Tor Del Colle Montepulciano D'Abrruzzo 2007

Let’s All Get Naked

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.

St Chinian wine from the LanguedocI 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.

Arabella in Unison, Sylvia Sauvignon Blanc, Penance wine

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.



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2 thoughts on “Let’s All Get Naked

  1. I joined up with Naked and my first order was fine, 10 quite good wines, 1 very good and one poor – all at a reasonable price.

    After the first batch had been drunk I gave them feedback and in return they gave me a £30 discount on my next order.

    Some time later I had an email saying I had seven days to use the £30 discount. When I logged on my account showed a £30 credit. However, when I actually placed my order I was charged the full amount and the £30 credit still showed in on my account.

    I sent a polite email asking them to rectify this.The email I got back was dismissive and said that there was a minimum spend for the voucher to be valid and suggested that I bought more wine.

    I replied saying that the restrictions were not shown in the email nor in the ordering process. There response was to say “I’m sure you can appreciate that we can’t dish out free wine” then they suggested I buy even more wine.

    I replied again saying they were misleading customers and should close my account.

    I then received a a call from Naked Wines who was quite clear that they don’t show the voucher has restrictions in their emails nor on the account screen but it is hidden in the terms and conditions.

    …and I quote “that means we’re right”

    I haven’t sworn down the phone for a long, long time.

    As for the wine they recommended (at £9.99 a bottle!) I drank one glass and used the rest in a casserole.

    I would recommend using other wine clubs, or even going to the supermarket over Naked Wines.

    Note: A handful of words have been removed to comply with this website’s comments policy on the ‘About’ page

  2. I’m always wary of any voucher scheme that gets you to make an initial purchase. There is always a catch. In the case of Naked, their model (it seems) is geared towards giving good prices to people who commit to being Angels. I have met people who just love being part of the Naked community, and equally winemakers. I’ll admit I’ve yet to buy from them – being an Angel is to much of a commitment for me. I would, though, purchase from Marketplace if a wine I wanted came up.

    There are many other choices out there. My favourite is still The Wine Society. It depends what you want to get out of it.

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