I finally succumbed, and gave into curiosity. I had to know first hand: was the Naked Wines (LON: WINE) experience as good or as controversial as some suggest?
At the height of COVID-19 when there were a lot of unknowns out there (not there aren’t currently that’s for sure), I took the plunge. Though I had seen sponsored ads for Naked Wines pop up from time to time on my Facebook feed, I didn’t yet have the nerve to click through. There must be a catch right? Well, there was only one way to find out. $35 for 6 wines sounded like a bargain. Plus, they promised, these were predominantly wines from California and the West Coast — virtually my only regions to source pandemic wines these days. I clicked on the ad… and off I went on the Naked Wines Experience.
Naked Wines – Ordering
Ordering was straightforward. You can select between reds, whites or a mix. I went for the whites, what with this relentless California sun and all. Part of me regrets that, and wondered how the reds might have fared. Regardless, the order process was quite slick, and every bit as modern as you’d expect in 2020. That’s something that can’t necessarily be said about ordering direct from most wineries these days.
I received an email confirmation. Low and behold, the wine was excited to meet me:
Nakedwines.com says it normally charges $84.99 for the “White Wine Discovery 6 Pack.” With a $50 voucher promo, that came down to $34.99. Shipping was free. California tax added $3.24 for a grand total of only $38.23 to my door.
RELATED: Naked launches a $5m fund to buy wine (Meininger’s)
And they suggested I download the companion Naked Wines app, which I did on my iPhone. Logging in synced my order, so that I could see the six wines that were coming, with notes and details about each. So far so good.
Naked Wines – Shipment arrives
I was quite surprised how fast the wines arrived. The Naked Wines shipment arrived at my doorstep in a matter of days, despite the coronavirus which as we all know too well was, and is, impacting and disrupting just about everything in our lives.
Here’s the lineup of wines I received in this order:
From left to right:
- Matt Iaconis Lodi Albariño 2019
- Michaud Columbia Valley Riseling 2019
- Dave Harvey Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2018
- D.H. Elliott California White 2018
- F. Stephen Miller Angels Reserve Lodi Pinot Grigio 2018
- Jac Cole Russian River Valley Oak Fermented Chardonnay 2018
Naked Wines – Are the wines actually any good?
Hedonists would likely not approve. But I’m an everyday day Trader Joe’s/Costco kind of guy. Those two places have great deals on wines in my view. Nothing fancy. And for my budget you can pickup more than decent California whites and reds. I’ve even dabbled in two-buck Chuck. Shame? Overrated.
On the other hand we did convert a small closet underneath a staircase into a small wine cellar/pantry many years ago, and shared that experience with photos here on Stark Insider. Back in the day when Loni and I traveled across the San Francisco Bay Area up to Napa and Sonoma to shoot videos, we would take advantage of our proximity and pickup reasonably priced wines whenever we could. Then, after inventorying them in Cellartracker, let them sit. Fast forward 10-15 years later, and we do have some wonderfully aged wines. So those are good on special occasions, but for everyday stuff I’m still very much a retail shopper.
Granted, my expectations were low when it came to these no-name, seemingly proprietary wines with their apparently in-house label designs.
I decided to try the Riesling first. I fully expected it to be overly sweet and, if necessary, dump it down the sink. I like dry Reislings, just as like my espressos strong and without any sugar added. I can get plenty of that stuff from a palmier or Reese’s cup or slice of cheesecake. Choose your pairing splurge.
If you picture yourself enjoying a cool glass of wine on a warm summer evening while indulging in charcuterie and slowly turning off your brain for a few minutes then you know the feeling.
Michaud was the name of the Riesling. Sourced from Columbia Valley which as most know is a well-regarded region for producing top notch Rieslings, the rear of the label noted the area’s cool nights and that this variety is “nothing without its acidity.”
To my surprise the wine was not overly sweet. In fact, I found the Michaud quite enjoyable and well balanced. If you picture yourself enjoying a cool glass of wine on a warm summer evening while indulging in charcuterie and slowly switching off your brain for a few minutes then you know the feeling. This is that summer Zen wine. I was, so far, enchanted.
I still have more of the Naked Wines to open. But so far I’m more impressed with the experience than I originally anticipated. For about $6 a wine, this is a great deal.
Naked Wines – These are really cheap wines. What’s the catch?
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Okay, so the wines are pretty decent, perhaps even good. I’m guessing they’re sourced from surplus providers, or those who are desperate to get to market, but don’t have the means or scale. In comes Naked Wines as an intermediary, with a marketing machine (and app) to reach a mass market. In their words, they “fund winemakers up-front.” To some, this crowdfunding model (see How Crowdfunding Is Transforming The Wine Industry by Inc.) could be off-putting. Where possible why not, instead, support wineries direct? Yes, that’s a nice thought. In fact, that’s exactly what I try to do on occasion to supplement my TJ’s and Costco runs. Recently I ordered some wonderful Chardonnays direct from an under-the-radar winery in Livermore called Darcie Kent Vineyards. Still, I like variety, and going through something like Naked Wines does ultimately support the suppliers — after all, it’s their choice to work with Naked Wines.
Beyond that though the catch is: a subscription model.
Which is absolutely fine with me.
The idea is that you become a “Naked Wines Angel” and pay a subscription fee to receive monthly shipments. By today’s standard this is absolutely the norm. And convenient.
However, I wish Naked Wines would be more upfront about automatically adding you to the Angel program. If you don’t pay attention you’ll find yourself automatically billed $40 monthly going forward. I suspect there’s fine print somewhere during the order process that notifies the buyer that this will happen. If there was I missed the heads up. Thankfully, you can go into your account on the Naked Wines web site and cancel that subscription if you want. Or, you may want to keep the wine coming. After all, the experience is very good with wines that, at least in my experience so far, are worth it, and then some.
Note that Naked Wines is a publicly traded UK company (founded in 2008), with a location based in Napa, California.
Naked Wines – An app that enhances the experience
In short, the Naked Wines app is excellent and, again, surprised me. Here’s some screen shots from the iOS version:
Navigating across different wines is fun and intuitive. Dive in and you can learn how to age a particular wine (up to 5 years suggested for the Michaud), serve the wine (acid of a Riesling more pronounced when cooler), and, you guessed it, pair the wine with food (for the Michaud Riesling that would be spicy Asian or cheese and crackers or oysters — or all of the above!).
In addition you can learn about the winemakers you’re supporting. In this case Kay and Justin Michaud, “two of Washington’s most talented young winemakers.”
And you can also read reviews. 91% of 803 customers would buy the Michaud again. So would I. Angels pay $10.99 versus $17.99 normal retail. By Columbia Valley Riesling standards, an excellent value.
The other thing worth pointing out about the Naked Wines app is that you can setup your own personal tasting profile. Tell it the sorts of flavors you enjoy and over time as the profile builds you’ll get personalized recommendations.
Overall the app is well integrated into the wine discovery experience. Thumbs up.
Naked Wines – The competition
Obviously there’s lots of competition when it comes to wine. Retail, winery direct and wine clubs, and wine aggregators and intermediators similar to Naked Wines. Sure enough, my Facebook feed soon filled up with sponsored ads for other wine clubs, like Firstleaf and The California Wine Club:
Naked Wines – Definitely recommended
Net-net I recommend Naked Wines.
Just be aware on that first order you’ll automatically be signed up as an “Angel” and committed to a monthly subscription. Based on their wines so far that might not be a bad thing if you enjoy reasonably priced West Coast wines on a recurring basis. Or, you can do as I did (for now), and cancel out of that — the onus, though, is on you to do so. My plan is to work my way through the initial shipment of six wines and then reassess from there.
I look forward to diving deeper into Naked Wines for more chilled whites to enjoy during summer here in the Bay Area. I admit, I came in a skeptic. In the end, the value and experience won me over.