Jonathan Meades: The Trabant in a bottle


In the spirit of research ... This habitually signals hefty, jocular irony.

In the spirit of research ... This habitually signals hefty, jocular irony. But I mean it literally. It was in the spirit of research that, at different times, I tasted Blue Nun, Hirondelle, Mateus Rosé, Piat d'Or, Jacob's Creek and Black Tower. I did not expect to much enjoy them and, sure enough, I didn't. But it's important to have sampled them, to have sated curiosity. One cannot in good faith excoriate or, for that matter, defend a product of which one has no direct experience. Better, then, to listen to one's palate than to heed the reputation or to be gulled by the protestations of brand-managers. You know the smugly desperate line: so many people can't be wrong. Oh no?

Again, just as it is necessary to taste a great wine in order to recognise a good one so is it necessary to taste a bad wine in order to recognise a mediocre one. Further, these wines – I use the word in an access of benevolence – are useful indicators of British popular taste which, evidently, veers towards the quasi-chemical, the cloyingly saccharine, the insipidly emetic. They are the vinous analogues of a Harvester meal, of Celine Dion's records, of the products in a branch of the mysteriously ubiquitous Clinton Cards – perpetually naff, perpetually outside (rather than out of) fashion, perpetually bought in vast quantities by people who are indifferent to such considerations, who are susceptible to advertising or who know no better.

It was announced last week that Black Tower is to be rebranded, despite its claim to be among the top 20 best-selling wines in this country. This could be taken as a sign that the constituency of people who know no better is shrinking. Or it could simply mean that the yeomen of the Black Tower are tardily jumping on what has proved to be the bandwagon of the past five years, that they are subscribing to the nostrum that there is no product whose performance cannot be improved by a makeover.

Black Tower has been around for almost 35 years. It is a contemporary of wine in boxes, of rehydrated grape powder, of Spanish "burgundy" of dodgy blends, of two-litre bottles of filth "brewed from banana skins in the cellars of Ipswich". The plethora of such products was an opportunistic response to a shift in British drinking habits prompted by mass tourism to vinous countries. These products preyed on a collective oenological ignorance and were marketed in the certainty that in such circumstances the British would buy anything. This, remember, was before Augustus Barnett and Oddbins, let alone specialist supermarket departments: the only (limited) high street chain then was Peter Dominic. Otherwise the complexion of the wine trade was as gentlemanly ruddy as it had been in the immediately post-war years when the majority of table wines came from two sources, France and Germany: hock, piesporter, bernkasteler ... the names seem as quaintly dated as Armstrong Siddeley, Lanchester, Allard. Which for younger readers are marques of English car which disappeared in the 1950s.

Today the English own German cars and German electrical goods. If anti-German sentiments are still harboured, they are certainly not expressed through our pockets. But envisage a past when millions of Trabants – Robin Reliants with an extra wheel – were imported from the east, and imagine what that would have done for the reputation of German automotive engineering: would our roads be so packed with BMWs, Mercs, Audis? Of course not. However solidly constructed they would be tarred with the same rusty brush that has thwarted the sales of up-market Japanese cars. Serious German wines have suffered because they come from the country of Black Tower and its kin.

London is the wine warehouse of the world. No other city is as vinously cosmopolitan. Germany is the only country missing from the feast. That is an unhappy situation which is unlikely to be changed by Black Tower's rebranding. Indeed it will be exacerbated by a process whose aim is to introduce the stuff to a generation that's innocent of German wine. This generation is more clued up, more exposed to quality, more inclined to turn up its nose in distaste than its starved-for-choice predecessors were. So all that it's going to discover is that Black Tower is, well, Black Tower – which isn't going to do German wine any favours.

What next? Wincarnis: the new Red Bull.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The Interview cancelled: From supporting the Ku Klux Klan to appeasing the Nazis, Hollywood has a rich history of caving in

Boyd Tonkin
A female US soldier eats breakfast while on tour in Afghanistan  

All’s fair in love and war? Not until female soldiers can join the men on the front line

Rosie Millard
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas