Typical Cape Town July, perhaps – last weekend was really wintry while today, after a week of rain and sunshine, was shirt-sleeve warm. Also typical is that the pile of boxes of Platter samples is building up, with my tasting rate now outmatched by the inflow of wines.
I do move quite slowly sometimes – occasionally I undoubtedly dither: amazing how important a half-star added or removed can seem. I had an email from a producer earlier this week asking asking if it would be possible for me “to let the wines breathe and access them over a day to see them develop”. I was pleased to be able to reply, a bit ponderously, with just a hint of superciliousness that “It is always my practice with serious wines to taste them over at least two days to see how they develop with air (for good or ill). This is the big advantage of this sort of tasting compared with big line-ups in competitions.” I confess I was quite pleased to add that last sentence, as this is a producer that tends to do well in competitions.
It’s sometimes startling how significantly a wine can change over a day or so. Just this morning, I retasted a pair of wines – far from grand ones – that I’d been fairly confident giving three stars to yesterday. The aeration had relaxed them, opened them up, revealing qualities I hadn’t discerned before (maybe I should have), and I was happy to give them an extra half-star each.
Sometimes I continue dithering, especially when I want to bring a rating down from what a previous vintage has scored – sometimes given by another Platter taster, sometimes not. It’s certainly not unknown for me to have worries at 3AM about whether I’d been unfair, and then I must find and open the second bottle (though not at 3AM) and start the dithering again. A second opinion from another Platter taster is another route to resolution. (And I mustn’t get sidetracked by thinking what an absurd process this scoring wines might well be!)
I opened a reserve bottle a few days ago for another reason. I take most of my opened samples to the place where I have a morning job and hand them out to a bunch of people who are not all the most discriminating palates in the world. But one young woman is clearly genuinely interested and alert, and I over to her a bottle of what I’d decided was a poorish wine, because she said she knew the producer and had enjoyed previous vintages. (I didn’t tell her my opinion, of course.) Later she came back with a more positive report than I was expecting, so I opened my second bottle, briefly resumed dithering, and decided the wine deserved the benefit of the doubt – only another half-star, however. I’m not usually affected in my judgement by the feedback I get on my handed-out samples – though it can be quite disconcerting to hear what “ordinary winelovers” think about a wine when that opinion differs strongly from mine. But such is the nature of the business, I’m afraid.
A second brief email correspondence this week started at my end. A syrah (expensive, rather good) had been corked. I thought I should let the winemaker know. It was that really dangerous sort of cork-taint, where the wine is not rendered awful and no one would have a problem sending it back at a restaurant; this one was just slightly affected aroma- and taste-wise, and the flavours dulled; most likely, unless you knew the wine, you’d just drink it and make sure you don’t buy another bottle ever again, and maybe avoid the producer – that’s the problem from the producer’s point of view. Fortunately I had the second bottle and the taint was clearly a one-off thing.
This was my first corked wine this year (though not the first time I’d checked the second bottle). I remember also that last year I reported on how many more agglomerated corks I was finding (top-end ones rather than cheap ones; mostly Diam). On my smallish sample so far this year, they are again extremely well represented – and perhaps I’ve also been finding more screwcaps than before (but I’m not sure about that – it might just be coincidence).
The interesting thing in this case was that this winemaker uses natural cork only for his most prestigious few wines, and has been using Diam for the rest for the last three vintages. When he replied to my email he said that “it has been a bit of a process with getting used to the closure both from a production point of view and looking at how they are received by customers”. But, he added, his international agents clearly prefer the agglomerated corks, so he’s abandoning solid cork and moving over entirely to them.
But this is the time of year when I myself have a clear preference for screwcaps (though I’m generally a ditherer about closures too – and rather regret that those Vino-lok glass stoppers don’t seem to be making any headway). Tinkly and trivial the screwcaps may be, but when you’re opening a bunch of wines, resealing them and reopening them as you dither, metal is clearly the thing.