Black Tower roseMarathon bars are back. Well for just three months (Morrisons, 4 packs for £1). Renamed Snickers in 1990, these thirtieth anniversary bars are a reminder of what else was going on in the 90s. So what was? Well it was all about being smoozed with shark steaks at Berni Inns, accompanied by Black Tower wine. But times weren't always as good for the German white wine served in a black bottle.

clockWhen Black Tower was bought out by Grants of St. James's in 1987 they found a once premium brand going down, and down, thanks to the launch of 'own-label' wines where supermarkets bottled, and sold, other people's wines under their own supermarket logos. So what was this misunderstood wine to do?

The 1988 TV commercial 'White out of Black' was designed: just the top of the iconic black bottle sticking out of a bucket of ice all nicely laid out on a verandah somewhere idyllic with (a) palm tree, sea and surf in the background. A male hand uses a cork screw (remember those?) to pull the cork and gush the inviting white wine into rather a nice wine glass, while a female hand finally removes the glass out of shot. All accompanied by some rather decent 90s electric guitar.

No wonder the effect was dramatic: for every £1 spent, £2.26 of extra sales was generated.

champagne bottle neckBut Black Tower wasn't having it all it's own way. Le Piat d'Or, that oh so French wine that 'the French adore', fought back with a major TV ad campaign in 1994-5 using the 'French' strategy.
Lots of adverts featuring supposedly French sounding folk arriving a day too early for a dinner party, while the lady of la maison rushes out of her bath (an actress who looks suspiciously like 'Nicole' of Renault Clio ads of the same time featuring 'Nicole' and 'Papa') – but all is smoothed over with a bottle of Le Piat D'or.

The thing is the French had never heard of the stuff. But never mind, it remained a brand leader.

PG Wine Reviews

SPAR Mendoza Malbec 2017
£6.50 SPAR
Plum and cranberries. Fruity but a bit sour. Needs food.

Co-op Irresistible Chilean Carmenere 2017
£7 Co-op
Plum and kirsch chocolates with a chewy liquorice edge that stops this red wine being sweet.

Trivento Argentinean Malbec 2017
£8 Tesco, Ocado
Creamy cherries, raspberries, coffee and violets. Nice.

Tilimuqui Organic Argentinean Malbec 2018, Fairtrade
£8.99 Waitrose (down from £11.99 until October 8)
Hefty aromas of chocolate and raisin give way to lighter flavours of plum and cinnamon.

This article also appeared as Paula's Wines of the Week on

Chablis wine bottlesRecipes from our nearest continental neighbours have been pushed aside in favour of Italian, Chinese and Indian foods. So it’s time for a revival of French foods as they can always be relied upon to be tasty – a large glug of wine added to each recipe sees to that.

Banrock Station wineboxPut away your corkscrew, wine is available on tap. Look around the wine section of your average supermarket and you’ll see 800 different bottles and 20 wineboxes. Clearly more people buy wine in bottles but they are missing out on the great advantage of buying wine in 2.25 or 3-litre boxes - no corkscrew is required. To pour a glass of wine all you need do is push open a plastic tap.

blackberry bushIf you ask someone if they’ve got the latest blackberry they’re more likely to spout on about the history of communication technology rather than the new thornless hybrid suitable for freezing, jams and winemaking. But fruit-lovers needn’t fear, the common or garden bramble is still common and it can still be found in many gardens (intentionally or not). And if the thought of its tart and tannic flavours make you salivate then why not try a blackberry-tasting Merlot of Shiraz as well.