Black Tower, Pinot Grigio, 2008

Black Tower, Pinot Grigio, 2008

Over the years, we have tasted a wide sample of German wines (though still so much more to explore!). However, my German wine experience is very different from that of most people here in the UK or across the globe. While we mostly drink wine from smaller, family owned vineyards, the UK especially downs the likes of Liebfraumilch by the gallon. So it was high time to get in touch with my inner mainstream drinker and get one of those iconic Black Tower bottles you can see in most British supermarkets.

Black Tower claims to be Germany's most widely exported wine brand, in fact, it may very well be Germany's best selling wine globally - it certainly is in the UK. Reh-Kendermann, who own Black Tower, spent a lot on the brand, particularly researching the design.

While mostly catering for the mass market, they are also about to launch a range of higher quality Black Tower, using the same bottle shape, but a new colour pattern. So, consumers seem to love it. I think it is bulky and ugly and goes against everything I like in a German wine. Furthermore, it has the same shape and glass as the really cheap bottle of schnapps I downed jointly with a Munich girl on my first proper encounter with alcohol a long time ago. Not that the bottle design makes me vomit, it is alright in a way, but it just stands for something cheap and distilled I'd drink with a salami under a tree in the Black Forest or in the mountains of Saxony. All rustic, heavy, 1930s German wholesome farming aesthetics. Nevertheless, I tried to make the bottle appear as nice as possible in the photos, with the help of some London morning sunlight. It certainly is a distinctive little bugger, I give you that.

Anyway, the Pinot Grigio. Black Tower Pinot Grigio is now the UK off trade’s No. 1 best selling non-Italian Pinot Grigio, I have been told, so it must have a massive impact on what the British think about German Pinot Grigio. While the branding may work quite well for this market, I am still irritated that they called it Pinot Grigio instead of Pinot Gris - the German Grauburgunder may be made from the same grape variety as the Italian Pinot Grigio, but stylistically it is a huge difference. But hey, this is about selling wine, not about capturing what is good about German wine.

And now, ladies and gents, the wine. Fresh out of the fridge, the nose did not do very much for me. Let the wine warm up a little and you get floral aromas, orange peel with a bit of citrus - creating a perfumed bouquet -, stone fruit and spicy nut, bordering on wood polish with a benzine subtext. Over time, it feels less flowery and leans more on the spicy side. On the tongue the Pinot Grigio is fruity, with apple but more importantly over-ripe pear, mixing bitter with a good dosage of sweet. The finish adds a little spice and ends on a caramel note.

Despite not being unpleasant, to me the wine never quite comes together. I toyed with the idea of calling it unstructured, but because of the sweetness that isn't balanced by either enough character or the right type of acidity I'd want to go for papescent. While I like the caramel finish as such, it also has a somewhat unpleasant bitter component that to my perhaps somewhat over-sensitive system evoked faint memories of heartburn.

Compared to some of the really cheap German supermarket wines, this one clearly has more character and substance and the bouquet even has its moments. You can drink this Pinot Grigio, but if you care about wine I cannot think of a reason to do so either. For a Pinot Grigio in this price range it my be okay, but if you can spend one or two quid more, I would do so, with dramatically improved results.


Submitted by ponotet Sunday, 31/10/2010

I have never tried such wine and hardly find something like this in Germany. It's when I went back home for holiday that I first encountered something like Liebfraumilch and blue nun. Sadly, they totally leave a bad image on the quality of german wines. On the positive side, this is why we can still find and drink many german wines with such an attractive price. Love your writing. ;)

Submitted by torsten Monday, 01/11/2010

In reply to by ponotet

Thank you for your comment, Ponotet. I don't think I have ever seen Black Tower or the likes in Germany - but then the places I buy wine from in Germany would probably not stock these wines anyway. Obviously, German supermarkets do also sell a lot of cheap wine. Also, it has to be said that among the cheap German supermarket wines I found this one of the better ones - but then it is also not in the super cheap price range...

Submitted by David Strange Monday, 01/11/2010

Well done for writing such a complete note about this loathsome confection. It is more laudably analytical than what I managed when I had a horrific encounter with Blue Nun. I imagine your next bottle of decent kit will taste splendidly satisfying and sublimely superior now you've experienced such a stupefyingly sickening substance of completely contemptible character.

Black Tower's naming strategy is beyond the boundaries of brazen in its barefaced bid to exploit the perplexing popularity of the intensely inadequate Italian idiom of Pinot Grigio. Now that, a scant few examples excepted, is a wine style that you should feel fortunate when you find yourself forced to imbibe a bottle that is merely massively mundane and totally themed on tedium. In my experience the prominent pattern producers pursue is plainly one of profoundly poxy, penetratingly putrid and pointedly poisonous personality.

Go and open something nice, you deserve it.


Submitted by torsten Monday, 01/11/2010

In reply to by David Strange

David, were I still suffering from this experience, your use of words such as 'splendidly satisfying', 'sublimely superior' and 'stupefyingly sickening' would have lifted me up again.

I am sorry though to read about your pain with Blue Nun. From previous encounters with Blue Nun I'd say that the Black Tower is certainly more drinkable. Obviously, it is also a little more expensive, so you would hope it being not that off-putting. Still, I could not get myself to finish the bottle - in fact I did not even come close, despite keeping it open for a few days to see how/if it would develop.

Shame though that the good German Pinot Gris is not easy to be had in the UK. Luckily, I happen to have a few bottles at home. It is hard to believe that this Pinot Grigio and many of the boring Italian examples I have tasted in another life are made from the same varietal.

Again, thanks for your alarmingly amusing words,

Submitted by seth Monday, 01/11/2010

With a brand name like 'Black Tower' they could hardly have gone for one of those graceful slim bottles that are so popular with Mosel and Rhenish makers.

No comment on what's inside the bottle.

Submitted by torsten Monday, 01/11/2010

In reply to by seth

Your are quite right, Seth. Clearly, I don't expect a Riesling bottle here and in fact white German Pinots are not sold in those anyway. I also agree that the bottle goes perfectly with a brand such as 'Black Tower'. There is after all a reason why this is one of the well recognised German brands in the UK.

However, I do question whether a light, off-dry white wine is what goes well with this bottle. And I'd argue that Germany, despite also producing some very substantial white and red wines, is still the wine country to go to for elegant whites (if you want to break things down to simple classifications). Because of that, the whole idea of 'Black Tower' goes against all I like about German wine.

Having said that, I could see cheap Trollinger being sold in these bottles... ;-)

Submitted by Julian Tuesday, 02/11/2010

Attempting to sum up, I would submit that the Black Tower, while not sensorily satisfying, has at least proved to be alliteratively alluring.

(...that being said, I can almost see a couple of people closing browser windows and deleting us from bookmarks, while muttering to themselves something that sound suspiciously like "pretentious wankers"...)

Submitted by torsten Wednesday, 03/11/2010

In reply to by Julian

I second the motion. In addition, I move that we amend the notes to say that any alliterative activities on part of the so called Pinot Grigio are purely accidental, and that credit for those be given to David. If that leads to an increase in my level of pretentiousness, I will have to bear that - as long as the critics can spell the word correctly.