Tag Archives: Naked Wines

Further adventures with Naked Wines

A couple of weeks back I went to a competitive blind wine tasting organised jointly by Naked Wines and Findwine, another relative newcomer to the online wine retailing scene, and attended by a handful of bloggers as well as staff and customers of both companies. Fifteen pairs of wines were judged head-to-head, with Naked winning the majority of the battles. This was hardly a surprise.

I had a good chat with their founder, Rowan Gormley, who said you could normally tell the difference between one of their wines and a Findwine offering (or pretty much any other wine retailer’s), because theirs were chosen by customers and their rivals’ were chosen by wine experts. So theirs might lack a little complexity, they might not be enormously challenging or thought-provoking, but they are immediately pleasurable. As Jordan’s success proves, the British public are frequently happy to prioritise the superficially appealing over greater depth and profundity and as it is with large-breasted celebrities, so it is with wine.

The fact that they win competitions like this doesn’t mean their selection of wines is necessarily better overall than Findwines’, or anyone else’s (there’ll be more about some crackers from Findwines next week, in fact). It is just different. How different they are only became apparent once I talked to a couple of their customers, selected from their keenest members – archangels, in NW terminology. The archangels are NW’s Robert Parkers and IWSCs and Decanters, all rolled into one. Their opinion rules. A selection of them get sent, for free, pretty much every new wine the company are considering adding to their list; anything that doesn’t wine go down well gets dumped.

This means that even new wines are launched with plenty of positive customer feedback, ready to encourage others to partake. Online, customers discuss the wines with each other, and often with the winemakers too. So if you talk to an archangel, they’ll refer to their favourite wines not by what it says on the label, but by the winemaker’s first name. In this way NW are, I think, enthusing people about wine in a different, more relevant, less stuffy and rather original way. And it’s enthusing them quite a lot: their most expensive offering is a wallet-frightening £32.99. All of which doesn’t make NW perfect, far from it, but it does make them quite exciting.

While I’m on the subject of NW, the other night I tried a wine called Facundo, made by the happy couple pictured on their website at the top of this post. The contents of the bottle are pretty special, given that they are not merely a fairly pleasing alcoholic beverage, but a quite detailed expression of the pair’s mutual adoration.  “Facundo is an expression of our love, the bliss and joy that life delivers,” reads the back label. “The character of Facundo is unique. It holds the strength of cabernet sauvignon, the elegance of cabernet franc, carignan’s jolly and petit verdot’s folly.” Eh? What happened to saying it with flowers?

I guess there’s something apt about celebrating the union of two people by blending grapes, though their choice of not two but four different varietals suggests theirs might be a more open marriage than some. Good wine, though. A bit straight-laced upon opening, but much better for a bit of time in glass/decanter. Once it had pulled off its tie, unbuttoned its shirt and is slouched a little bit on the sofa, Facundo proved a genial companion for an evening that certainly ended with me slouched on the sofa. Good choice, archangels.

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Naked ambition

A while ago Naked Wines sent me some wine without me paying for it, and this is the first time I have mentioned these wines. This presents an interesting but not entirely new dilemma – back in the real world I have quite often covered the team I support (their identity remains a loosely-guarded secret, because I’d quite like to do it again) for The Guardian or The Observer. Of course I try not to show my bias but other fans of the same team have criticised me for being over-harsh by way of compensation. Personally I always thought I got the balance about right – though that’s one subject I’m definitely biased about.

Fortunately for my credibility as a serious football journalist, my match reports didn’t have a big “disclaimer: this writer is a fan of one of the competing teams” sign on it – but this is my blog and honesty is important. Anyway, I’m not a fan of Naked Wines and have no interest in praising their wines unnecessarily.

Well, I say I’m not a fan. I do quite like a lot of the things they do. They encourage winemakers to correspond with consumers on their website, which I think small producers should do a lot more of. Their website promotes discussion about and contemplation of wine, two very good things, and a connection with the places it’s produced and the people who produce it. And they have a system vaguely similar to en primeur called “advance bookings”, whereby consumers pay for their wine some time before it arrives, at a considerable discount. I’m not entirely sure how the sums work for this one – they are currently selling six bottles of Grasshopper Rock Central Otago Pinot Noir, a well-rated wine that’s available by the half-case in New Zealand direct from the producer for £92.38, for just £59.16 – but I like them. In fact, I liked that one so much I bought some. So long as the answers are good, the sums can work however they want.

What it means is that the producers clear out their cellars and get lots of money quickly and without risk, Naked Wines don’t have to splash out on storing wines while they find people to buy them, and the people from the recent International Wine Challenge awards didn’t have to look very far to find someone to hand their Innovator of the Year gong to.

Naked Wines also like their wines to be exclusive. But take, for example, the first of their wines that I opened – Brewery Hill reserve shiraz 2008. Brewery Hill doesn’t exist. The wine is in fact made by Chalk Hill, and does very little to hide it, printing their address on the back label. This is not a bad thing, Chalk Hill being a very decent winery, recently awarded a full fair dinkum bonanza five stars in James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion 2011. They’re quite a big organisation, with grapes sprouting all round McLaren Vale, but this wine is available nowhere but at Naked Wines, who get a special thankyou on the label. How similar it is to Chalk Hill’s own-label shiraz, available elsewhere for a fair bit more than this, I don’t know. Naked Wine also sell a couple of Chalk Hill wines with Chalk Hill labels, though there’s no sign of those on Chalk Hill’s own website.

None of which makes any difference to what’s in the bottle, which is good stuff, a big, bold, bright character of a wine, the kind of wine that isn’t shy about having a go at the karaoke. Barossa and McLaren Vale shirazzes tend to be quite outgoing and brassy, so it’s just about whether you like to have a character like that hanging out in your living room. Mrs CF loved it, as do most of NW’s customers, but though it’s an entertaining crowd-pleaser I’m not sure it’s fabulous value (compared with, say, this from the Wine Society). Still, it’s well-made Australian shiraz, full of fruit and oak and velvet and alcohol (14.5%), and probably wearing a bright pink feather boa while watching America’s Next Top Model.

Brewery Hill Reserve Shiraz 2008 costs £11.99 from Naked Wines. More on their other wines to come, possibly without the extravagantly long preamble.