The new publisher of the Platter Guide, JP Rossouw, appointed by the new owner, Diners Club, makes it clear in an interview in the current issue of WineLand that he is contemplating changes to the tasting and ratings systems used in the guide. And in fact current tasters (myself included) had been invited to offer ideas on the way Platter is currently conducted. We must all wait and see if change is on the way.
The great space that there is for improvement came back to my mind this evening when I pulled out my notes from a tasting of recent releases that Angela Lloyd and I conducted with a few dozen wines last December. I wanted to write a little about the four white blends we’d tried, three of which had been candidates in the Platter five-star tasting. That event is a big blind set-up, as you probably know, not all that different from one of the competitions (Veritas, Michelangelo, etc), and equally not immune from making some, er, surprising decisions. As happened, it seemed to me, with these white blends.
White blends is, of course, a brilliant category in South Africa, as is now widely acknowledged (incidentally, to beat Grape’s drum, I’m pretty sure it was Angela Lloyd, in the old print edition of Grape, who in 2004 wrote up the pioneering tasting of this category – Kumkani, Fleur du Cap, Vergelegen and Palladius were the top scorers; and it might well have been me who wrote the first international article enthusing about the category, in World of Fine Wine, in 2007).
Two brilliant categories, really: the classic Bordeaux-style blends of sauvignon and semillon, generally from cooler parts like Constantia and Stellenbosch (Vergelegen White was the first, in 2001), and the home-grown blends from warmer parts, usually based on chenin (Sadie Palladius the “inventor” of this style with the 2002).
Both categories were represented amongst these four. For me, by far the best of the wines was Steenberg Magna Carta 2011. (At R495 it was also the most expensive by a long way.) Some typical Steenberg greenish sauvignon aromas and flavours, made more complex by semillon’s wax and lemon. Vibrant, lively acidity balanced on a rich palate on which the breadth of semillon shows more. Succulent and elegant, with a very long finish indicative of fruit intensity. Altogether rather lovely, and promising a good finish. Angela and I both thought it very different in terms of open, youthful expressiveness from previous vintages, and Angela was a little disappointed; but not I.
The Platter panel declined to give this wine five stars, to my present regret (I wasn’t there on the day, incidentally). To me it’s a real top-flight example of this style of white blend in the Cape.
I’m generally an admirer of Nitida’s white wines, but the Coronata Integration 2012, also a blend of sem and sauv, seemed rather ordinary after Magna Carta. A good wine, certainly, lively and fresh and pleasant, but without the intensity and promise of the Constantia wine. Not a five-star wine in my opinion – but it did get the nod on the day. And at R115, not bad value.
Bosman Adama 2012, a little more at R125, is a Platter four-star wine, which seems to me about right. This in the “Cape white blend” style – a chenin-based mix with chardonnay, semillon, pinot gris and viognier, the last-mentioned reliably producing its typical pleasantly peachy, apricotty suggestions. The fruit, interestingly enough, from both Wellington (where the winery is) and Hemel-en-Aarde. Clean and fresh, but the acid not well integrated. Notably ripe fruit, and consequently less tension and less real intensity; a touch oaky in youth but it should outgrow that soon. Nice wine, but not all that interesting.
Much more enjoyable to me was Fairview Nurok 2012, a great buy at R95. Viognier is the largest component here, but it doesn’t show much more peachily than in the Adama; also chenin, roussanne and grenache. Lots of flavour, fresh despite being rich; good balance. Immediately appealing, but with some interesting spicy, earthy tugs making it something more than just charming; well supported by some oak, and nicely grippy. Another Platter five-star winner – but to my palate not as good as the Magna Carta which failed.