Platter stars and bars

I have to confess to, if not quite a feeling of disappointment, then at least no feeling of great elation at the Platter five-star tasting a few days back. Not consistently, at least.

Fourteen Platter tasters (probably too many for the Guide to have complete coherence and consistency across all the wineries tasted) met for the task of rating all the 131 wines they had individually nominated for five stars in the 2012 edition (out in November). To taste the 140 wines we split into two teams – personally I’d have much rather that we split into three teams (like we did last year), as I think that 70 wines tasted in a morning is too many and pushes the Platter 5-star tasting towards the same sort of lottery conditions that govern most competitions.

However, there we were and we all did our damnedest. Mostly in silence, though some ribaldry erupted occasionally from whichever team was waiting for the next flight (done according to varietal composition) to be poured.

The palate-cleansing bubblies (three of them, two particularly good – in the past there were seldom plausible bubblies; this has wonderfully changed) were tasted by both teams. Then, while the others had to try distinguishing between 11 sauvignon blancs, mine had the great pleasure of tasting 11 Bordeaux-style white blends (sauvignon and semillon, essentially). Not just because it was the first flight of the day, it was for me undoubtedly the highlight. It was almost a question of looking for reasons to say no to each wine, and virtually any of them I’d have been happy to see get five stars.

Then the chenins for us (the other team had the other more Mediterranean-style white blends – also a treat, I’d imagine). In many ways, most of the chenins were the opposite in style from the elegant, refined white blends. Too much oak, too much ripeness, too much sugar, too much power. But a few lovelies.

Then a few odds and sods. An excellent, steely grenache blanc, and a semillon and a viognier neither of which seemed to me to be worthy of their place here – I know of other examples of these varieties that seem to me much superior.

The following flight of chardonnays I found disappointing on the whole. I’ve said before that 2010 seems to me a particularly bad vintage for this grape, on the whole, and many of these were 2010s. Also rather too much oak and power in evidence, rather than elegance.

Pinot Noir, sadly, fell to the other team, while we made the usual bad jokes about getting the eight pinotages. The jokes became grim reality for most of us. On the whole, most of us didn’t like them, and from the later discussion I gathered that the “no” votes easily outnumbered the “yes” (which doesn’t, of course, mean that no wine made it through). The wines were just too big, too overpowering, too plush, too everything. There’s still a big problem with growing and making pinotage I fear.  The one that I found most appeal in was (I subsequently discovered) a wine I’d never heard of – from Elgin of all places: a new release from a newish, Belgian-owned and run winery called Spioenkop. At least it had a bit of herbal freshness to it.

Then we did the “other” red blends (12 of them) and then the Bordeaux-style blends (14). I felt rather more positive about the “others”. I think it is partly that the serious cabernet-based blends show particularly ungracefully when they are released as young as this – they were mostly 2008s and 2009s we tasted. They are mostly tannic and sullen still, and need a slower, gentler, more careful appreciation then they can get in this sort of set-up. Also, sadly, some of them are a bit monstrous in terms of ripeness and power – but that means (in my book) they need more time and consideration before being rejected!

The other team did shiraz and cabernet, meanwhile, then moved on to the main body of dessert wines. We considered the three ports on offer – two good ones and one LBV that none of us could understand how it had been nominated to this level. Much the same applied to a white muscadel. But there were two natural sweet wines, of which one I thought was nice but inadequate, and the other I found totally stunning – almost my favourite of the whole line-up.

The final list

The results will be known earlier than last year, when the news had to wait for the launch of the Guide in November. This year the truth will out  in mid October, as the wines will be showing at the Wosa extravanganza in London. Producers will have to be informed earlier, so some of the bigger-mouthed of them will no doubt be unable to keep quiet and some snippets will slip out earlier. The Wines and Winery of the Year will have to wait till the launch of the book, I guess, to be announced.

One interesting aspect. Normally the tasters are asked to simply say yes or no to the five-star rating question, and failures will automatically get 4.5 stars. This year we were asked, in the case of wines we were particularly displeased with, to suggest a more suitable lower rating. If a majority of tasters felt, for example, that a particular winne not only shouldn’t get five stars but also shouldn’t get 4.5, there’s a good chance it’ll be pushed down further. Hopefully, if and when that happens (and I suspect it should happen to a couple of wines my team considered), the taster who nominated those wines will feel duly abashed!

Anyway, perhaps I was wrong to feel a little disappointed. There were some poor shows (hopefuly we were judging according to a fairly high standard), but there were certainly enough excellent wines to give some satisfaction.

Meanwhile, quite a bit of editing, proofreading and checking work to be done, and I’d guess that our great editor, Philip van Zyl, is firmly in sleepless, continous work, panic mode by now.

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