Not long ago, my father-in-law sent me a voucher for “$100 off a case from Naked Wines” that he’d received in one publication or other. A Benjamin off a case? A name that already makes me feel like a cousin? Sure. I’ll bite. I wondered what the catch might be – but still…what’s the worst that can happen? I plopped myself down, opened up the ol’ browser, and got to work.
(In case you’re wondering…no, the worst didn’t happen.)
Naked Wines is an interesting online “wine club” of sorts. Rather than the typical wine club model where a customer receives a shipment every so often, paying along the way – Naked Wines works on an escrow model. The process goes something like this. If you become one of the “Naked Angels” club members, you agree to put $40/month into an account with them. You then can use this money at any point to purchase a quantity of wine via their website.
According to the site, the idea is to fund independent winemakers. In return, the club member receives wholesale pricing on the wines on the site, most of which are exclusively sold through Naked Wines. Seems like a good setup, potentially. (Although if the wines are generally not available for retail purchase, there’s no retail middleman to cut out in the first place…but I digress.) The discounts can be quite steep. The most expensive wine on the site “retails” for $75, but club members get it for $30. Club members also get $1 sample bottles with each case and free tastings if you’re lucky enough to visit one of these wineries.
You don’t have to become a Naked Angel to order from the site, though. You can use a voucher, as I did, or you can use a Groupon when one becomes available. You just pay the “retail” price, less whatever your voucher’s good for.
I decided to order one of their mixed cases – the “All American Highest Rated Wines” selection. This case “retailed” for $165, with an “Angel Price” of around $100. Still, $65 for a case of wine is a deal I’ll take. I have to give them high marks for promptness. The wine arrived within a week. Over the course of a month or so, we worked our way through the various bottles. Here’s what I thought:
Da Da Da 2011 Lodi Chardonnay – I thought this was a very nice wine, especially for the price. It’s very light bodied for a California chardonnay. I thought it was relatively refreshing flavorwise, with a restrained bit of oak. I also don’t expect a lot of mineral character from California wine, but this sure had some. ($10, Club Price $6)
Da Da Da 2011 Lodi Merlot – Like its white cousin, the merlot is also well-constructed. This isn’t a fruit bomb by any stretch of the imagination. It gives you pretty firm, balanced tannins with ample amounts of blackberry on the palate. I found leather flavors throughout and a very dry, lasting finish. A well-balanced, not overly heavy concoction. ($10, Club Price $6)
Cockamamie 2011 Calaveras County Syrah – For a California syrah, this one’s made in a fairly lean style. Good flavors of dark fruit with a layer of graphite on the finish. Although it is relatively light in body for a syrah, it hangs in through the finish reasonably well. At least I thought it did when I opened it. I had some left over, and I remembered liking it much more the first day. When I tried it the second time, I wasn’t overly impressed. ($25, Club Price $15)
Matt Iaconis 2010 Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir – Our old chocolate Labrador, Jessie, went to obedience lessons once during her puppyhood, which turned out to be an exercise in futility. Upon “graduation,” her instructor remarked “Jessie…wants to be good.” Well, this pinot wants to be earthy. It ends up more on the smoky end of things, and it’s a decent drinking wine. It’s not out of this world as a pinot (especially considering the pinots that we’ve laid in from Oregon), but it’s certainly a nice choice for a food-friendly red that you can serve with a quality meal. We had this with bone-in chicken breasts roasted with dried red pepper and marjoram. It was a tasty meal, and the wine was a fine accompaniment. ($24. Club Price $14)
William Henry 2012 California Riesling – This wine absolutely needs some air, but once it gets a few spins in the glass and a warms a tad, the nose really changes from green apples and flint to melon and honey. The nose belies the body, which actually has very little fruit to speak of other than little bit of lemon backed with a whole lot of mineral, which follows on the finish almost to the point of being metallic. It’s certainly an *interesting* wine. On its own, I don’t know if it would be for everyone. I liked it well enough. I had the rest of the bottle with a New Orleans barbecue shrimp – and it was downright tasty. ($11. Club price $6.50).
There were two other bottles in the case, neither of which I really took notes on -- F. Stephen Millier Angel’s Reserve Viognier ($10, club price $6) and Ken Dies 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($40. Club price $20). Both wines were solid but unspectacular.
So, what’s the bottom line? The “retail” prices of the wines are obviously set artificially high to make you think you’re getting a good deal if you become one of the “naked angels.” Once you’re at “angel prices,” some of the wines become very good deals. That said, the notion of escrowing $40 a month to get wines of similar quality that you could get in a good wine store doesn’t exactly appeal to me. I’m lucky to have several very good wine stores within a small radius of my domicile. If you live in a locality where extensive wine selections aren’t readily available and you want a steady supply of decent juice, Naked Wines might be a good option. Otherwise, you’re probably better off with your handy brick-and-mortar store with a wine salesperson you trust.
You can check out Naked Wines at http://www.nakedwines.com. They currently ship to AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, KS, LA, MA, ME, MI, MN, MO, NE, NV, NH, NY, NJ, NM, NC, ND, OH, OR, TN, TX, VT, VA, WA, WI, WV, and WY.