Friday 27 January 2012

The Nation's Sweetheart: Blossom Hill Winemaker's Reserve Merlot

So my Mum gave me this bottle of Blossom Hill Merlot for Christmas, and I think it's had long enough settling time in the wine rack, so out it comes, a quick inspection of the screw cap and the label to reassure myself of the provenance (California, via a bottling plant in Italy, thence to an importer's at Park Royal in north-west London, then to my Mum's in the Cotswolds and back to me in London) followed by a sigh over the almost lapis lazuli shades of blue on the packaging and…

Well, I'm not going to use this as an opportunity to take a cheap shot at the American genius for doing crappy things extremely professionally (McDonald's burgers, Avatar, Windows 98) because Blossom Hill is not specifically one of those things. It is in fact, an Anglo-American construct, and, according to the Blossom Hill website, is the UK's number one wine brand (both in volume and value). I will not be deterred by that either, nor by the feeling that its incredible ubiquity - you can buy it in petrol stations, corner shops, newsagents, post offices, rural pubs, department stores, on car ferries and at village fetes, to say nothing of in every supermarket in the land - must have something to do with its apparent popularity, nor by the fact that it is currently owned by the colossal British Diageo drinks combine, based at Park Royal, in north-west London. Nor am I going to wonder what the hell the phrase Winemaker's Reserve is doing on something that must be produced by the thousands of litres in industrial wineries and which must travel down kilometres of stainless steel piping before it reaches the table. Nor am I going to profess surprise that the name Blossom Hill is not an exclusively Californian brand but turns out to be a wide-spectrum packaging concept that takes in wines from Italy and France as well as the West Coast. 

In fact, I am not going to bring any bigotries to this party, not least because a quick trawl of what wine drinkers like on the internet reveals that Blossom Hill really is the people's choice: 'I have no idea what makes a good or bad wine,' writes an amateur reviewer, 'but the Blossom Hill Soft and Fruity is a lovely light red wine'; also, from another source, 'One of my favourite red wines, made even better by the fact that it is also one of the cheapest'; and, 'Blossom Hill wines go down lovely with a warm pasta dish';  and, 'At a price of £5.99 a bottle, the Vineyard Collection isn't a bad choice for a weekend tipple'; and, 'You can never go wrong with  big brand wines like Blossom Hill'; and so on. All right, some of those love-ins may have been planted by Diageo employees, but I'm going to infer from their tender illiteracies, grammatical solecisms and general heartfeltness that they're not all shills.

Better yet: I am going to bathe in its outreach, because your Blossom Hill gives you plenty of hand-holding and gentle instruction to help make your encounter a friendly one, unlike flash French wines which try to maintain their cachet by telling you almost nothing about themselves (I know this because PK and I were recently at a chi-chi Burgundy tasting, where some of the grog was £124 per virtually anonymous bottle, and where Oz Clarke looked at us, appalled, and said You bad boys, I suspect because we were marginally lit up on account of swallowing too much and hardly ever spitting, not least because the wines were fantastically tasty as well as sadistically expensive).

I mean, on the front, Blossom Hill tells you what it is, where it came from, who made it, and has a précis of the flavour: Velvety soft with ripe red cherry & dark berry aromas, just so there's no confusion in your mind that you might be getting a stringy white, smelling of gas. On the back, there are messages about pregnancy, recycling, responsible drinking, sharing Blossom Hill with friends (advised) and a Consumer Careline. This is a wine with its own Consumer Careline! Can it get any better?

Yes: when you drink it. My tasting notes read: Interesting tannins, followed by whoof, liquorice, tar and interminable finish. Which so far as I'm concerned, is a result. It didn't taste an awful lot like Merlot (I'll be brutal) until I'd given it a fair breather and served up some warm pasta as an accompaniment. After that? A glow of complacency. It got a bit velvety, in a loon-pants kind of way, and there were dark aromas. The new ad campaign claims that Blossom Hill wines are Award-winning, although I can't see anywhere which awards, but still. This stuff may be commonplace, but it's not contemptible. My plan from here? To get PK round for dinner, decant a bottle of BH into the groovy decanter he gave me in an effort to raise my standards, and not tell him what he's drinking. I predict hilarity will ensue. 


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