Wine of Origin Unusual

Generally in South African wine competitions, as elsewhere in the New World, agglommerated results are presented in terms of varieties and styles rather than origin.

That’s also the case with the Platter guide, whose list of five-star winners I’ve just been looking at with a differerent perspective.

What is the league table it offers when categorising its 62 top-ranked wines?

Firstly, most broadly, and in line with what most serious commentators would agree is correct, more white wines than red get five stars – like last year, though this year’s 35 to 27 gap has now widened a little.

The winning category is easily White blends, which is certainly justified, in my opinion. There are 12 of those, followed by Shiraz with 10. Red blends and Chenin have 8 each, then Chardonnay with 5, then unfortified desserts with 4. Then the others.

Platter doesn’t divide the wines into their origins – partly, no doubt, because this is a bit trickier to do and much less clearcut. Stick to origin and you miss a lot of good wines. But, of course, you can again invoke the idea of blends. In fact, going through the list, I’m gratified to note that a minority of the wines give their origins as “Coastal” or “Western Cape”: let’s hope it’s because there’s an increasing tendency to produce wines that reflect a particular origin. But 13 out of 62 is still too many.

Of those wine that either declare a specific origin, or a specific origin can be ascertained, the following is the league table that I worked out. The winner is, of course, unsurprising – though I suspect many people would have guessed it would be by an even larger margin:

  • Stellenbosch  17
  • Swartland       7
  • Franschhoek   4
  • Olifantsrivier   4 (including Citrusdal, Cederberg, Bamboes Bay)
  • Walker Bay     4 (combining Bot River with Hemel en Aarde wards)
  • Klein Rivier     2
  • Paarl              2
  • Tulbagh          2

Then some with just one each – Durbanville, Cape Point, Robertson, Elgin.

The strange omission is, of course, Constantia. How did that happen (especially with the fine Vin de Constance 2007 on offer)? Well, these things do happen, I’m afraid, and we must swallow hard and get over it. There are always question marks over exclusions and inclusions. And the list of five-star wines certainly for me (as for many people, only no doubt differently!) includes wines whose presence there I wonder about, and omits some that seem indispensible. (I take a sip of Raka Cabernet Franc and long for Glenelly Lady May!) The fact remains that the Platter Guide is the most useful list to perform this exercise on, in that it reflects judgements on vastly more wines than any other guide or competition.

I haven’t checked my analysis or arithmetic very carefully – if you feel like doing so, and find me wrong please let me know, but I’m at least sure the overall picture is correct.

As I say, no-one is going to be surprised that Stellenbosch produces the most five-star wines. It would have been even more true ten years ago. But ten years ago the idea that the Swartland would be in a very respectable second place (with a tiny proportion of the wineries that Stellenbosch has) would have been thought absurd.

Even more – who, idly imagining this list, would have thought that Olifantsrivier, best known for its co-ops and large wineries churning out vast quantitites of heavily irrigated, hot-country wines, could produce four five-star winners? (It must be said that there are people in some less-successful areas who grumble about Platter prejudices against “over the mountain” wines – these results give the lie to that, I think.)

Interestingly, only two of the Olifantsrivier wines are actually made in the area: Fryer’s Cove Savignon Blanc and Cederberg CWG Teen die Hoog Shiraz. The other two are vinified elsewhere: Botanica Chenin Blanc in Stellenbosch, and Sadie Family Skurfberg in the Swartland. And at least one other five-star wine has a significant proportion of Olifantsrivier wine – Alheit Cartology.

But what a splendid thing this is! Another proof that there is surely no area in the whole of the Western Cape that is not capable – with a bit of imagination, skill and hard work – of producing fine wine.

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