Turning 40 deserves celebration, especially when achieved by something as niche as a wine guide. Platter’s South African Wine Guide, as it is now known, has also managed, to an extent, to withstand the digital onslaught and is still published in print, with an app also available.
When there were fewer wines and wineries to review, more space was devoted to stories of the farms, wines and winemakers; thus it was an excellent repository for a small piece of history of South African wine. Sadly, today there is little space for such details.
But how much of Platter is actually read? Most turn to the star ratings and maybe read the actual reviews of the wines. Do many even glance through the Editor’s note, Trends in South African wine or Our Method and The Accolades We Award, which now are part of the guide?
In recognition of Platter’s milestone, I’ve compiled a selection of John Platter’s notes and thoughts from the first ten editions, as well as extracts from the luminaries who wrote a Foreward. Significant introductions to the guide are also mentioned, as well as the first and other early five star awardees.
For those who cannot wait to learn this year’s results, page down to the end, but please do return to read the rest!
Preface – John Platter
This guide is intended for the average wine drinker, for the aspiring enthusiast – and for the confused; confused by the proliferation of wines with labels often bewilderingly vague about what’s inside the bottle.
The star system is NOT intended to indicate a wine without stars is inferior It is simply to praise those wines we do know. ..almost any yardstick is better than none and this guide would be the poorer without one.
Five stars – Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon; Nederburg Paarl Edelkeur
Revised 1982 edition
We are now witnessing the first of the Cabernet Sauvignon blends containing Merlot and Cabernet Franc – the traditional Medoc way.
At last we seem in reach of an important goal: to produce wines deeper and more complex in fruity flavours – unaccompanied by sweetness.
Until more farmers stop overfeeding and overwatering and overcropping their vines, the quality of our wines will never rise much above a good average. … Cape wines have reached nothing like their quality potential yet, partly because of the vast and stifling quasi-official interference.
The reception of the first edition … seems to show there are lots of average drinkers and/or aspiring enthusiasts out there ready to join the cause. Cheers.
1983 – Dave Hughes Foreword
But if we are to be frank about our dry whites, we must admit they are, with few exceptions, boring. … in the case of chardonnay, we must speed up matters and here the authorities have a crucial role. … among all the thousands of entries at the annual National Goodwood Wine Show in 1982, there was only one solitary chardonnay entry.
Elgin, Ceres, Walker Bay – these are among areas that might provide prospects for improved performances of such vines (cool-climate loving riesling, gewurztraminer and pinot noir). But production there is restricted.
Introduction of a General Index of variety/style
1984 – Jan Boland Coetzee Foreword
The impression I have is that we have produced and distributed wine without ‘selling’ it. The French .. ‘sell’ a story with every bottle.
It would be a great tragedy if the strides in quality were not matched by imaginative and fresh approaches … to loosen up and re-structure the industry .. to meet the challenges of the times ….
1985 – Author’s note
… we have modified our method of assessment and as a result a number of wines have a lower star rating than in previous years.
… the growing number of Cape wines vinified from inherently superior grape varieties, such as chardonnay and sauvignon blanc …, made it increasingly inappropriate to continue assessing wines by cultivar. A ‘very good’ chenin blanc would in the past receive four stars, the same as a ‘very good’ sauvignon blanc when the latter invariably was instrinsically a better wine. (Of course, John’s view of chenin has since gone through 180 °; see pp 46-47 in his book My Kind of Wine)
1985 – Peter Devereux Foreword
Times of change are times of high excitement. For many winelovers they are also times of confusion – old knowledge becoming obsolete, new labels arriving in the shops … How important, then to have an annual update like this .. an assembly of well-presented reference.
Five stars – Backsberg Cabernet Sauvignon; Delheim Edelspatz Noble Late Harvest; Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon & Paul Sauer Fleur 1982; Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon & Rubicon; Nederburg Private Bin R103 & Edelkeur; Overgaauw Tria Corda; Stellenryk Collection Cabernet Sauvignon; Vriesenhof Vintner’s Private Reserve; Welgemeend Estate Wine. (E&OE!)
1986 – Author’s note
More and more now, when you visit a cellar, after … tasting, the winemaker will wink confidentially and say: ‘Have we a few more minutes?’ He (Still very much ‘he’ in those days – AL) then .. pulls a cork or draws a sample. ‘Just something we’ve been trying on the side,’ he will beam proudly. Among such non-commercial wines I’ve tasted this past season are some absolutely superlative ones. In fact, they may outrank a number of the best mentioned in this book.
1986 – Nico Myburgh Foreword
The gentleman who first suggested … we have sufficient sunshine to justify not adding sugar could not have been a farmer himself, because he should have known that even in South Africa the elements do not always play ball. We are now forced to leave the grapes too long on the vines, with the result that they are over mature and have passed their peak.
We could do what the Italians do: use grape sugar (moskonfyt) to give us that extra 1 to 2 degrees of alcohol to make a really top wine .. when the weather lets us down.
1987 – Author’s note
In this latest 1987 edition we have had valuable assistance from Angela Lloyd, whose cheerful competence, whether before a computer or a glass, has lightened the load of preparing this much-expanded production. (It runs to 208 tightly-crammed pages, as compared with 119 very-spaced-out pages in the first edition – AL)
I am acknowledged as Contributing Associate Editor.
Foreword featured excerpts from previous editions
A wine’s rating
No star – the wine has not been assessed; (*) A star in brackets means a half-star; * – Acceptable; ** – Pleasant; *** – Good (to very good in its class); **** – Excellent; ***** – Superlative. These are personal ratings, made entirely in a South African context.
The first edition where wines rated **** and above were printed in red.
1988 – Author’s note
During this, the ninth annual marathon of tastings …, it’s become palatably clear that Cape wines at last are edging seriously towards world class and in the serious categories – Burgundies, both white and red. …only a tiny handful. But there can be no doubt … that South African wines will soon be a match for the finest of the Old and New Worlds.
We’re still releasing our reds and chardonnays too soon. The ‘elusive nuances’ of French classics take time to emerge.
The best reds and whites of just five years ago would today be considered very average.
1988 – Cecil Skotnes Foreword
I have loved dearly … Ronald Searle’s ‘Illustrated Winespeak’ amd Kingsley Amis’s ‘On Drink’. The latter’s great statement ‘you can commit to memory everything Lichine has to say about Gevrey-Chambertin and still have no idea whether you would like the wine – reading must be combined with as much drinking experiences as pocket and liver will allow’ has carried me through many meaningful moments.
1989 – Author’s note
The exercise is an exhausting pleasure; more than 3000 wines detailed, many of the re-assessed, with 230 new ones from this past season alone.
Perhaps the most exciting development … remains our chardonnays – even co-operative wineries will soon have them and are preparing to buy new French oak.
The odd contradiction in the ratings may be evident. Like all wine enthusiasts, I can be carried away here and there too, and shall spare readers any bogus apologies.
… we’ve tried to liven up the reading with numerous brief personal sketches of the winemakers, their vineyards, their methods and ideals ….. Date of establishment and current production in cases or tonnes are given where available.
South Africa, we’re told, has ‘the best average wines in the world’. It’s a put down that should not be allowed to stick.
… we must continue to hope the politics of apartheid do not forever starve our most gifted winemakers of world class competition, export markets and the stimulus of frequent international peer comparisons.
Boschendal’s Achim von Arnim and Twee Jongegezellen’t Nicky Krone have observed it would be meaningless to improve the quality of our wines without at the same time improving the quality of life of all who work in our vineyards.
1989 – Michael Fridjhon Foreword
The most accurate descriptions of all wines demand a certain poetic flair … Every wine is an historical artefact, the essence of a summer trapped in bottle.
John and Erica Platter are able to capture this essential truth without reducing the wines they describe to something sterile and two-dimensional.
Man of the Year is introduced – Nico Myburgh was the first honoured, posthumously.
1990 – Author’s note
Our first edition recorded one Cape chardonnay. There are now 40. And who would have guessed then that chenin blanc, the Cape’s reliable staple, would be overshadowed so rapidly and emphatically, as a dry white wine, by sauvignon blanc, which accounted for four labels then and 121 now. Only one methode champenoise sparkling wine featured in the first edition; there are now 17.
We were reckless enough to ignore the charming gentleman at the KWV who tried to dissuade us … from undertaking such a folly. He was chief at the time of the KWV’s public relations department, charged with spreading the word of wine. ‘Hopeless’, he said ‘that sort of book is outdated so quickly you’d have to keep re-writing it.’
The first edition described 1250 wines (on 119 pages at a cost of R6,95); today’s records about 4000 (on more than 300 pages, at a retail price of R17.95).
We thought it fair ten years ago to record two wines with a top five-star rating. A decade later we have none – though rather more at four-and-a-half stars.
But Cape wines will never be completely acceptable to a wider wine world (and not only abroad) until our political house in re-ordered. This is a task beyond the powers of wine producers. But it should never serve as an excuse to lag behind in the fields in which individuals can make an impact – labour relations, housing, wages, education.
Introduction of (colour) photos taken by Dennis Gordon.
Man of the Year was Etienne le Riche
1990 – Dr Danie Craven Foreword
I was brought up in an old-fashioned house where alcohol of any kind was to be avoided. … I had to travel to France, where a Springbok team was touring and where, of course, they are well-known for their wines. I told the Springbok manager that I intended to take wine with my meals but I did not, however, wish to have it at breakfast.
TOP PERFORMING WINERY OF THE YEAR
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR 2020
Peter Ferreira Cap Classique
AA BADENHORST FAMILY WINES
Kelder Steen 2018
Dassiekop Steen 2018
Magnetic North 2018
ANTHONIJ RUPERT WYNE
Laing Groendruif Semillon 2016
Cabernet Franc 2013
ARTISONS OF ARTISONS
The Mothership Chenin Blanc 2018
Chenin Blanc 2018
B VINTNERS VINE
Harlem to Hope 2018
BEAUMONT FAMILY WINES
Hope Marguerite 2018
Diesel Pinotage 2017
Cultellus Syrah 2017
CWG Auction Reserve Syrah 2017
Jacques Bruére Cuvée Brut Rosé 2011
BOPLAAS FAMILY VINEYARDS
Cape Vintage Reserve 2017
BOSMAN FAMILY VINEYARDS
Twyfeling Cinsaut 2017
Chenin Blanc 2018
CAPE POINT VINEYARDS
Capensis Silene 2017
CEDERBERG PRIVATE CELLAR
Mabalel Pinot Noir 2018
DAVID & NADIA
Chenin Blanc 2018
Plat’bos Chenin Blanc 2018
Hoë-Steen Chenin Blanc 2018
Skaliekop Chenin Blanc 2018
DE GRENDEL WINES
Elim Shiraz 2017
Cape Vintage Reserve 2017
DE TRAFFORD WINES
CWG Auction Reserve Perspective 2017
Elevation 393 2013
Cabernet Franc 2015
DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE
White Reserve 2017
Syrah Cuvée Ameena 2017
ERIKA OBERMEYER WINES
Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
Syrah-Grenache Noir-Cinsaut 2018
La Beryl Blanc 2018
Time Manner Place Pinotage 2017
Syrah on Shale 2017
Lady May 2014
GROOT CONSTANTIA ESTATE
Gouverneurs Reserve White 2017
HAMILTON RUSSELL VINEYARDS
HIDDEN VALLEY WINES
Hidden Gems 2016
JORDAN WINE ESTATE
CWG Auction Reserve Chardonnay 2018
Paul Sauer 2016
Black Label 2017
Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
KLEIN CONSTANTIA ESTATE
Vin de Constance 2015
KLEINE ZALZE WINES
Family Reserve Chenin Blanc 2018
Vineyard Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
KRUGER FAMILY WINES
Old Vines Chenin Blanc 2018
The Mentors Grenache Blanc 2017
Cape Tawny NV
Natural Sweet 2019
LE LUDE METHODE CAP CLASSIQUE
Vintage Magnum 2013
Radicale Libres Chardonnay 2014
Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2017
LEEUWENKUIL FAMILY VINEYARDS
Heritage Syrah 2017
Reserve White 2017
LONGRIDGE WINE ESTATE
Ou Steen Enkel Wingerd Chenin Blanc 2017
METZER & HOLFELD
Montane Chenin Blanc 2018
MILES MOSSOP WINES
CWG Maximilian Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
MOUNT ABORA VINEYARDS
Straw Wine 2018
Schist Syrah Roundstone 2017
Granite Syrah 2017
Iron Syrah 2017
Old Vines White 2018
NEIL ELLIS WINES
Amica Sauvignon Blanc 2018
OAK VALLEY ESTATE
Groenlandberg Chardonnay 2018
Sons of Sugarland Syrah 2018
PETER FERREIRA CAP CLASSIQUE
Blanc de Blancs 2012
RAATS FAMILY WINES
Eden High Density Single Vineyard Chenin Blanc 2018
Cabernet Franc 2017
Ava Chenin Blanc 2018
Ava Syrah 2018
Ava Marie Chardonnay 2017
Reserve Red 2017
RHEBOKSKLOOF WINE ESTATE
Sandstone Grove Chardonnay 2017
RICHARD KERSHAW WINES
Elgin Chardonnay 2018
Lower Duivenhoks River Chardonnay 2018
RICKETY BRIDGE WINERY
The Pilgrimage 2017
RUST EN VREDE WINE ESTATE
Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
Single Vineyard Syrah 2016
1694 Classification 2016
SADIE FAMILY WINES
Mev Kirsten 2018
‘T Voetpad 2018
Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Noirs Cuvée Camille
Full Circle 2017
Follow the Line 2018
Mount Bullet Merlot 2016
21 Gables Chenin Blanc 2018
54 Barrel Fermented Chenin Blanc 2018
Old Bushvine Chenin Blanc 2018
Ignis Pinot Noir 2017
Ignis Pinot Noir 2018
SUPER SINGLE VINEYARDS
Mount Sutherland Syrah 2016
Grenache Blanc 2018
THELEMA MOUNTAIN VINEYARDS
Merlot Reserve 2016
THISTLE & WEED
THORNE & DAUGHTERS
Rocking Horse Cape White Blend 2018
Noble Late Harvest 2017
Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2018
Director’s Reserve Red 2015
TRIZANNE SIGNATURE WINES
Sondagskloof Blanc Fume 2018
UPLAND ORGANIC ESTATE
Cape Tawny Port 2014
VAN BILJON WINES
VAN LOGGERENBERG WINES
GVB Red 2014
WADE BALES WINE CO
Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon 2017
WARWICK WINE ESTATE
The White Lady 2018