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

Cathy Gowdie

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?

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