The following criticism of some of my Platter ratings was made by Clarie Botha as a comment on my bio page. It seemed likely that it would go pretty unnoticed there, which would be wrong for such a lengthy and impassioned contribution. So I am putting it up here, with my own response as a comment on it.
My son phoned me from Stellenbosch on the 19th February 2014.
He was looking for Grenache for our next wine tasting and on the recommendation of Platter’s Wine Guide he found himself at Vriesenhof.
He knew the news would be of value to me as I always admired Jan Boland Coetzee and his wines. He found the Grenache and Jan kindly spent some time with them and the call was to inform me that the 2005 Kallista was excellent – but in particular, the 2009 was in the style of the 2003 and would therefore probably age for decades.
Living in Boksburg all of that made pleasant conversation, but I didn’t foresee finding out for myself so soon. As luck would have it, my diary opened up unexpectedly and I managed an overdue winelands trip early in March.
I always take Platter along and in this case the 2013 and 2014 editions. I didn’t look at Platter before arriving at Vriesenhof as I thought I knew what to expect. The Kallistas and the Grenache were both outstanding. The 2013 Chardonnay is probably one of the best ever produced in South Africa. It was, however, 2008 Pinotage that really bowled my wife and myself over. We married in 1971 and through the years she shared my passion for good wine and I benefited from her ability and knowledge of good food. Every trip, local or abroad, pleasure or sport, featured wine as well.
After leaving Vriesenhof we looked at the two Platters. It is difficult to express my amazement at your evaluation. Awarding the 2008 Pinotage 2½ stars is ridiculous. I read further. Your words like “another old style offering” shows a subjective approach that is in my mind superficial and biased. Looking at the further ratings of Vriesenhof, I believe the picture becomes clear. The Grenache is rated 4½ stars because it is more fruit driven.
You actually tried to teach the master how to make wine by rewarding the approach that appeals to you. Objective evaluation went out the window. This leads to a totally ridiculous result.
Let me attempt to illustrate. Dictating to the Port makers in Oporto to modernize their style in making Vintage Port would, in my opinion, be arrogant. To tell the winemakers in Bordeaux to follow Australia would be the same. The world of wine would become poorer if the old world style disappeared.
You use the words “old fashioned” as being stuck in the past. I believe this to be wrong, but more so it is unacceptable for any critic of note. Indeed, the opposite is true here. We have a legendary winemaker and a man who uses his invaluable experience of decades to create timeless master pieces and classics. Living products that will age for decades to come. Wines that will be talked about long after he’s no longer with us. A winemaker who can teach the next generation.
To your credit, in the 2013 edition you quote the winemaker Nicky Claasen saying he draws his inspiration from the Great 1973 Cabernet from Kanonkop that Jan Coetzee created. It just seems to me that you do not fully appreciated what he stated.
I personally rate Micheal Woodhead’s 1987 Le Bonheur Cabernet Sauvignon as the best South African red wine I’ve tasted. This is subjective, yes, but my son recently still found a bottle for me in Franschhoek – so it stayed around. Heaven forbid me offering to share it with you because it was created from old clone Cabernet that had a distinctive pencil taste that the old clone offered. Nothing “fruit driven”, so clearly not for you.
In all fairness I drove to Simonsig immediately after reading your ratings to compare the Vriesenhof with the Redhill Pinotage that Platter rated 4½ and a wine that I rate as a benchmark. On the day, on what I tasted, there was only one winner. The Vriesenhof was classier. In my view it was clearly the better wine.
You may disagree, but the ridiculous rating of the Vriesenhof is borne out by the Platter Guide itself. Jan’s second tier Paradyskloof is rated 3 stars.
In Platter a 2½ star rating is defined as a “good every day drinking wine”. So I noted other Pinotage ratings in Platter. The Obikwa was rated 3 stars and the Two Oceans (not even bottled) 3½ stars. I believe almost anybody with some knowledge of wine would rate these as everyday wines. The Vriesenhof definitely does not fall under that definition.
I bought both these wines previously from Checkers on special where you buy two and get one free. That worked out at about R20.00 a bottle. I enjoyed a bottle of each and the other four bottles are lying in my cellar looking for an occasion. Yes, they are “fruit driven”, but unexciting wines that are left behind because of my enthusiasm for something better. Worse thing is that my wife warned me it would happen but I was curious and I’m always hopeful of a bargain.
Adi Badenhorst said something that stuck in my mind while he was still at Rustenburg. He stated that the Rustenburg wines reflected the estate, while he designed the Brampton range to reflect the cultivar. This is well stated and I believe applies to Vriesenhof and Paradyskloof.
It is so easy to be critic. There is, however, a responsibility that goes with it. When you give a 2½ star rating to the Vriesenhof Pinotage it reflects on the winemaker and his estate. There may be financial implications, but more importantly it reflects on the status of the winemaker. What you really are saying is that he doesn’t know what he is doing with Pinotage.
I believe Pinotage can compete with the best cultivars in the world. Kanonkop proved it, but it won’t be the Obikwa or Two Oceans versions that conquer the world.
The subject of “New World” and “fruit driven” seems to be a very old and ongoing obsession with Mr. James. It is found in all his evaluations. I just opened the 2004 Platter and the Buitenverwachting Christine was awarded 4½ stars and praised for “now more new world- oriented (riper fruit, big alcohol)”.
Let us understand our history. In this country the old and the new world meet. We have cool and warm areas. There is a place for all styles. It makes us unique. We should treasure all of them. It enriches us.
Let us value our wonderful winemaking history. Having our diversity in mind I do believe Platter should strive to have more than one taster for each entry to give a more credible and objective assessment.
As a legal man, looking at the 2012, 2013 and 2014 Platter ratings of Vriesenhof all done by Mr. Tim James, I suggest a disclaimer stating: “Please note that the ratings appearing here reflects the personal opinion of the taster and do not reflect the quality of the wine at all”. I am being harsh, but I believe it is warranted.
Just a friendly warning. I noted that there are no ratings for Arendsig anymore. Lourens van Westhuizen is a fine winemaker and well worthwhile watching. If ratings are not credible, our beloved Platter will lose its value (although it may remain as a valuable index of South African wines) and like Wine Magazine will sorely be missed.
I hope you will find my opinion thought provoking and not small mindedly ignore it. After all, we are all wine lovers who should appreciate all styles and our judgement of the quality of a wine (neither classic styles nor new ideas) should be held back by our inherent biases. This should particularly be true for wine writers who is held in high regard by the wine making and wine drinking community.
P.S. The “Odd sins” wine group had its Grenache tasting. Ten members are between 35 – 45 years old, myself and my wife between 60 – 70 years old.
Seven wines were tasted – Grier (Villiera) bought from Woolworths, Paradyskloof, Arendsig (unlabled), Tierhoek, Nederburg (Woolworths), Vriesenhof and AA Babenhorst (unlabled). The AA Badenhorst and Arendsig are not freely available. The Vriesenhof won followed by AA Badenhorst, Arendsig, Tierhoek, Nederburg, Paradyskloof and Grier. They were all excellent wines and the Grier kept on developing in the glass. The Vriesenhof scored an average of 18.08 out of 20, which is the highest any wine ever scored in the history of the club.