Just before Christmas, I bought another pair of gloves – to replace the two pairs I’d lost within the week. At the shop till, there were vouchers for Naked Wines offering £40 off a case (I think). Anyway, good enough to tempt me to go online and finally order from Naked Wines. Except I didn’t.
I liked the company’s philosophy a lot – investing in independent winemakers from around the world, in return for exclusive wines at preferential prices which it passes onto customers. Customers can help with this investment by becoming “angels” for a small fee each month. Naked currently has 50,000 angels who invest around £1 million a month to support the winemakers. They get 33% cash back every time they buy.
I liked the website too: clear , clean and easy to navigate* with a good tone of voice – chummy, clubby but not patronising.
I also liked the way Naked Wines engages with customers, encouraging them to review candidly the wines they’ve bought, vote on whether they’d buy a particular wine again and interact with the winemaker.
However, when I went to select my wine, my eyes started to glaze over. Amongst the usual crowd-pleasers of crisp or lightly aromatic whites and big reds, nothing jumped out at me. It all felt very safe.
So, a few weeks later Naked Wines asked if I’d liked to review six bottles of its wines, I jumped at the chance. Not only was this free wine (duh!) but also an opportunity to see whether my initial impressions would last.
My favourite by far was the St. Chinian Organic 2009 made by Benjamin Darnault who “likes getting dirty in the vines”. He also likes to make wines that reflect the Languedoc’s heritage, climate and soil.
Although the alcohol by volume (ABV) is a whopping 14.5%, this brambly, verdant, minerally Syrah and Grenache blend tastes fresh, thanks to a relatively high acidity. Frisky tannins means this isn’t a wine to drink without food. I matched it with a buttery, sweet medium rare aged ribeye steak, that brought out the blackberries flavours in the wine.
A Trio Of Lovelies
The Chalk Hill Penance 2008 by Jock Harvey was also 14.5% ABV – and felt like it. Big and plummy, this blend of Shiraz, Cabernet and Grenache was both spicy and fragrant and good with a meaty pizza with a light sprinkling of chilli. The Small and Small Sylvia’s Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2010 is a well-executed Marlborough classic with a heady passion fruit nose but more crisp to drink with flavours of white grapefruit and green leaves. And the Arabella Reserve in Unison 2007 by Stephen de Wet was smooth, treacle-y and gluggable blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Merlot that was bursting with black cherries, almonds, cedar and vanilla.
I got an unappealing whiff of cherry cough mixture on first nosing of the The Tor del Colle Riserva Montepulciano 2006 by Alessandro Botter. But left in the glass for 10 minutes and swirled a bit, this aroma softened considerably. It tasted much better, soft damsons, red cherries and an appealing earthy minerality. It was a pretty good match with fettucine, bacon and rosemary. It is currently the third highest rated wine on the site and, considering it costs angels only £5.99, I can see why it’s popular.
However, I was underwhelmed by the Mistral Chardonnay Reserve 2009 by Claudio Villouta. Admittedly, it as far too cold when I first tried it, so I could smell as well as taste a lot of acid. Not pleasant. Left to warm up, it tasted of pineapples and oak. OK, but no great shakes – though this vintage is a sell-out (as are some of the others above).
Let’s Act Normal
Did the case change my first impressions? A bit, yes. But then, I’m probably not Naked’s target customer.
Naked refers to its customers as “normal wine drinkers”. What does this mean? Looking around the site, the wines on offer and many of the comments from customers, I would say its people who are quite definite about what they like and tend to stick to it, but can be encouraged to strike out with reassurance from their online peers (“Italian wines, normally I don’t like them,” is a sweeping comment by someone who did try – and liked – the Botter Montepulciano). .
They would normally be sniffing out bargains in a supermarket but have realised they can get better wines, in the styles they like, for the same money with Naked. If I’m right, then Naked is doing a brilliant job – maybe not surprising when you know that the man who started this also started Virgin Wine.
As for being safe, well, turns out there are some more adventurous wines in the collection such as Rotes Haus Gemischter Satz 2010, an Austrian blend of 13 grapes or Casas Brancas 2009 from Portugal and a Hegarty Chamans Blanc Minervois 2008 (ok, maybe not that exotic to some but clearly adventurous for some of the reviewers). Hopefully, Naked’s approach will encourage many of its customers to leave their Pinot Grigio safety blankets now and then, and embrace some taste diversity.
* One quibble about the navigation. The search function needs to be reworked. Spell “St. Chinian” as it says on the bottle and nothing comes up. Spell “Saint Chinian” and you find it. Likewise, put in “Small and Small” as per the bottle and two angels come up. Put in “Claudia” and you have more success with the wine makers. Frustrating.