Platter’s Wine Guide Prejudice Remains Alive and Well

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.

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10 thoughts on “Platter’s Wine Guide Prejudice Remains Alive and Well

  1. Nice little dig and stir you got in there. Your mother must be very proud.

    I am by no means a Platter apologist, nor do I think it is the begin all and end all especially when it comes to ratings, but I do think there is some ignorance in your statement that there’s prejudice.

    As I understand it, the 5 star tasting process is completely blind, so pray tell – how is there prejudice? Against Sauvignon Blanc as a category? That’s a bit of a reach. What if – as I am sure you must’ve come across in the numerous panels you’ve tasted on during the many MANY years you’ve been around – it is just one of those days when specific variety just doesnt show well? Be it the tide, the phase of the moon or the fact that Whale Cottage posted a photo of herself in a bikini on social media again – whatever the reason. So how is there prejudice if a variety is just having an off day in a blind tasting? It happens.

    Your comment on the big players also comes across as a bit of an ass creep (you looking for some new PR business?) Perhaps you should go back to your 2017 edition when Nederburg was winery of the year. None of the big brands you mention did badly – there are numerous 93 and 94 points for them – or are you upset that drek like Brampton didnt do well?

    Lastly – shame – the dig about Breedekloof chenin. This is a region that’s consistently done more harm than good for the SA wine industry’s image because of the rubbish they export in bulk and now you bleat on their behalf about missing out on 5 stars because they finally figured out after decades of blending their best chenin away with colombard and whatever else they have growing that perhaps its a good idea to not do so!? Do you really think that overnight they are going to start producing world class fine wine just because they now have good grapes and a mandate to do so? I certainly wont be disappointed if they actually manage to pull it off, but has it occurred to you that they’re not there yet? Look at the chenins that actually did win 5 stars – can hardly complain about that list can you? Can Breedekloof actually compete there yet?

  2. As far as I am aware, Platter “tasters” always know what they’re tasting. They’re not blind. If this is so then the whole discussion is moot. They’re assessing what they see rather than what they’re trading and with that MUST come dollops of expectation and, yes, preconceptions. aka prejudice: “having pre-judged”.

    1. Third time the charm? Wines in the Five Star tasting are tasted blind (the tasting methodology is described on page 11 of the 2019 Guide).

  3. What route is taken to get to a 5 star rating? Are the wines first tasted with the label exposed and when the scores are above a certain bracket, are they then tasted blind only after getting a high score in the first place that is not blind? Just wondering how it starts.

    1. Hi Carina
      The wines are tasted sighted and with full knowledge of who the producer is. The tasters are then asked to submit potential 5 star wines for blind-tastings, from which the high-fliers are selected.

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