When the good people at NakedWines.com asked me to endorse their efforts, I responded as honestly as I could:

“Folks: I’ve never heard of most of your winemakers and I’ve never tasted any of these wines. I can’t endorse what I don’t know.”

So they sent me a half-case of wine. Nice!

I tried to keep my mind free and rid myself of any preconceptions, but the marketplace is flooded with wines that are at best created by “style-gurus” and at worst sugary-chemical-broths masquerading as wine. I dreaded that this would be another “Apothic” story but did my due diligence: I let the wines rest after their long journey, I opened them one at a time and gave them my fullest attention. It turns out – the culture of wine clubs is changing dramatically.

Meet NakedWines.com: the wine-lovers newest bestest friend. Forever???

Rowan Gormley, Founder and CEO of NakedWines.com. Photo: Courtesy of NakedWines.com.

Rowan Gormley, Founder and CEO of NakedWines.com. Photo: Courtesy NakedWines.com

This is the place where you as a consumer get to move past the hype, the slick-sales-talk, the bullshit. This is the place where artisanal winemakers come to be judged by you – the consumer. If NakedWines.com likes their work they will invest your money and bankroll the winemaker’s efforts to create something worthy of notice. You as the financier (you and 49,999 like-minded individuals) reap the whirlwind when you buy these wines at a fraction of their marketplace value and get to feel like a king. The wines do well and the winemaker keeps working his/her craft with feedback from hundreds, thousands of consumers like you on a regular basis.

Want added perks? How about being able to talk with these winemakers on a regular basis on the NakedWines.com website? How about being given a free bottle of premium wine every month? Catch? Catch you ask? Yes, there is a catch – – – – you have to trust. You have to trust NakedWines.com to keep investing your $40 per month into winemakers you’ve never met, who don’t have these wines in the local stores. Your local restaurant will not have these wines listed and no – no – NO you can’t ask your favorite wine-geek friend to tell you all about them and recommend the best.

David Akiyoshi, Lodi, California Winemaker for NakedWines.com. Photo: Courtesy of NakedWines.com

David Akiyoshi, Lodi, California Winemaker for NakedWines.com. Photo: Courtesy NakedWines.com

Because your wine-geek friend probably doesn’t know anything about David Akiyoshi or Camille Benitah. That is, unless your friend is also a NakedWines.com “Angel”.

And I’m not the one who’s going to tell you to join these fine folks. The truth is, they don’t have room for new members anyways; there’s a waiting list of over 13,000 people who want to join the US club alone. And it’s not for everyone! This is not a wine-Mecca for the masses; the friends who come over and when you ask if they’d like some Merlot they respond with “No thanks, I only drink red wine.”

This is not to make it sound elitist, because it isn’t, but some consumers/some people are always out there looking for “something cheaper” whilst others are looking for a “better deal”. I don’t care about price I care about value. Show me a great value for $10 or show me a great value for $30 and I’m a happy guy and that’s something I can stand behind: if I had bought the 5 wines listed below, as a Naked Wine “Angel” I would have paid less than $70 USD.

Mike Paterson, Marlborough, New Zealand Winemaker for NakedWines.com. Photo: Courtesy NakedWines.com

Mike Paterson, Marlborough, New Zealand Winemaker for NakedWines.com. Photo: Courtesy NakedWines.com

Shut the front door! AMAZING VALUE! I live in British Columbia, Canada: second highest liquor tax in the world (after Sweden) and I couldn’t buy two of these bottles for $70. If you really enjoy 2-buck-chuck and Apothic then power to you. If you don’t; if you love searching farmers markets for the freshest produce, if you drive down to the fisherman’s wharf for the freshest catch, if you care about quality then you have to try these wines!

Five wines: four #WorldClass stars and one that, for whatever reason, just didn’t live up to the standard. But I consider that a stunning win. In an industry where I will sometimes taste a hundred wines in a row before giving 92 points… well, you can read for yourselves….

2013 “Mont Blanc” Sauvignon Blanc

Lake County, California
by Camille Benitah
91+ points, EXCELLENT Value

2013 "Mont Blanc" Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, California by Camille Benitah

2013 “Mont Blanc” Sauvignon Blanc, Lake County, California by Camille Benitah

… to me this wine is deserving of the moniker “Mont Blanc”: clean, purist mineral tones drive a palate so fresh, so powerful, that it seems to have blown down the side of that impressive Swiss mountainside. Here is a superbly crafted articulation of Lake County and of the varietal. Truly, one of the best California Sauv-Blancs I’ve ever had; the bouquet has layers of small white flowers and summer gardens in bloom to balance the austerely elegant granite and slate mineral backbone. Enamel-peeling full lemon zest acid somehow seem perfectly balanced yet crave a New York bagel “wid a schmear” or fresh Atlantic lobster drown in clarified butter.

These zealous Meyer lemon, white grapefruit and ripe lime flavors collide into something that makes me instinctually remember the best ceviche and crave just one – more – bite as I savor what’s left in my glass. Enjoy this now and enjoy this often for, though it could hold for many years, the Stelvin enclosure prevents development in bottle and – brilliant as this is – why wait??

2013 Akiyoshi Sauvignon Blanc

Musque Clone, Lodi, California
by David Akiyoshi
92 points, STUNNING

… even after a few years of sommelier education and penning hundreds of articles, I was stumped when I read “Musque Clone” scrawled with such dominance on David Akiyoshi’s label. What was “Musque” and why was it so damned important? It turns out that “Musque” is perhaps more important (and controversial) then I could have expected: in general it refers to a “musky” quality that can result from genetic variation/development in a grape varietal. What does this mean in real terms? Well gewürztraminer is actually a “Musque clone” of Traminer which is, for all intents and purposes, a dying varietal. So is gewürztraminer it’s own varietal or is it a “Musque clone”? Who should decide and how should it be labelled?

Well in this instance, second generation winemaker David decided that what was in the bottle was Sauv-Blanc first and foremost, Musque-clone second. I concur! Whilst the perfumed bouquet offers a bounty of heady floral tones, warm exotic fruit compote and hints of Arabic spice straight from the Sook, the palate of this wine is pure Sauv-Blanc;  unadorned full citrus acid almost Pinot Grigio-like in intensity but with a balance and concentration of peripheral tones (white tea, young mango, kumquat, green apple) that turns this into a chef’s dream… the 80’s classic dish: “Neptune” comes to mind immediately: picture a filet of fresh white fish (pike for those on the Prairies, Red Snapper for the WestCoast and cod on the East. Pan-sear the fish and top it with crab-meat mixed with scallops and perhaps rough chopped prawns, then a few pieces of young asparagus, then Hollandaise sauce. Now – wait for it – scorch or brulée that sauce with a chef’s torch for just a moment… Neptune: over-the-top richness to play off the exuberance of this consummate wine!

2013 Akiyoshi Sangiovese Rosé

Lodi, California
by David Akiyoshi
92+ points, STUNNING

Quite possibly my top rose for 2014: The 2013 Akiyoshi Sangiovese Rosé, Lodi, California by David Akiyoshi.

Quite possibly my top rose for 2014: The 2013 Akiyoshi Sangiovese Rosé, Lodi, California by David Akiyoshi.

…if ever a wine was crafted for the express purpose of beating the summer heat, rosé must surely be it: so light, so refreshing, so perfectly suited for the middle of the afternoon with a half loaf of fresh bread, a hunk of good cheese and some artisanal cold cuts. David Akiyoshi’s interpretation certainly satisfies any craving one may have for both greatness in rosé and in Sangiovese. This wine carries the blush of youth and the bloom of young flowers; aromas of roses, cherries, red plums, red currants and early raspberries. The full acids convey a palate that mimics the bouquet brilliantly; impeccable balance, concentration and structure show the excellence in viticulture as much as the skills of Mr Akiyoshi.

Should I wish to use this wine with a meal instead of the laziness of a July afternoon, seafood would be my first choice *(natural) but a close second would be turkey! I usually go with a northern Beaujolais (Morgon, Fleurie, Moulin-a-Vent) for Thanksgiving but a rosé with such structure and elegant power will certainly pair superbly… just don’t forget to baste that turkey with a little butter! #NofatNofun

2013, Lay of the Lay Pinot Noir

Marlborough, New Zealand
Mike Patterson, Winemaker
92 points, EXCELLENT Value

… at the risk of sounding melodramatic: THIS. IS. MARLBOROUGH… superbly crafted, this is a Pinot that truly speaks about where it comes from just as much, if not more, then it does about who made it. The textured bouquet is awash in Carneros-like seasalt and briney green olives, yet carries tones of lush green grass, soft savory herbs like parsley and thyme and a background of granitic minerality. Elegance would best describe the balance and structure; a palate conveying mirror-like qualities from the bouquet, medium+ young raspberry acids bursting with the exuberance of youth, medium fine tannin craving just a hint more bottle age before they truly start to come into their own. I would call this textbook if textbooks could have examples of such quality.

A joy to consume now, this is best enjoyed 2015-2020+ but will not develop appreciably due to Stelvin enclosure *(pity). FOOD PAIRING is most natural when the wine is used at the start of the meal to take advantage of the dynamic acid… pâté, rillete and the like will find harmony. Feeling casual? Pair this with a classic Roman panini with a thick lathering of pesto and layer of Italian coldcuts and cheeses… once again the acid will bring balance and as Pinot Noir is a light wine, will work perfectly with hints of sunshine and a picnic blanket~!

2012 Columba Syrah

El Dorado, California
by the Jarvis Tomei family
88 points, Decent

… putting to one side that everyone has their own preferences in style and interpretation of any varietal, much less one that has as much diversity as the mighty Syrah/Shiraz; this wine is, at best, table wine. Not poorly made table wine, but table wine still. Though the color is a robustly bruised purple the aromas are simple; bright red berries carrying candied notes much like Beaujolais Nouveau. The palate mimics the nose to its own demise; bright/cheery medium+ raspberry acids carry freshness though no structure and the tannin is a slightly clunky medium+ as well… very basic flavors of the young red berries with an unfortunate tendency towards overoaking.

Please understand that the “harshness” of this critique is only due to it being presented in the same line-up as the previous wines which were, unequivocally, World-Class. Should someone offer this to me at Sainsbury for 3 Euros or Safeway for $7.50 I would consider it a fair transaction.

NakedWines.com staff, USA. Photo: Courtesy NakedWines.com

NakedWines.com staff, USA. Photo: Courtesy NakedWines.com

So how does this work? As an “Angel” you put $40 a month into your NakedWines.com “piggy bank” which you can use whenever you want. You can even withdraw it if you so choose. Cool. That’s the same as a few bottles of table wine so no big deal to most folks. You and I know that we’re going to spend that money on wine anyways – it’s just a matter of how we want to spend it.

I’m thinking of a local winemaker I know; he’s fantastically gifted but just hasn’t been able to crack into the market yet. It’s a struggle for him and, as a father, I understand his woes. He’s a Dad to two great kids – there are bills to pay and those don’t stop just because you’re having a bad day. But he’s an artist as well and won’t compromise on the quality, the finesse, the uniqueness of his wines just to make the wines “easier to understand sell”.

This man, this winemaker, has my unquestioned admiration. If he could work with a company like NakedWines.com it would mean the world to him. An automatic audience that connects with what he’s doing and what he wants to do. A chance to quit taking time out of his days for tastings rooms and sales calls and get back to what really matters: being in the vineyard, being in the cellar. Working with the wine.

That is what the Naked Wine “Angels” get to do. They get the opportunity to do something truly valuable with their consumer dollars. And they get wickedly exciting wine as well. Well heck, if that isn’t just what I asked Santa Claus for this Christmas!

Many thanks to NakedWines.com for the generous sample bottles: it revealed not only a new business module to me but a hidden layer of winemaking in the world.

As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews and my notes
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About Author

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Kristof Gillese: trained chef, certified wine steward, journalist and proud father. In these articles it is the human story that takes priority: to tell the tale of common people accomplishing uncommon goals. In the world of wine these tales are prolific. It has been Chef Kristofs privilege to have worked with luminaries such as Pierre-Henry Gagey of Maison Jadot, Nik Weis of St Urbans-Hof, Ray Signorello of Signorello Estates and Ezra Cipes of Summerhill Pyramid Winery; leaders in the industry. With almost 3 decades of experience working with the synergy between food and wine, Chef Kristof is proud to share the stories of these amazing stewards of the land. These articles are written with a profound reverence for the family aspect to winery culture as, to this writers understanding, nothing has ever had a more far-reaching effect than the love and devotion for a parent to a child. All great wineries are built by parents for their children and it is because of this that Chef Kristof writes.
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