Can you ever take a cleanskin to a dinner party?

There are perfectly drinkable cleanskins out there but not many especially good ones.
There are perfectly drinkable cleanskins out there but not many especially good ones. 

Kissing frogs, finding princes … you've heard this story, surely? Yes, there are perfectly drinkable cleanskins out there but - listen closely, children - not many especially good ones.

If you're a habitual buyer of cleanskins you'll be familiar with the spiel about how this fabulous, anonymous winery had an amazing vintage, so much excellent wine that they couldn't find a way to sell it all under their own label, and had to put it on the market as a cleanskin. You'll recall also, a few years back, that the comely and brainy Ms Mary Donaldson from Tasmania hooked up with this guy in a Sydney bar and is now the Crown Princess of Denmark. Don't we all love a fairy tale?

As our Mary proves, unlikely things do come to pass.

I wouldn't swear blind that there are no great cleanskins. I've come across many decent ones as well as the odd disaster. However, I have never yet met a winemaker who sells his or her best wines off-label. Cleanskins will almost always be second-best - or fifth-best, or fortieth-best - depending on the size of the winery trying to offload stock.

Having said that, second-best from a well-regarded winery should be pretty good. Fifth-best from an OK-but-not-sexy winery could be fine at a pinch, so long as you like it. High-fives to you if you've managed to get your mitts on something you really like at a low, low price. That all sounds fine for drinking at home.

But a dinner party? I'm pulling out my etiquette hat now (I have a shelf of them bequeathed by my grandmother) and would remind you that the wine you take to dinner - even if you expect to drink it - is a gift to your hosts.

If a mystery cheapie is exactly what they'd like, and would enjoy guessing about, go for it - but you would want them to be very close friends at a very casual gathering. Otherwise, buy something with a label on it. It might not be better wine, or even all that expensive, but it won't shout: "I didn't want to shell out for you or your cooking."

What's your etiquette tip for taking wine to a dinner party? Do you take a clean skin, mid-range or pricey bottle? And do you expect to drink it while you're there or is it gift for your hosts?

Comment of the week
The comment on this story judged to be the best by the editor will be published in The Feed in the epicure and Good Food print sections on Tuesday and win $100 in prepaid cards courtesy of eftpos. Comments will close on this story at 5.30pm Wednesday April 16.