Sunday morning. Dog walked and fed. I turned, with something like weary rebellion in my throat, to my homely equivalent of what Michael Fridjhon once memorably referred to as his tasting bench. In my case it’s merely my general work-computer-desk plus the floor alongside. The latter (in the pic) was showing the evidence of the last three or four days of Platter tasting, with bottles washing around my feet.
Not all of the bottles to be dispensed with yet – passed on to others if possible, or emptied down the sink if they’ve been open too long, or if they’re pretty grim. If I’m confused about a wine or if it’s a serious wine whose evolution over a few days I want to observe, the bottle will be waiting for a revisit (the whites in the fridge, if I remembered to put them there). Confusion, incidentally, is usually about how to rate it. If only it were as simple as some people seem to imagine sighted tasting to be: score it up if it’s expensive and from a producer with grand white gateposts, down if it’s cheap or comes from Robertson or a co-op. Sadly, no. Not for me, anyway, I find it usually a struggle, especially if I want to bring a star-rating down from what it was last year – it’s a much happier occasion if I want to lift it.
But the current Platter season has been going on for nearly two months now, and I’m weary. “What a wonderful, interesting job!” people say to me when I explain why I’m dishing out opened, near-full bottles. And of course it is, on the whole – even (in retrospect) all this tasting, making notes, rating, doubting my judgement, tasting again, shelving a decision till the next day when I’ll taste it again….
Once I’ve finished, I’ll be really glad I’ve done it: worked my way with care and attention through (generally) the complete ranges of about 80 producers, grand and modest (only one really rather shocking this year – stuff for export to the lower shelves of European supermarkets: cheap and not remotely cheerful, and no credit to brand South Africa – I’d rather drink water, myself). It’s a fantastic learning opportunity, this Platter tasting, and a great privilege to do it.
But on a lovely sunny Sunday morning, I could think of better things to do than confront the opened and unopened bottles that were demanding my attention, more fun things than turning my scribbles into more-or-less meaningful notes of the prescribed length. I could have done the washing up, for example! But I’d already done it, to push away the time of starting Work.
There it was, mutely imperious, all this stuff. I went to the wine-fridge for a few whites (hoping that this wasn’t a sauvignon blanc day!), gathered up some more reds (please let them not be 15% alcohol and overoaked!), fetched a few glasses from the cupboard, and settled down at my desk. Looked for new emails, checked the online newspapers, played a trivial game or two. Got started. And of course, there was interest….
Great work. But sometimes work is really what it is. For me the strange thing about the issue I raised recently of wine-hacks seldom bothering to visit wineries, the oddness is why they don’t! I confess that wine-tasting (as opposed to wine-drinking) is not at all what it’s about for me. The prospect of a drive amongst mountains and valleys to visit a winery, a walk through a vineyard or two having interesting things explained to me, then tapping barrels and tanks and broaching bottles, sharing and talking and learning, patting the dogs, perhaps a meal together – that is why I’m still here in this business, and immensely glad and aware of the privilege of earning rather little money in such a splendid way.
Soon my busy months will be over, and I can relapse into something closer to indolence. I’ve already got my initial list of wineries to visit from September onward – some already fixed in all but the date, others long on the list, and needing arranging; others will no doubt suddenly emerge through invitations or my request.
Meanwhile, there’s more tasting to be done. And I have about 100 empties to take to the Oasis recycling centre – what they think of my drinking habits, I hate to imagine. They don’t realise that it’s Work.