We are here to help you find delicious, blow-your-socks-off, dazzling wines at sensible, affordable prices. And to make friends with the delightful people who make these wines.”
Naked Wines launched 1st December 2008, established by Rowan Gormley, founder of Virgin Money and Virgin Wines (from whom 17 of Naked Wines staff were also poached), with the aim of offering small, low-production wines from winemakers who lack the financial and physical means to market their wines. The link between these ‘maverick, artisan winemakers’ and the final user/drinker plays through the site as does the idea of being a ‘facebook for wine lovers’.
The idea of, as they describe it, traditional ‘bicycle saddle, raspberries and cigar box’ tasting notes are an anathema to ‘normal’ wine drinkers, something I think practically every merchant has decreed to move away from. So expect notes such as “Classic Rioja…velvety smooth, soft and round as an opera diva” and “Imagine our delight when, having picked this beauty from a line up of 30 NZ Sauvignons…We discovered it was also the cheapest!”
It is not totally clear but there are two ways in which to buy wines from the site. There is the ‘traditional’ way – find a wine and buy it (minimum purchase 6 different bottles, mixed cases available or make your own) and there is the ‘Naked Angle’ way.
Several producers have offered six of their wines for free (actually you have to pay duty and the delivery charge), by ordering these free wines you also agree to pay £5 per month to the site. This in turn guarantees a 33% cash-back on future purchases using the saved, regular payment money or you can use the money banked against other wines.
I have a couple of issues with the design of the website – you can’t for example link direct to producer pages and you have to page through each and everyone (which is annoying if you commit to one and then have to scroll through every one again to get back to where you were initially). Disconcertedly the winemakers page scrolls right to left while the wines page goes from bottom to top.
The idea of user submitted reviews of wines has been around for many years; big retailers such as Virgin and Oddbins already utilise such mechanisms, although I’m not sure if anything totally negative is ever allowed.
Naked Wines have a similar idea but have taken it further into the ‘social’ web2.0 world enabling a users page to be saved to such sites as Delicious, FaceBook and Stumbleupon. A users page (either private or public) allows user written reviews and ratings (on a 1-5 scale) for each wine ordered. ‘Chatting’ between other users and to the winemakers plays a part in the site but this is an area notoriously tricky to gain much traction.
Each producers page displays the conversations between user and winemaker. Dominique (one of the winemakers whose wines I purchased) used one such conversational opportunity to explain how one of their wines can improve for several years following on from a users query. (At least one user has taken the naked thing a touch too far though!)
Each user also has an ‘entourage’, I assume like on other social websites a list of ‘friends’, and also assume that this option opens up once a tasting note is posted.
The Wines and Producers
Today there are 29 winemakers listed, offering a rather small range of 82 wines. Coverage ranges from the lesser French regions, through several Spanish domains and down to Argentina, Chile, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. (Nothing from North America or Italy I note). Not all participate in the free wine offer and it is not very clear where each is based. (So guys how about adding a flag or country name in the Naked Angles column next to each winemaker?) I would also like to see the total number of wines each producer is currently offering.
The producers free offerings could also do with more information – OK, so you are getting six wines but which ones exactly? Of the 12 wines (two lots of six from two different producers) I ended up with 8 different wines, the cheapest I assume was doubled up in one lot while 4 bottles in the second were all the same (rather than two bottles of each as one would expect).
My order – six wines from Dominique and Baptiste Grangeon, (winemakers in the Rhone, described by The Wine Advocate as the ‘New superstars from Châteauneuf-du-Pape’) and six from Cinstranza Schwaderer in Chile came to £26.65 (2 x £10.83) plus delivery at £4.99. I haven’t worked out the full, normal, retail price.
The web2.0 aspects are superb; who cannot enjoy the direct interaction between the winemaker and the final consumer. Website design niggles apart the idea is great. I’d sign up to be a ‘naked taster‘ but they want ‘regular’ wine drinkers, not wine buffs. Perhaps the wines aren’t that good? I’ll find out over the next few days as I delve into my order.