Ignore the critics: How our wine reviews are rewriting an industry

By Oliver Smith 9 June 2016

Why are there are no Amazon reviews for wine?

It doesn’t strike you at first, but the reviews on Naked Wines are really weird.

Not that the reviews themselves are weird, mind you, but the very concept of buying wine based on user reviews is… unusual.

Think about buying a nice white wine from Waitrose or Tesco, there are no rankings or ratings, merely categories based on ‘style’ (dry, medium, sweet, etc), grape variety and country.

Read more: Naked Wines is crafting the wine of your dreams

When I asked around the office, the biggest decider for most people comes down to price.

Which is just crazy when you think about it. Every other aspect of our lives are shaped by reviews and the opinions of others around us.

Whether that’s choosing a restaurant to eat in (Yelp), buying any kind of random rubbish (Amazon), or even the simplest act of downloading an app on the App Store.

The first thing you do is take a look at the reviews.

But in the topsy-turvy wine industry, besides critics and competitions, there are no wine reviews.

You'll find no reviews or ratings here.

Reviewing the wine industry

Wine is totally backwards, just ask any winemaker.

Pick your grapes, clean and crush them, add yeast and ferment for a week or two. Age the wine for anywhere between three and six months in a barrel, bottle and finally, sell.

Even after you’ve sold the wine, nine months after you first started, winemakers get little feedback.

Aside from sales numbers, tasting notes from critics in magazines, or the results of wine competitions, winemakers get no steer on what people actually like to drink.

There are no Amazon reviews for wine.

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Old-school winemakers

Not that winemakers would even read them if there were. As an industry wine is fairly resistant to change.

“If you asked us… whether we’d ever change the way we made our wine based on customer feedback our response would have been ‘No Way!’”

That was how New Zealand-based Bill and Claudia Small responded before they started working with Naked Wines.

“At that time, we felt that with our level of training and experience, our customers couldn’t possibly tell us anything about our wine that we didn’t already know.”

Bill and Claudia Small.

Six years later, after receiving over 118,000 ratings and 13,000 written reviews about their wine via Naked Wines, their attitude has changed entirely.

They started to realise that while in the UK the reviews for their Small and Small Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc continued to rise, in the US something entirely different was happening.

“There was one worrying trend – our numbers in the States were heading in the opposite direction,” said Bill and Claudia.

“What a UK customer found to be crisp and refreshing was often referred to as ‘too tart’ in the USA.”

The result was that Small and Small began producing two types of its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. One with more tropical flavours and gentle acidity for the US, and one more pungent Sauvignon flavours and aromas along with a crisper acidity for the UK and Australia.

Immediately after the change, buy-it-again ratings (the number of people who re-order) for the wine jumped from 70% to 90% in the US and the wine continued to perform strongly in the UK and Australia as well.

Today Small and Small is one of the 35 best wines in the world, according to the Decanter World Wine Awards.

The couple had reacted to market demand, and made a better wine because of it.

Read more: How to drink wine like a pro

Small and Small's award-winning Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Leaving your mark

Today Naked Wines boasts over 6m reviews and just like Amazon or Yelp, you don’t have to be a wine expert to join and leave your own opinion or rating on a wine.

And the wine reviewing movement is growing, on the high street Majestic Wines recently started adopting customer ratings.

Becoming a Naked Wines member, or ‘Angel’, does require investing £20 a month into your wine piggy bank. Naked uses the money to invest in the best independent winemakers, and you get to spend that £20 on their premium wine at wholesale prices.

So, after a painstaking month-long waiting list, we managed to join, order a case of Bill and Claudia Small’s Sauvignon Blanc.

If we had to describe it, the words “smooth” and “fruity” come to mind, and we’d probably buy it again.

Will our feedback shape the future of Bill and Claudia’s business? Maybe, maybe not.

But we’ll leave our review anyway and do our bit in helping shaping the future of wine.