Monday, 24 January 2011

Naked Wines - A closer look...

Hello All!

A couple of weeks ago, I looked at a mixed case from Naked Wines (here:) and although blown-away by some of the wines,  I was a little under-whelmed by the "helping the little guy" ethos of the company. It it commendable? Yes. Do I really care? Not really. Are they a source of good value, good quality wine? Yeah, I think so.

Basically, there are two ways of getting even better value. They are not without "catches", albeit minor ones.

1. Become a "Naked Angel" - for this you need to sign-up to a regular (monthly) financial commitment of £20 per month (or more if you want). What do you get for this? 33% cash-back to your Naked Wine Account on everything you buy. In a few months, you have a decent wad built up and can buy a case. Do this a few times and you've earned enough cash back for a free case. Seems pretty good if you like the range of wines and can afford to commit £20 a month to the one supplier.

2. Buy up-front -  known as "Advance Bookings" and get a BIG discount. Basically, you buy the case before it's actually landed in the UK. It could be on the boat on the way to the UK, in bottle in the winery, in the tanks or barrels or even still on the vine. The earlier you buy the more you get off (typically discounts are 30 - 50%). The catch is - you have to wait. Some wines can be a couple of weeks away, some can be a few months before delivery. This is good if you want a case of one specific wine and are familiar with the producer, confident of the vintage etc, or prepared to take a gamble in search of a bargain. It's a big saving.

So basically this money you invest, gets used to help the winemakers with cashflow, offers them guaranteed sales etc. In return for investing with the winemakers, Naked gets wines at a preferential price and special wines made etc.

Anyway, I received some more wines for review and they turned out pretty good. Two Reds, a Rosé and three Whites...

Benjamin Darnault, Picpoul de Pinet, 2009

Another Picpoul from the Languedoc. Cool bottle - bright green glass with some funky shapes. 12.5%

The Look: Brightly coloured, very crisp yellow with green hints.
The Smell: Lovely. Grapey and spicy.
The Taste: Again, lovely. Grapey (think white Schloer grape juice without the bubbles). Nice, pleasing acidity. A long mineral finish with some honey-sweetness. Some apple hints as well. Great balance and was superb with our salmon fillets topped with garlic and herb soft cheese.
The Score: Very good. A great food wine but tasty enough to have on its own too. 8/10. Recommended.
VFM: At £9.99 this is good value at VFM = 0.8 (the Angels scheme would give you £3.33 back!).

Small and Small, Sylvia Reserve, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, 2010

A Marlborough Sauv Blanc here, named after the Winemakers' daughter Sylvia. Big at 14%.

The Look: A pale watery-white with a slight lemony tinge.
The Smell: A huge hit of ripe gooseberry and perfume.
The Taste: GREEN PEPPER?! Very odd - literally like biting into a green pepper. I think this will really polarise opinion, a real "Marmite wine" - love it or hate it. The acidity is very sharp and tangy, there was some gooseberry fruit but mainly savoury green pepper was the dominant taste. Definitely unique. I couldn't decide whether it was genius or disgusting. D reckons genius. I'm on the fence.
The Score: It wasn't unpleasant. It was different. I think I'll recommend on the basis of it should be tried; you'll either love it or hate it!  7/10. Recommended.
VFM: At £13.99 this is not cheap, giving a VFM of only 0.5. However, if you love it and you are an "Angel" then the £4.62 cash back might help.

Arabella, Viognier, South Africa, 2010

Produced in the family-run winery by Stephen de Wet in the Western Cape region. A big one at  14%.

The Look: A pale gold turning to water-white at the rim. Big and clingy on the glass.
The Smell: Lovely. Grapey, peachy, melon, apricot and sweetness.
The Taste: Unoaked. First taste had an almost "bubbly" acidity to it. Peach schnapps, white grape juice (again!), just off-dry with an apricotty-sweetness on the long lingering finish. Not silky smooth like most Viogniers. Good balance and good with our spicy Chinese noodle broth.
The Score: Pretty good. A solid wine for the money. 7/10.
VFM: At £7.99 this is good value at VFM = 0.88, Angels getting £2.64 back.

Castillo de Tafalla, Garnacha Rosé, Navarra, 2009

By Benoit Dreyer. Normally £6.99 a pop, but the 2010 can be ordered via the "Advance Booking" for £27.72 per 6-bottles (only £ 4.62 each) for delivery in March. 13.5%.

The Look: Deeply coloured; bright, dark-strawberry red.
The Smell: A great nose for a Rosé. Baked bread - specifically Tiger Loaf, tobacco, caramel, and lots of sweet, jammy red fruit.
The Taste: Actually very good. Delicious. The first thing you notice is the balance between bright acidity and sweet fruit; raspberry and strawberry along with some caramel or chocolate.
The Score: It may well be the two bottles we'd shared before this one talking, but damn it, I'm going to give it an 8/10. and yes, Highly Recommend it. If Rosé is your boat, then this should float your bag.
VFM: At £6.99 this is superb value at VFM = 1.14, but if you take up the Advance Booking it is mega-value at VFM = 1.73.

Bodegas Bargondia, Black Label, Rioja, 2009

By Carlos Rodriguez. Apologies for the picture, I had trouble getting the right exposure for this one, what with the black label and the auto-focus really wasn't up to it. That'll teach me for being lazy! Website says 14% my note says 13%. I've binned the bottle so can't check. Apologies again.

The Look: An oddball this one. Deep purple almost opaque with a violet rim. Not traditional Rioja in the slightest.
The Smell: It actually smells great; creamy sweet berries, like summer  fruit pudding or cheesecake. Some woodsmoke and some blackberry. Again, not a traditional Rioja.
The Taste: Bright acidity. VERY heavily oaked. This isn't even a crianza but is super-oaky. Spicy red berries, warming finish. A bit hot and a bitter aftertaste. Unusual blackcurrant.  This has no identity - tasting blind I would have said it was an over-extracted attempt at a Cabernet/Tempranillo from a hot dry Aussie region. The bitterness did fade with time and food but still nagged on the back palate.
The Score: It wasn't bad. It does lack identity and it is not for traditional Rioja fans. If you like dark, dense, hot, oaky Aussie wines then maybe give it a go. For £9 you can certainly do better. 6/10
VFM: At £8.99 this is reasonable value at VFM = 0.67, and Angels get £2.99 back.

Benjamin Darnault, AOC Minervois, 2009

Another one by Benjamin Darnault. Embarrassingly, I had to check on what the Minervois blend consisted of; Carnigan and Cinsault I knew but this surprised me by being just Grenache and Shiraz. 13%.

The Look: Dark purple, not 100% opaque but nearly there.
The Smell: Intense nose of violets. Floral with some lavender maybe? Soapy, caramel and black cherry yoghurt.
The Taste: Much the same, black cherry, intense violet. Smooth tannins, reasonably long finish. Developed raspberry and spice after a while. But, unfortunately, a bit hot and a bit harsh.
The Score: No great shakes but drinkable 6/10.
VFM: At £9.49 I thought this was a bit steep; VFM = 0.63, but Angels get a few quid back (£3.16).

So there we have some more from Naked Wines. Not bad on the whole; the whites definitely shone more than the reds this time. However, this is only a small sample. There were some great wines in the last mixed case and several I'd still like to try:
  - Plunkett Fowles and the "490m" sub-brand (so they're not all about the little guy) - We've seriously enjoyed their Shiraz before and the Chardonnay is an experience; tasted of smoked ham and cheese mixed with buttery, oily fruit (both also sold at Oddbins). The Riesling is also available and will probably blow minds.
 - I'd love to try the Brewery Hill Reserve Shiraz and Chardonnay after rating the standard Shiraz highly last time around.
 - The other Arabella wines should offer good value.
 - From Argentina; the Calicata Syrah and Occaso Torrontes look interesting.
 - The Classic South Pinot Gris (the Sauv Blanc was LUSH).
 - Kimbao seem to be highly rated, there's now some German wines and some "Named Village" Cote du Rhone (Rastau and Cairanne I beleive) from Cristia.

So, the range isn't as limited as I first assumed; clearly there's some good stuff, BUT, they are a small outfit.  The range will always be limited but I believe they are growing. If you want some bargains and are prepared to commit, either money, time or both, then there's even more value available through the discounting schemes covered. You can also feel slightly smug about doing a good deed while you're drinking.

I guess it boils down to: Will I use them again? A resolute Yes.

As always,

Speak to you soon.




  1. I'm glad you preferred the Classic South Sav ahead of the Small and Small. I honestly didn't get what the deal was with the Sylvia reserve ahead of something clean and crisp like Classic South.
    I have been an ArchAngel with Naked for 2 years, and get involved with the new wine finding at trade tastings. It really is a great way to buy wine.

  2. Can I first say: what an awesome name! Secondly, thanks for the comment it's nice to spark a bit of debate. And thirdly, yes, the Classic South was way ahead in my eyes, clean crisp fruit done well, rather than trying to be quirky.
    Lastly, yes it does seem to be a good way to buy. The only niggle for me is the range. It is limited at the moment. Yes, I'm sure it will expand in the future. People hate change. I think to get them to convert you need two things (if not more). Something to grab their attention (which I believe you have with the schemes/ethos etc.) and a great range. One out of two thus far?

  3. Yep, I tried that Naked Wines case as well. I've only put one review up so far ( ), the Kimbao but overall I've quite enjoyed it. One or two bottles that I think were over-rated, but all in all I think it was definitely worth the money. Of course whether I would pay full price for these bottles is a different story!