The pros, and a few cons, of Platter

For what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts about the latest edition of Platter, as written for the Mail & Guardian.

Anticipating the Cape vineyards’ full rotation round the sun by a few months, Platter’s wine guide for 2013 was launched this week. For many local winelovers it’s the indispensible handholder when choosing judiciously, or having adventures, among the bewildering complexity on offer. For a few, Platter is marred by a rating process carried out by judges fully aware of the wine’s identity – unlike in competitions where wines are assessed “blind”. That argument will rage on, with the disadvantage of possible prejudice weighed against the advantage of knowing pedigree and intention. But no competition pretends to Platter’s comprehensiveness.

Of course, going by prejudice is not all that much help when dealing with a new wine, nor does it account for changes of reputation or re-ranking. Yet 12 wineries in this edition received the guide’s highest accolade – a full five-star rating – for one of their wines for the first time. Alheit Vineyards got five stars (for Cartology 2011, mostly from old chenin blanc vineyards), although it was the first appearance here of a winery with no established reputation – one that pretty few people have even heard of. The same thing happened ten years ago, in the 2003 edition, with the maiden outing of Sadie Family Columella – now a famous wine, this year again winning five stars.

Back in 2003, just 20 wines got the highest ranking, compared with a record 62 now. Not, arguably. an unreasonable jump, given the undoubted general improvement in quality – although maybe the standard could be ratcheted up a little more for wines each categorised as “Superlative. A South African classic”. (Wines with no stars are tactfully called “somewhat less than ordinary”; there are gratifyingly few of those.)

Of 2003’s 20 five-star wines, two joined Columella in repeating the performance with their latest vintage: Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 and Nico van der Merwe’s Mas Nicolas 2007. Most of the others are still around at the top end, however.

Comparing the two editions also reveals how Platter does far more than simply reflect current conventional wisdom. Often, indeed, it gives the first public signal of a winery’s improvement or degeneration. Take the 2013 Winery of the Year: Chamonix, with the splendid tally of four five-star winners. Ten years back, Chamonix’s utmost was three four-star wines. Gottfried Mocke had only recently been appointed winemaker and viticulturist. Since then, the results of his fine work in vineyards and cellar have been reflected in ever-higher ratings. (In the pic alongside: Young vineyards at Chamonix)

The Guide is not only about top ratings, of course, but it’s winners that attract attention. At their head are the Wines of the Year – the red and white wines performing best in a culminatory tasting, at which the 16 judges who assessed the wines over the previous few months get to re-taste, “blind”, the wines they’ve nominated for five stars.

White Wine of the Year is Paul Cluver Noble Late Harvest 2011. The equivalent red is Mullineux Family Syrah 2010 – and while Chris and Andrea Mullineux will be pleased, they could even be a little rueful at having been (surely) serious contenders for Winery of the Year, once again. Three five-star wines both last year and this, and a total of seven in a mere four years in Platter – it’s a great and deserved achievement.

Platter also highlights, with little smiley faces, wines offering particular value at the more modest end, one of which becomes Superquaffer of the Year. Usually, somehow, it’s a white, but this edition it’s a red from Muratie: Melck’s Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2011.

As a finger on the pulse of South African wine, as a meticulously and scrupulously edited (by veteran Philip van Zyl) consideration of just about all the country’s current releases, Platter is virtually indispensible to those interested in the wines grown at the foot of Africa, and is generally admired, both locally and internationally.

Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? – as a Platter taster for many years now, and an associate editor. Perhaps, but I have a few problems too (apart from disagreeing with some of my colleagues’ ratings, as they no doubt will with some of mine). Firstly, I think that the ratings have suffered inflation over the years, and altogether too many wines get ranked four stars and above. More importantly, I think the guide aims to do too much. Too little space is given to considering the wines which are its focus, too much to information about wineries, the industry, restaurants, etc. The wall of tiny text is intimidating, the growing list of icons bewildering.

There are other quibbles, but the fact remains, happily for us, that few national wine industries have the benefit of anything nearly as comprehensive and helpful as good old Platter.


• Platter’s South African Wines 2013 should soon be available, at a recommended retail price of R170, as well as Apps for Apple and Android devices. See for details.

From Mail & Guardian, 2-8 November 2012

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