That’s it, Platter wrapped for another year, the 30th for me. For a while, there’s a strange void; I keep looking around for a battalion of bottles waiting to be assessed!
Working backwards through the past few months, last week, eight teams of three spent two days pouring over the 600-odd wines rated 4.5* to wheedle out the ultimate 5* winners. This is a change from previous years, when only wines nominated for five stars went forward.
Is this new approach a good thing? Yes and no. A wine not nominated for 5* by one taster might be deemed worthy for that rating by the panel but the system akso encourages laziness and indecision.
The panel I chaired tasted cabernet and noble late harvests the first day, followed by Cape white blends the second. Believing we should all start on the same page, we first discussed what constitutes a 5* wine. Cabernets have to be ageworthy so well-structured but not over-extracted or with too much oak for the fruit, which should be fresh but ripe and not so ripe that one is left with an alcohol glow. As most of the cabs tasted were young, we ensured each got a fair ‘hearing’ by each taster starting at different points of the line up: first to last, last to first and from the middle. This is about as fair a way as possible to judge a large number of wines.
Pin point sugar/acid balance and enough botrytis for the classification but not so much that it swamps the fruit were our agreed requirements for Noble Lates. It’s actually a category less easy to get right than one may think.
I was paticularly looking forward to the Cape White Blends (ie anything that’s not a sauvignon blanc/semillon blend), many chenin-based. Viognier too is often included and can easily become a tall poppy; it needs an experienced hand to get it right. Blowsy and oily are out; subtle, in tune with the other varieties, and fresh are what we looked for. Given not only the often eclectic mix of varieties involved, but many varying vinification methods, including skin contact, texture too plays an important role. As may oak, but without grabbing the spotlight.
Beyond these specifics, I’m conscious of a difference between intensity and concentration; the former more associated with power, which tends to have an immediate impact on the palate but little length, the latter with nuance and a long finish.
Beyond these details, we were looking for killer wines! I hope our pre-tasting discussions have borne plenty of good fruit!
Wines of the year – white, red and, for the first time in years, dessert – were decided by the team as a whole and selected from those in the 5* line up that scored 97 or 98. Bearing in mind all the different varieties and styles being judged, it’ll be fascinating to see which has proved the most popular; there was definitely more than one contender in each category.
My overall impression is that we’re doing better generally with whites than reds, with the proviso that 2014 has thrown a spanner in the works, especially but not contained to sauvignon blanc and affecting even the best of producers. Some of the more serious 2014 reds from that vintage should start appearing next year; I’ll be watching them with interest.
Thanks to editor, Phil van Zyl’s policy of assigning a range of producers to each taster, I got to open many different containers; from a 1 litre with a screwtop and peel off tab underneath, bag-in-boxes from 1 to 5 litres, screwcaps and a variety of corks (but no synthetics). My conclusion is that there is no perfect closure.
I was particularly frustrated by the boxes: piercing the perforated outside often required more than finger pressure; then extracting the tap and securing it safely was also a mission. On one occasion, the whole tap came off, spraying me with (thankfully, white) wine. Surely b-in-b technology has advanced sufficiently to give us containers that are safe but less of a struggle to open? Those 1 litre screwtop with peel off tab also require some sort of degree to open and pour without dousing oneself.
Screwcaps have their own problems when the thread refuses to break, leaving no option but to remove the whole capsule.
Diam represented by far the majority of cork closures. I thought they had overcome the problem of the cork’s inflexibility, which made it a devil to replace in the bottle, but that was exactly the problem I found with one producer’s entire range.
Natural cork – hurrah – performed well for me; just one corked table wine and one fortified (closed with what I’ve read is called a T-bar – a cork with an attachment on top, which one twists and pulls to open).
Of course, it’s not always the closure that’s at fault; the other day I heard a scary story about the varying diameter of the top of screwcap bottles, which according to the producer’s specs can vary as much as 5mm. It might not sound a lot, but can play havoc at bottling.
The ‘closure’ of Platter – the guide’s launch in a few months, with announcement of the 5* wines, wines of the year and winery of the year – will hopefully be a lot less problematic!