Since I devoted this week’s dining column to Naked Fish restaurant, I figured I may as well stay with the “naked” theme and share some thoughts about a small wine producer I like a lot: Simply Naked.
Located in Acampo, Calif., the folks at Simply Naked are devoted to one thing: making unoaked wines. All of the Simply Naked wines are fermented and aged in 100 percent stainless steel, and the wine never sees the inside of an oak barrel. Simple, right?
Well, not so fast. Winemaking of this type is actually far from simple. There are two components in wine that can serve as a sort of shield to mask flaws and inferior fruit: alcohol and oak. Oak, in particular, can influence the flavor of wine—sometimes for the better, but often not. Not using oak for fermenting and aging wine means that the winemaker—in the case of Simply Naked, that’s Ryan Flock—must begin with the best grapes he can get his hands on. Since there’s no oak to conceal any flaws in the fruit, the character of the grapes is front and center; there’s nowhere to hide. So, with unoaked wines, Merlot tastes like Merlot, and Chardonnay tastes like Chardonnay. You don’t get those vanilla and oak flavors that winemakers achieve by manipulating the wine via the use of oak barrels.
“Since we can’t use oak barrels to manipulate the flavors in the wine, we have to start with the best quality fruit and manage the entire process very carefully,” Flock says. “It takes a lot of discipline, but it’s worth it in the end when we have a great tasting wine in the bottle.” That’s what I meant when I said Simply Naked wines aren’t that simple.
Well, how do these unoaked wines fare? I’d say awfully good, for the price. Simply Naked wines retail in Utah for $10.99 per bottle normally, but often go on sale for $7.98. I’ve been sipping Simply Naked lately, and found these to be very approachable, well-made wines.
Simply Naked Merlot 2010: I like this wine a lot. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to mistake it for another 100 percent Merlot wine such as Pétrus (with prices beginning around $300 a bottle). But this is honest, straightforward Merlot that tastes like Merlot: very fruity on the nose, with big notes of plum and blackberry, a very traditional characteristic of Merlot. It’s nicely balanced—not the big fruit bomb you might expect from the aromas—with soft tannins, a silky texture and a slightly smoky finish. I dare you to find a better example of Merlot for $11.
Simply Naked Chardonnay 2011: Lovers of big, oaky California Chardonnay should stay away from this one. But, if you want to know what unadorned Chardonnay tastes like, go for it. It’s nice and crisp, with pear and Fuji apple notes, along with a hint of honey. This is a terrific partner for chicken, fish or pasta with cream sauce.
Simply Naked Cabernet Sauvignon 2010: Again, a no-nonsense wine. Black cherry, plum and blackberry flavors shine through with traces of cinnamon—a good wine to pair with grilled meats.
Simply Naked Pinot Grigio 2011: This is a light-bodied, sip-on-the-porch-in-summer Pinot, with flavors of passion fruit, honeydew, peach and lime. It goes great with shellfish and chicken salad.
So, the next time you’re looking to eschew the oak, I recommend getting Simply Naked.