I have seen varying opinions of Naked Wines, and have for some time wanted to find out more for myself. What better opportunity than the Manchester stop-off of their Wine Tasting Tour? I was considering coughing up the £10 for a ticket when I happened to notice that JamieOliver.com was offering free tickets to those willing to write impressions on the forum there. Well OK, I admit I found the offer when googling for a free ticket.
First of all, what about the company itself. At one level it seems little different from many big online merchants. They tempt in new customers with vouchers, and offer headline prices that must in practice be discounted on many of their sales. And in my opinion, the way they operate the discounts is particularly misleading. If you pay in £20 a month into your account with them, it looks like you get 33% cash back on purchases. Ah, but if you look carefully it is not cash back at all, it is CashBack, where CashBack has nothing to do with cash. It is credited to future purchases, and you do not get CashBack on any voucher or CashBack element of your purchases, so over time the 33% becomes approximately 25% on what you pay. So CashBack is to cash back as tuna n sweetcorn is to tuna and sweetcorn - you cannot have your cash separately and have to take what you are given and deal with it. Did I ever say I was a Dinner Ladies fan?
But on the positive side, the company claims (and I have no reason to doubt) that they use the £20 subs to help small producers get established by giving them money up front for wines. And they are also keen to promote interaction amongst their customers, and between customers and producers, through tastings and social media. Similar interaction is one of the things I find most rewarding about wine, but I and my wine loving friends achieve it without the help of Naked Wines. So I see the interactive aspect of Naked Wines as basically a good thing, but I hope that their customers manage to avoid getting totally sucked in, and see beyond the rather small circles created for them.
The tasting was a bit of a scrum – far too many people for comfort – and there were too few spittoons. The combination of these factors made it difficult to me to try as many wines as I would like, as it was difficult to get round to all the tables and remain sober. I can see how there might be economic restraints on the size of the venue, but surely spittoons must be relatively cheap to provide. Other aspects of the organisation were great. We were allowed to pour our own wines, though it turned out the tables were well manned anyway and the samples poured were generous. There was plenty of water available, crackers and cheese, and it was good to have the chance to meet so many of the winemakers.
Which brings us to the important question of the wines themselves. I managed to taste around 40 or so of the 100 and odd wines. Generally speaking I tried to taste the wines I was most likely to enjoy, but I was constrained by time, space and my ability to stand after large quantities of alcohol. Below is my opinion of them in terms of my rating system. I’d like to stress that I regard this as totally subjective, and that all opinions were derived from a tasting sample in a large and busy room. Clearly this is not an ideal environment to appreciate wines, but that is the way it was and every one was there to show or judge the wines on that basis.
They are listed here pretty much as they were on the tasting sheet. The headers are the winemaker names, and I have added some geographical information in some less obvious cases. The official designations were often missing from the information we were given. If you want that sort of detail, I am afraid you will have to find it for yourself from the labels on the Naked Wines website. I refuse to have anything to do with silly price points, so I have added 1p to all of the actual prices.
Loire Sauvignon Blanc 2010 £9.50 ***
Picpoul de Pinet 2010 £10.00 **
Tradition Champagne NV ***
Il Barone Pinot Grigio 2010 £7.00 ***
Picco del Sole Falanghina 2010 £9.00 ***
Lunate Fiano 2010 £10.00 ***
Rimabaldi Montepulciano 2009 £7.50 ***
Tor del Colle Riserva Montepulciano 2007 £9.00 ***
Conti di Lucca Chianti Riserva 2006 £10.00 ****
Borgo dei Sassi Pinot Rosato NV £9.50 *
Oscar Quevedo, Portugal
Douro 2008 £9.50 ***
Chris Anchorage, New Zealand
Pinot Noir 2009 £13.00 **
Heidi Seifried, New Zealand
Classic South Pinot Gris 2010 £10.50 **
Stefan Hartman, South Africa
Manley Estate Pinotage 2009 £12.50 ***
You will see that I thought a few were very slightly corked. If they weren’t, they were in my opinion rather unpleasant.
If I were to single out a single producer for praise, it would be Peter Klein. All his wines had good varietal fruit, and sharp acidity balanced by a touch of sweetness. I am not sure how popular the style would be for most Naked Wines customers, but for me they are ideal wines for summer drinking. The overall stand-out wine for me was Samuel Berger’s white Minervois, which was delicious in a style that was diametrically opposed to Peter Klein’s. The red Minervois was pretty good too. I was disappointed with the Portuguese wines - I really want to find some good ones, but many of these were sweet tasting and port-like.
Most wines seemed to be reasonably priced – maybe sometimes a tad too expensive at full price but better when the CashBack is considered. I was not, and still am not, a Naked Wines customer, but I could easily have put together an enjoyable and good value for money mixed case from what I tasted. So why didn’t I? Well, I am trying to avoid buying wine at the moment – nowhere to put it. But when I have more room I might place an order with the next Naked Wines voucher that comes my way.
Update 25/12/11: I see that Naked Wines have recently announced that they will soon be replacing their CashBack scheme by a discounted price only available to Angels.