The Platter’s South African Wine Guide remains the most comprehensive and most-sold publication on South African wine. Since 1980 it has aimed to have its judges tasting as many of the country’s wines as possible, scoring them with stars from one to five.
From little more than a dense pamphlet it has grown into a door-stopper – the 2018 edition listed 941 producers and the judging panel was subjected to over 8 000 wines that needed tasting and scoring by the members’ astute palates and insightful minds respectively.
The 2019 edition has been launched and as usual it is a professional, top-quality publication with regards to producer information, regions, industry statistics, wine styles and varieties available under the banner of Brand South Africa. I buy mine while it is still hot-off the press as there is always a winery telephone number I don’t have on speed-dial or a GPS co-ordinate to somewhere in Rawsonville that needs checking.
It just remains such a damn pity that the comprehensiveness and professional offering of Platter’s detailed industry information is not reflected in the jaundiced eye-view with which the judges see the wines presented to them.
Some 90 wines were singled out for five star status in the 2019 guide. To get five stars from the Platter’s panel a wine must score at least 95 points out of 100. I am sure the 90 five star wines were deserving of their scores, but this is not the issue. The issue is not who were selected for five star status, but what was left out. Here one can surely not say that the collective judging panel and its guiders were without some sort of agenda.
One just has to, for example, look at the Sauvignon Blanc category. This is the most popular white wine in the country among consumers. The variety is planted in a diversity of terroirs few other country’s can match and some of South Africa’s leading winemakers are committed Sauvignon Blanc makers: JD Pretorius, Emul Ross, Andries Burger, Boela Gerber, Thys Louw, Trizanne Barnard…to name a few. The variety is currently exciting international critics, and for South Africa it does not perform too shabbily at international wine shows.
Yet in the latest edition only two wines were deemed worthy of five star status.
I also think Chenin Blanc is great, and South African Chenin Blanc is just as exciting as Handre Pollard’s ability to run-off Duane Vermeulen from broken play. But 18 Chenin Blancs get five stars against only two for Sauvignon Blanc? As they say in the classics: “Give me a break.”
No one will admit it, and perhaps some don’t recognise it because it lies in the subconsciousness: But because of the commercial success of the Sauvignon Blanc category, the wine is deemed as being too popular, too run-of-the mill to deserve exceptional, extraordinary status in the current wine lexicon.
It reminds me of my days as a movie critic for Die Burger newspaper. Any film with Bruce Willis, Tom Cruise, Kim Basinger or Julia Roberts was deemed as commercial trash by the reviewers for the English newspapers. But give them an unkown subtitled Flemish flick about some depressed fisherman on the winter coast of Belgium considering family murder and it was automatically elevated to “classical” status.
It is for this very same reason that you won’t find any of the larger, commercial wine producers among the Platter’s five star line-up. KWV, Distell and DGB make some of the best wines in the country. But heaven forbid these popular, ubiquitous entities gaining access to the same podium as small, art and fashionable producers.
The old, familiar Platter’s prejudice of keeping distant, rural regions away from the top-achievers list is also still alive and well. Seeing that five stars were raining down on Chenin Blancs, does anyone really want to try to convince us that none of the exciting individual wines from the Breedekloof or Robertson region were good enough? Or those fabulous old vine wines from Darling?
Producers from these far-flung, platteland regions generally have to work three times as hard for their scores due to their reputation being, in the eyes of the tasters, one of bulk wine, high-yield and outdated wine areas.
Here, close to 2020, I was really thinking that this kind bias would be found outdated and unworthy of the forward-thinking industry we are, an industry which – by the way – supports Platter’s on may fronts.+
Unfortunately not. But hey, those GPS co-ordinates are right on the money.
Emile Joubert for Die Burger.