You may recall that Rowan Gormley described it as the LastFM of wine shopping, but there has been some controversy over the half launch of Naked Wines, the latest project from the former founder and MD of Virgin Wines. Its aim is to match wine makers to buyers directly (well via Naked Wines to be precise). True to his irreverent style, Mr Gormley claims that winemakers “would rather be with their vines than in a Travelodge waiting for an appointment with Tesco”. This is what the internet was invented for. Look at the effect it has had on auctions, travel agents, banks, electrical stores, estate agents, bookstores. The internet is the world’s cyber-wholesale Exchange & Mart.
On the other hand, orders still need to be processed, the wine still needs to be shipped, local duty accounted for, customer service delivered, refunds processed. In this sense, is Naked Wines really so different from other online wine retailers?
I was invited to join the “tasting panel” and three bottles arrived in the post a few days later. I was expecting some yawningly predictable staples: a Petit Chablis, an Aussie Shiraz and a NZ Sauvignon for example. In fact I got a South African Chenin, a Chilean Cabernet/Carmenère and a Spanish erm….thing. My interest is aroused but I can assure you I was fully clothed as I tasted the first two – both reds.
Crinel sounds like a schoolyard expletive but is in fact a Spanish wine from Tarragona, to the south of Barcelona. I had a bad experience once from a Catalunian Rioja-u-like. This one is equally unlikely to make my favourite wines of all time list. On opening it smelt like a cremation, or perhaps more like rotting meat than burning flesh. There was a rubbery smell like dirty tyres. I tasted plums and milk squeezed through an old inner tube. Milk is an unsettling flavour in a wine for me.
The recommended serving temperature was 14-16 degrees which is exactly where I would serve a Rioja. However, I guess I have a personal problem with this alternative style of Spanish wine. It is not wrong – it is just not me. I admire Naked Wines for finding something so different but I’ll be a luddite thanks. So if I turn up at your party and you serve this wine, can I have it in the freezer for a couple of hours prior to serving please?
The second wine in the picture is Angel’s Share Reserva. The alter-ego to my dislike of Catalunian Rioja-u-likes is my love affair with vivacious Samba-u-like South American wines. Grapes pressed on the thighs of dusky Chilean maidens?
Very purple in colour, it had a much subtler nose than Crinel. A touch of brine and red fruit.
The flavour had the woodsmoke that I often find in Carmenère plus some blackcurrant typical of Cabernet Sauvignon and a little bitter black cherry and chocolate reminiscent of Malbec. Or maybe I just imagined this. Winemaker, Constanza Schwaderer presumably applied to the Naked Wines website to reduce her costs and increase her sales and I would be keen to know whether this turns out to be a more profitable channel for her than traditional wine shippers.
So a mixed reaction to my tiny straw poll of naked wines. The range is limited right now but it is very early days. He built Virgin Wines into a 500,000 customer powerhouse and I have already received a £25 off Naked Wines voucher mailed with my Amazon purchases. Don’t underestimate Mr Gormley, he has inherited the marketing nous of Virgin, from whom he recently apparently acrimoniously split, and is determined to succeed.