Late-night Platter thoughts: blends and boundaries

Does a shiraz stop being a shiraz when it has a little bit of viognier in it and doesn’t mention that on the label? And what about when it does mention it?Incidentally, my delicious drinking tonight was the 2009 Orangerie White – from one of the Swartland’s oldest farms, where young Pieter Euvrard is diverting some grapes from supplying the big guys and making this excellent, typically new-wave Paardeberg wine. Chenin-based, of course, with dollops (tp use Platter-speak) of semillon, viognier and chardonnay. There’s a lovely Orangerie red blend too.

But that’s really beside the point, just a way of excusing in advance any fuzziness of thought. Unquestionably, anyway, both the Orangerie wines are blends.

The main thought that I’ve been a bit puzzled today by concerns three different ways of presenting the Platter results – cutting the varietal cake, as it were, to make categories. Anglea Lloyd and I wrote articles about the results, just having the list of winners and not the official press release (Angela’s on her Grape blog, mine to appear in Friday’s Mail & Guardian, editor willing).

Angela’s list contains two categories with five wines each, her largest groupings: Shiraz and Sauvignon blanc. She divides the dessert wines into three groups according to their official styles: Natural sweet (1 wine), Noble late harvest (4), and Straw wine (1; though she for some reason decided to use the French equivalent, Vin de Paille).

In my article I bundled all those unfortified dessert wines together into one category. I said that the largest category was Shiraz, with seven wines (as opposed to Angela’s 5) – because I included the La Motte Shiraz-Viognier, where the viognier would be a tiny percentage, but more problematically, I admit, also included Sadie Columella, where the shiraz component is not much more than 80%, not enough to make it legally qualify as a shiraz.

Philip van Zyl in the official press release has, with a logic that escapes me, lumped together the Straw Wine and Noble Late Harvests into the same “Unfortified dessert wine” category that I’d used, but has left the Natural Sweet in a category all of its own.

Like Angela, Philip has kept the Shiraz category pure, and had only five. But he has made, unlike either Angela or me, a catch-all “Red blends” category, to take in both Columella and La Motte, as well as the Bordeaux blends and the totally eccentric Bouchard-Finlayson Hannibal. So that was his largest category. Angela had split the red blends into Bordeaux-style and … “Red blends”.

Consistently, Philip has put all the white blends into one category, and Angela has split the white blends into “Bordeaux style” and “Mediterranean” (though what chenin blanc, the main component of two of them, has to do with the Mediterranean, I haven’t the slightest idea; and in fact those two wines in her group have nothing to do with the blend of the third).

So there you are. At least we all agree on what constituted the Pinot noir category. And Cabernet sauvignon.

But what about this: We also all agree that there are five Sauvignon blancs. One of those wines, however, is Hermanuspietersfontein Sauvignon Blanc No 5. This wine contains, apparently, 15% semillon (15% is the maximum you’re allowed to use of another variety while claiming pure varietal status – an even more crazy business, but let’s not go there now). So, though the No 5 is listed as a Sauvignon when it should really be a White blend. In fact it is far more of an blend than, for example, the La Motte wine, or, I think, the Glenelly Lady May – which is nearly pure Cabernet, with just a dollop (sorry) of petit verdot, but is called a Red blend by Philip and a Bordeaux-style blend by me and Angela.

Perhaps all this varietalism is silly anyway. Why don’t we categorise the Lady May according to its origins rather than it’s grape varieties (which aren’t mentioned in its name, after all), as we would if it were made in Bordeaux? Perhaps all categorisation is silly – but we seem to need to impose patterns of coherence in order to cope with the world, including our complicated little world of wine. Even if we each use different categories.

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