The pros and cons of buying from Naked Wines
Naked Wines has been controversial since it launched 4 1/2 years ago but there’s no denying its popularity. The company claims to have over 200,000 customers who buy from it regularly, 125,000 of which are ‘angels’.
These are regular subscribers who pay £20 a month into the business which enables them to fund winemaking projects. (A bit like crowdsourcing projects such as Kickstarter.) In return 'angels' get to buy wines (using the money they’ve invested) at preferential prices.
The catch is that those prices are not quite as favourable as Naked Wines claims though it’s hard to compare as most of the wines they stock are made specially for them by the winemakers they subsidise.
They say their angel prices are ‘wholesale’ and 25% to 50% less than retail but that’s quite misleading. In instances where other retailers stock the same wines you can buy them on the open market at a similar price without having to put down your money first. And you can certainly find wines of comparable quality a lot cheaper than the full price that Naked Wines charges for them, hence presumably their ability to give away so many ‘free’ vouchers for £40 and £60 to encourage people to start buying from them.
I also don’t like the heavily loaded rhetoric on the site. “Would you prefer your wine made by salesmen or talented winemakers?”. “Would you prefer to pay more or get more?” Click the obvious answer and bang - you’re suddenly an angel, committing yourself to £20 a month and strongly advised to buy the Naked Customers Favourites Case,costing £112.88 which ‘saves’ you £82.99. Hmmmm.
Even though you can apparently get your money back at any time, the chances are that if you’ve got £80 of contributions sitting in their account you’re going to spend it with them. It’s all just a bit too slick and high-pressured for me.
That said, they do genuinely help to get winemaking projects off the ground and create a market for the wines that they make. And rescue winemakers in distress. All credit to them for helping a friend of mine, Katie Jones (right), who lost her much admired 2012 white wine when vandals broke into her winery in the south of France and opened the tanks.
When they heard about the incident Naked Wines created a ‘rescue case’ of Languedoc wines which Katie selected from other producers she admired which sold at the rate of a case every 2 seconds when it came out in May. She obviously has nothing but praise for them.
Other winemakers, a number of whom were working for other wineries but wanted to do their own thing, will tell you that but for Naked Wines they wouldn’t have been able to set up their own business.
Their customers seem to like them too, witness the 400 plus people who turned out to the tasting I attended in Bristol on Monday night (above), part of a week-long road show. And the almost cult-like following the company has fostered. Post anything mildly critical of them, as I did in the Guardian a year or so ago, and 'angels' will pile in to defend them.
They also have some good wines though I wouldn’t generally pay more than the 'angel’s' price for them. Here are seven I’d recommend - and three to look out for in the coming months:
Domaine O Vineyards Trah-la- lah (14%) Full price £12.99, Angel’s price £8.99
Imagine Bordeaux on steroids. This is a gorgeous gutsy Merlot-Cabernet blend with a dash of Carignan from an American-run winery in the Cabardes region, north of Carcassonne
Villebois Prestige Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (12.5%) Full price @11.99, Angel’s price £8.99
A rich lush sauvignon made from old vines in the Touraine region of the Loire - so effectively a Sauvignon de Touraine, albeit a good one. More New World in style than French.
Villebois Pouilly Fumé 2012 Full price £17.99 Angel’s price £12.99
The 'angel's' price is roughly what supermarkets are charging for own label Pouilly Fumé right now so this is a very good deal for an intense wine with a crisp mineral character and lovely wisp of smoke. Better than the same producer’s Sancerre.
Lay of the Land Destination Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Full price £13.49, Angel’s price £9.49
Definitely a cut above your average Kiwi Sauv Blanc with some lush ripe tropical fruit offsetting the usual gooseberry-and-asparagus character. (Look out too for winemaker Mike Paterson’s Pinot Noir which is coming through in August - see below)
Raats Dolomite Cabernet Franc 2011 Full price £11.99, Angel’s price £8.99
If you like Cabernet Franc you’ll love this deliciously fragrant example from ebulliient South African wine maker Bruno Raats. £8.99 is a good price for it but bear in mind that another online retailer the Fine Wine Company sells it for not a lot more for £54.89 a case of six or £9.19 a bottle.
Mauricio Lorca Lirico Malbec 2011 14.5% Full price £11.99 Angel’s price £8.49
A touch on the soft side for me but if you’re an Argie Malbec fan you’ll love it. One for your summer barbecues.
Oscar’s Douro 2010 14% Full price: £9.99, Angel’s price £7.49
I visited Oscar’s port house, one of the smallest in the region, when I was in Oporto last December and here’s his rich dark Douro red, a blend of the indigenous grape varieties that are used to make port. A real winter wine - if you buy some save it for long slow braises and casseroles.
And three that are on their way:
If you're a Naked Wines angel already you should definitely look out for these:
Richard’s Chardonnay (should arrive early autumn)
Made by British-born Richard Kershaw, South Africa’s first Master of Wine and the former winemaker at Mulderbosch: a really gorgeous lush, creamy chardonnay with pitch-perfect acidity - on a par with top burgundy. Likely to be over £20.
Lie of the Land Pinot Noir
A simply stunning New Zealand pinot noir - gorgeously fruity without being jammy. Should be available in August. Price unknown
Sam Plunkett 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon (though probably under a different label)
A very grown-up dark, rich, dusky Cabernet from central Victoria's Strathbogie Ranges with much less obvious jammy fruit than many Aussie Cabs. Naked helped Sam, who used to make the Plunkett Fowles Ladies who Shoot their Lunch wines, buy the grapes and the barrels to make it so he’s a big fan of their business model.
Verdict: If you’re someone who wants to buy reliably drinkable wine, is not too fussy what they pay for it and wants to be spared the hassle of thinking too much about it Naked Wines could well suit you. If you sign up for the 'angel' scheme you’ll get them at a reasonable price and get a warm fuzzy feeling at helping a winemaker into the bargain. Just be aware you could get similar wines elsewhere at a comparable or even cheaper price.
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