Life, as I’m sure everyone appreciates, isn’t lived in a straight line; sure, day succeeds day, but within that steady progression there are troughs and peaks, sometimes random, sometimes occurring almost simultaneously.
These last few weeks has resembled a yoyo of such troughs, starting with the death of my husband, made more traumatic as it happened at the busiest end of Platter tastings, which themselves led into two days of extreme concentration over the five star tasting (more about that anon) and, perhaps the inevitable inability of my immune system to cope, with the result I went down with what my doctor described as the worst case of shingles he’d seen this year. Reading up on Google, it seems I have a further three weeks or so for the rash to disappear and perhaps longer for the soreness. Ugh, believe me, it’s not a virus you want to know.
But there has been a peak and what a memorable one.
Paul and Caroline, my step-children as well as Paul’s wife, Marilyn, came from their different parts of the world for the funeral and to help me in the first stage of clearing up (never wish for a hoarder partner!). We felt it fitting to have a special meal the evening after the funeral, so I cooked a loin of lamb, roast potatoes and homegrown peas and delved into the cellar where I knew exactly which wine to choose to accompany them.
Groot Constantia Shiraz 1974 was sublime; as I lifted the cork, still very much in one piece, the gentle fragrance wafted, full of comforting sweet fruit. Without any sense of showiness, it endured, in the flavours too which maintained amazing freshness in their evident maturity. Even by the end of the evening, there was no tiring; in its own placid, calm way, this shiraz kept evoking so many happy memories.
The 1970s was the era of queuing once a month on a Wednesday morning at Groot Constantia for the permitted one case. Supply was limited; in 1976 total production was 10 000 cases, demand high and it was boom time for red wines, so the queue was inevitably long. Nonetheless, we secured our case of Shiraz most years in the 1970s (bottles of 71, 75 and 76 still in their sleeves attest to that). It became our Christmas wine, a valued bottle being opened with our festive meal. Vintage 1974 had other significance; it was the year we married and, of course, the greatest vintage of the decade.
I wonder whether any 2015s will still be singing quite so sweetly on their 42nd anniversary? It is a vintage that has so far the whisper of ‘vintage of the decade’ about it and with the increasing approach by winemakers of ‘less is more’, longevity is likely. I was lucky enough to chair the chenin blanc panel for the Platter 5* tasting (as well as the pinotage and a few other, small categories). We must’ve tasted in the order of 54 chenins, all scoring 4.5* (or between 90 and 94/100), with a good many nominated as 5* (95 and over). This method of including all 4.5* wines was first adopted last year; although it adds to the tasting load, it does help to iron out degrees of generosity or tightfistedness displayed by the tasters.
The Loire might be chenin’s original home and producer of brilliant and long-lived wines, but surely South Africa is owed a huge debt for bringing the grape’s glorious versatility and quality to wider attention.
There was barely a wine of those 54 which didn’t deserve to be there; showing restraint wasn’t easy but our eventual bunch of 5* all deserve their starry status. Usefully, too, we pretty much agreed. In a new move this year, after reading out our scores and discussion, we were given the ‘at home’ taster’s score (the taster who had rated the whole range, sighted); not his or her name, as the whole 5* exercise is blind, just the rating. This was of help in case we’d given the wine a 90/100, as opposed to the original taster’s 95/100, or vice versa. I think this development again illustrates Platter is not a competition, but a guide, compiled with as much fairness and objectivity as it humanly possible.
Expect the results to be announced towards the end of October.