PHILIP VAN ZYL
Platter’s South African Wine Guide 2013
John Platter Ltd: Hermanus,
South Africa, 2012
1st ed., 2008 (first published in 2006 by Cheviot Publishing: Cape Town, SA, updated in 2009)
Not available in the U.S.
Kalahari.com (South Africa), R 169.00
SA Wines Online (United Kingdom), £ 14.99
Namibiana Buchdepot (Germany), E19.95
Reviewer: Nick Vink
Of course any book that covers wines and wineries in South Africa has to compete with the Platter Guide, an annual offering that scores and provides tasting notes on every wine that is commercially available in the country and provides useful information on each of the wine farms, where to stay and where to eat in the winelands. First published in 1980 by John Platter under the title John Platter’s Book of South African Wines, the first edition provided tasting notes on “over 1000 wines”, and came in at 156 pages. Now, 30 years later, the book is over 600 pages and covers literally thousands of different wines. The Platter Guide is not without controversy, as tasting is not blind until award winners are selected. During this process, the members of the tasting team identify what they regard as the best wines, which are then shortlisted and re-tasted by a panel, which then identifies what they regard as the best wines in a South African context, and these are awarded five stars. These days, the industry waits for the end-of-year announcement of the five-star wines with as much anticipation as the Oscars. The number of pages of the Platter Guide is probably as good a predictor of quantity in the South African industry: and the number of five star wines the most reliable predictor of quality.
Discerning readers will know that they have to benchmark their taste against the Guide, whose main virtue is consistency of opinion from year to year. Prefer a 31⁄2 star Chardonnay to a more expensive 41⁄2 star offering? The Guide allows you to identify every other 31⁄2 star Chardonnay on the market, and tells you where to find them. Want to indulge in a 5-star offering? Just make sure you get there early! Another handy feature of the Guide is the “Wines of the Year” section, where the 5 star wines are identified along with a “Superquaffer of the year” award, an “Exceptionally drinkable and well priced” selection and a “Buy now drink later” selection. There is even a section on other wine awards, including the “Top 100 SA Wines”!
Each entry in the Guide contains a plethora of information in the case of wine farms: location of the winery (together with GPS coordinates these days), when the winery was established, date of first bottling, trading hours, size of the farm and area under vineyards, other amenities (tourist attractions, restaurants, accessibility for the physically challenged), name of owners, name of winemaker and viticulturist where appropriate, length of their service and so forth. This is followed by a narrative section providing background to the farm, the current vintage, winemaking specifics, awards won, etc. Then the serious business of tasting, rating and annotating is recorded, with all wines at 4 stars and higher typeset in red to enable easier identification. Those with the patience to trawl through back copies of the Guide will end up knowing as much about a specific winery as it is possible to know: imagine 30 years of annotations about your favorite winey, be it Kanonkop or Meerlust (both awarded five stars for their Cabernet in the 1982 edition) or Simonsig, whose highest rating for a dry wine in the 1982 edition was three stars (but four stars for their “slightly sweet” Gewürztraminer) but now receive 4 and 41⁄2 stars for almost their entire offering.
The current print run is 40,000 per annum, and total sales are in excess of 1.4 million, an enormous number in the context of South Africa’s population and given that the Platter’s Guide is not available in the U.S. It is safe to say that the Guide has guided South African wine drinking habits for decades now, and it is hard to imagine the industry without it.
University of Stellenbosch