If you enjoy red wine from Australia and New Zealand and are prepared to take a step into the unknown there is a red wine niche market which is perfect for you.
You may have come across the term “cleanskin” in various articles about red wine from Down Under, in wine club mail order catalogues or on wine websites. Not knowing what “cleanskin” means you may have investigated no further but you may be missing out on some fantastic deals on top Aussie and New Zealand reds.
Cleanskin red wines are peculiar to Australia and New Zealand where there are often problems of surplus wine. The producers will have ordered a specific number of bottle labels for each of their red wine styles and will have had a specific number of orders for each red wine style but on many occasions they find that they have used all their labels and fulfilled all their orders and they still have plenty of red wine left.
These producers, many of them very well known and respected in the world of red wine, have to do something with this surplus red wine. They don’t want to damage their reputation by selling the wine off at a discount under their own label as they fear this would start to devalue their wine. Therefore, the surplus wine gets sold at a cheaper price under an anonymous label which gives information about the red wine in the bottle and the region the grapes are sourced from but no information at all about the producer.
Cleanskins can be a gamble but are rarely a disappointment. They are usually made from familiar and popular red wine grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Grenache or Merlot and can be varietals or blends. The label gives information about the grape and the region but nothing more specific.
What this means is that the red wine grapes could have been sourced from a number of different vineyards and could represent one of the producer’s lower level reds or the grapes could have come from a single vineyard and on another day could have been labelled as one of the producer’s premium reds. Only the price will give you an indication of the quality of the wine but as bottles of cleanskin reds can be sold at a discount of up to 50 per cent compared to the cost of the estate-labelled bottles not even the price can be relied on.
At their best the cleanskin label can disguise a top quality red wine from one of the top producers from some of Australia and New Zealand’s top red wine producing regions such as the Barossa Valley, Coonawarra, Margaret River and Central Otago. What red wine enthusiast wouldn’t fancy paying £10 rather than £15 or £20 for a premium-quality bottle of wine?
So if the idea of cleanskins has piqued your interest, the next question is where to buy them from. This is where things become more difficult. If you happen to live in Australia or New Zealand or are visiting for a holiday or on business then cleanskins are easy to find. Most of the large off licence chains in Australia such as Dan Murphy’s sell several different varieties of cleanskins either as individual bottles or in a case.
However, buying cleanskins in Australia or New Zealand is not an option for most of us so where can we find them closer to home? Two of the primary sources are wine clubs which often seem to have a small selection of cleanskin reds available both via mail order and on their websites.
Laithwaites usually have two or three Australian cleanskin reds available. Current offers include a Shiraz, a Barossa Shiraz and a Coonawarra Shiraz Cabernet Merlot blend. The wines are available by the case priced at the equivalent of £10.99 a bottle for the Shiraz and the Coonawarra blend and £12.99 a bottle for the Barossa Shiraz. Some of these reds were available by the case earlier this year for wine club members for just £7.99 a bottle, an amazingly low price for Barossa and Coonawarra reds. There was also a Limestone Coast Merlot cleanskin available for the equivalent of just £6.99 a bottle.
The Sunday Times Wine Club has a mixed case of Australian cleanskin reds on offer for the equivalent of £7.50 a bottle. The wine styles are the same as Laithwaites has available – 2009 Limestone Coast Merlot, 2008 Coonawarra Shiraz Cabernet Merlot and 2009 Barossa Shiraz.
There are plenty of cleanskins available from websites based in Australia and New Zealand but the shipping costs to the UK would probably offset the savings made from buying the cleanskins.
Image by PinkMoose.