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Shiners Are a Secret Part of the Wine Business

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 27, 2008 2:28pm ET

Shiners are a big part of the wine business. But most people have never heard of them, even though they drink shiners all the time. That’s because shiners get a complete makeover and these otherwise often undistinguished wines are disguised by their labels.

I had forgotten about shiners for several years. But recently I’ve heard more about them and a while back I mentioned the practice, and several readers wondered what they are.

Shiners are finished, bottled wines that don’t have a label or typically any other identifying feature until a vintner purchases them and then places a label on the bottles. (Most wines are kept this way—unlabeled—until they’re ready to be sold, so the labels look clean and aren’t scuffed if moved around.) They’re called shiners because they are unlabeled and have a “shiny” appearance.

Occasionally a winery will have shiners that have branded corks and sometimes those wines are recorked (by removing the branded cork and replacing it with a neutral one) before being sold. And occasionally the same shiners can be bottled under separate labels at different price points. But most shiners don’t have branded or otherwise identifying corks. Most fine wines are bottled with branded corks as a means of authenticity.

You can find shiners from all over the world. In Champagne, buying sur latte Champagne is the practice of Champagne houses buying finished wine (wine that has undergone all stages of production except disgorgement) and then selling it under a given house’s brand. So you could be buying one brand or another and both bottles of Champagne came from the same stash. The only distinction being that a different house dosage is added, which influences the flavor.

Most shiners are simply wines that are made with the hope of finding a buyer and, in turn, a label. Depending on quality, some shiners carry fancy price tags or appellations, while others might end up as custom labels for all kinds of organizations or causes.

John Gavin
CA —  May 28, 2008 12:15pm ET
Hard to talk about shiners without mentioning Cameron Hughes, who has done such a great job of buying the best shiners and bulk wine and getting them to the market at very good prices.
Don Young
Calgary, Alberta —  May 28, 2008 3:16pm ET
Perhaps this is only my reading of your piece, but you appear to have been very careful not to express an opinion on the acceptability of the shiner industry. If perfectly acceptable, why is it such a secret (or does it depend on how the practice is being used)?

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