It’s almost worth bashing your head against a brick wall, a perverse friend of mine occasionally maintains – because it is just so nice when you stop. Assiduously tasting wines for a few months for Platter is not at all like bashing your head against a brick wall: it’s mostly a fascinating and deeply rewarding experience to taste and drink, as slowly and thoughtfully as you like, through whole ranges of wines from a variety of producers and terroirs.
Nonetheless, I find it unquestionably nice to stop.
Partly to escape the strain of having to be judgemental, which I find increasingly problematic. No, in fact that’s not entirely true – I remain happily and easily judgemental about wine, but I do find it more and more oppressive to have to give fairly precise scores. Context is a good deal, after all. I can give four stars to a wine I’d love to drink tonight – or in three or five years time, or to a wine that I don’t actually care for one little bit, but is clearly well made and generally fitting the standard of that rating. And that’s a strain, sometimes.
The real pleasure for me, frankly, is when I can relax my shoulders and be honestly enthusiastic about a wine I not only admire, but also like. And at that point, scoring becomes a chore.
Can we, in fact, always be objective and fair in rating, on the one hand, wines we actually like and think are also good of their type, and, on the other, wines we dislike but think are good of their type? That seems to me a more interesting question than whether we can be fair in our judgement when we know from the label what the wine is that we have in our glass.
It’s a matter that has some relevance to the bit of Twitter discussion that followed reports on tasting the forthcoming CWG line-up. Cathy Marston, Christian Eedes, Angela Lloyd and I all published lists of the wines we liked (or admired? or both?), and there was, apparently, remarkably little consistency between us. (Thanks to Konrad Raubenheimer for noting this, and for his civilised, courteous points.)
Surely, if we are all competent professionals, there should have been at least a considerable degree of overlap? That is, presuming we were judging not merely according to our own tastes, but also according to some fairly objective standards – questions of balance, intensity, avoidance of faults, etc, etc. I have my own answer to this, and I don’t think it’s shared by the other three judges mentioned, because all of them apparently happily and convincedly take part in large (blind-tasted), competitive line-ups of wines, while I refuse to do so, and only unhappily and unconvincedly occasionally do things like the CWG tasting as being better than the nothing which is the most viable alternative.
I’m pretty sure that if Angela and Christian and Cathy and I sat down around a table and sipped and discussed a dozen or so wines at leisure, we would come to a substantial level of agreement as to their qualities – even if our favourites did not necessarily overlap. I am very aware that my tastes differ from those of some of those four, to some degree.
Anyway, that’s all a big question for discussion, and I’ve got sidetracked. I really wanted to be more cheerful and less problematic and point out the other really nice part of stopping regular, frequent tasting. It is that I can once more drink the wines that I want to, rather than, firstly, having already imbibed a bit through tasting; secondly, having so many wines open that it seems a bit wicked to go and open something else for my supper (though I’ve done that more than once); thirdly, feeling obliged to try a wine once more, with food (it can make a difference, of course).
So. My first “free” day was last Monday which was lovely and sunny (a rare thing in this Cape winter and I can scarcely remember it now, amidst the incessant rain). What more delightful, and more different from all the Cape wines dominating my recent months, than a German riesling? It was a really good one I opened: from that great Nahe producer, Dönnhoff, a Spätlese from 2004, from the Oberhäuser Brücke vineyard. (What a lot of umlauts in that name!) Gently rich, the sweetness thrillingly balanced by acidity, the flavours mature and complex. No need for more than the 8% alcohol it carried! I’d hate to have to score a wine like this: it seemed absolutely perfect when I drank it.
Then it seemed a good idea to return home, but not to a current vintage. So I opened a bottle of TMV Swartland Syrah 2007, made by Chris and Andrea Mullineux when they were still (only just) making wine at what was then Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (now Fable). Still fresh and lively, perhaps not quite as elegant and precise as the syrahs the Mullineux pair are making now, but beautifully balanced, with sweet ripe fruit (and a dry finish) and those gorgeous Swartland tannins that manage, when well handled like this, to be both unobtrusive and an utterly indispensible delight.