinking public, who would keep an eye out when these bargains became available because liquor outlets didn’t want wine that couldn’t be promoted without labels, so everyone was happy, or were they? In the mid-1990s, an aspiring entrepreneur saw an opportunity to capitalise on this popular way of selling wine and had quantities of ordinary wine produced without labels. and opened a store in Melbourne selling only cleanskin wine, and the public supported the shop in droves, believing they were buying quality barrel ends. Very soon, more of these shops were opening, which forced the government to introduce laws that the public had to be informed of the ingredients that were in the bottles. Around this time, major wineries were trying to wean the public off 4-litre casks, which had a huge following, and this seemed an opportunity to do that: put cask wine in unlabelled bottles, and the return improved markedly.

My golfing colleague was interested in the value of buying cleanskins, and my answer is that buying the wine at the cellar door should be a lot safer quality-wise than buying off the shelf when you really don’t know what you are getting if you are happy to drink cask wine then I doubt whether you would be disappointed however it is unlikely that any wine bought as a cleanskin at the major retailers is much better than bulk wine in a bottle. If you buy cleanskin wines at auction which usually tells which winery produced the wine, it pays to go online, seek out the winery, have a look at reviews for that wine the vintage and then decide whether the final price you have to pay, including seller’s premium and freight is good value, you could be getting a bargain or wasting your money.

Now that the government has increased the prices of beers and spirits with the latest CPI increase, which happens twice yearly, there is the usual call from the manufacturers to up the price of wine to stop the wine industry from benefiting from having cheaper prices, personally, I think if you are a beer drinker or enjoy your Bundy or Highland malt I doubt whether you would jump ship for a Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, in fact, it was about twenty years ago that the government did listen to the brewers and to offset the lost wholesale sales tax that was removed when the GST was introduced they brought in the WET tax on wine which is short for Wine Equalisation Tax, this has kept the Brewers and Spirit producers quiet until now however the storm clouds are once again gathering, the WET tax actually adds 41% onto the price of your wine purchase which I think is more than enough

By the time this column goes to press, we probably will have had our next degustation night on Leap Year’s Eve at the Bribie Golf Club and I get the impression we may do a few more through the year if you have the input to opening the club web site you can scroll down to the bottom of the degustation article and click on booking and follow the instructions.

Philip Arlidge
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Oliver Goldsmith (Vicar of Wakefield)
I love everything that is old: old friends, old times, old manners, old books and old wines.

Love like wine gets better with time