CROWDFUNDING is one of the buzzwords of the moment. Everything from record albums to distilleries is being funded by small investors like you and me putting a few pounds each into the kitty.
But before there was crowdfunding there was Naked Wines. The company’s customers – or angels, as they’re known – pay £20 a month, which goes to fund the work of independent winemakers around the world. In return, angels get sizeable discounts on their purchases.
The company must be doing something right – there are now 220,000 angels worldwide, with about 12,000 of them here in Scotland. Annual turnover has risen to £53m a year and last year they generated a £2m profit, despite what remain difficult trading conditions – an achievement of which UK managing director Eamon FitzGerald is particularly proud. Given typical Teutonic prudence, the considerable support from a major German investor is another good sign.
The average age of Naked’s customer is around 45, with a 60:40 split between men and women, but – surprisingly – most customers don’t list wine among their top ten interests. These people clearly aren’t wine geeks.
Yet the angels do know what they like and use Naked Wines’ social media channels to ensure that the winemakers know too. Customers even get to meet producers at a series of fairs around the UK each year, which include regular stops in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
So far Naked Wines has helped more than 100 winemakers in 65 places globally, including Katie Jones, who has made wine in the Languedoc for several years now. Last year, vandals destroyed her entire vintage of white wine while she was at a wine fair. Naked Wines quickly alerted its angels to this potential disaster and raised more than £200,000 of pre-orders in a matter of hours.
So, it only seems right to start any review of Naked Wines’ list with something from Katie. Her La Voie Faugeres (£9.99, like all prices quoted here, if you are an angel) also has a story – seek it out on Youtube. The wine has aromas of plums and tobacco which develop into spicy black pepper, and toasty notes on the palate, yet merge gently into a long, savoury finish. It’s full-bodied and slightly rustic, but the acidity is gentle even though the flavours are intense.
Across the Pyrenees in Spain, the 2013 Carlos Rodriguez Tempranillo Rosé: Castilla La Mancha (£6.75) really is top-rate rosé with an attractive delicacy to its light colour and clean, cranberry fruit. However, that initial simplicity is supplemented by a spicy, peach depth, creamy texture and lively tangerine-based acidity.
On to the New World and the 2013 Rod Easthope Pinot Gris (£8.99) from Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. This is a delightfully fresh and aromatic white, but there is also a depth that brings together flavours of quince, tropical fruits and touches of spice with a counterbalancing lemon-centred acidic edge. Stocks of this vintage, however, are dwindling fast.
Finally, the 2012 Wine x Sam Metayage Cabernet Sauvignon (£12.99) from Central Victoria in Australia offers a soft, smooth and rounded wine with concentrated flavours. The deep colour hints at the brambles that you find on the nose, which are then joined by spicy cinnamon and vanilla notes on the palate, and all embellished with raspberry-based acidity.
With wines like these, it surely isn’t just the angels who are going to heaven, but the winemakers too.
2012 Oveja Negra Cabernet Franc Carmenere Reserva Maule Valley, Chile, 13.5 per cent
It’s interesting to see two traditional French varieties given a New World twist. The resulting rich, but lightly oaked blend majors on dark plum fruit, but wraps those flavours with spiciness and a lively, fruity acidity, even though the finish has firm touches of tannin. £8.75 at Oddbins
2013 Las Olas Verdejo Rueda Western Spain, 13 per cent
The vineyard’s altitude ensures that this typical Spanish white also has some crisp, tangerine-centred acidity to balance its tropical fruit flavours. Couple all that with sweeter spices on the finish and, by contrast, a pear-influenced opening, and the wine becomes surprisingly complex. £7.95 at The Wine Society