A Platters Wine Guide 2017 edition teaser
31 August 2016
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Welcome to Old Mutual Live Wine edition, on mobile, on digital, on demand. Thanks for listening, I’m Jenny Crwys–Williams. I hate to mention the word ‘Christmas,’ but I feel that I must. One of the books I most look forward to getting at the end of the year is the annual Platters Wine Guide. The 2017 edition which will hit us in November is in the process of being put together.
With wine tasters scoring, publishers tearing their hair out and printers screaming deadlines. Apart from a partridge in a pear tree, I thought it would be a good idea to whet your appetite for the annual treat of more wines than we can count within the pages of the guide.
JP Rossouw is masterminding the opus. JP, thanks so much for joining me, but give us a few clues. Because I’ve got the 2016 Platters Wine Guide and it is nearly 700 pages. Are you going bigger or maybe even smaller for the 2017?
JP Rossouw: Thanks for the intro Jenny, I think you totally understand the publishing cycle and the madness that is Platters at this time of the years. It’s a function of a burgeoning wine industry that Platters has grown so much bigger over the years since 1980 when John Platter released the first guide, which is a great sign. At the same time what we have noticed is that the industry broadly has hit a plateau in terms of new plantings. So there aren’t too many new wineries or new vineyards.
But at the same time wineries are also broadening their ranges and they’re introducing new wines all along the way. In short, we try to keep Platters not much fatter than it currently is. Sometimes we have to do clever things with design to achieve that. But I suspect the Platters 2017 will be of similar girth.
JCW: Well, I do remember being able to slip it into a pocket of my jeans and go looking around wines. But that was a long time ago.
JPR: Indeed, I do encourage everybody also to look out for the Platters app of IOS and Android, which is more jean friendly.
JCW: I suppose you could do that, but then you’ve got to keep in mind the size of the type, but there’s no way around it is there?
JPR: No, indeed, and the lovely thing, I must say, since I joined the Platters family and team; is that it’s amazing to be part of something that has a 36-years legacy. The shelves with all of the soldiers lined up, it’s a lovely thing.
A change in wine direction
JCW: It is, John Platter himself doesn’t look much older, but I suspect everyone around him is. Anyway, off they sold it and it’s just grown. You mentioned something a little bit earlier on about there not being all that many more new estates. But without a shadow of a doubt, there are new wines. Because I went to the Wine Fair, the Unusuals the other night. I’m knocked out by the different varietals that are creeping into the mainstream.
JPR You’re right Jenny, it’s a lovely time of exploration and of diversity in the winelands. I went to a very interesting discussion last night held by Ex Animo who represents a few wineries. One of the speakers spoke quite broadly to the subject of the challenges in modern Cape wine making, that climate change represents. That the imposition of building in Stellenbosch and in the winelands, more residential development.
All of those challenges and also the cost of winemaking which is hidden from the consumer to some degree. Except wine does get more expensive, but wine is a frightfully expensive pursuit. You really have to believe in it. There are easier ways to make money.
So the sum of it is that wines and wineries have to find new products. Not only for novelty sake, but also a variety that suits our climate and the changes in our climate and the terroir. The other part of it is that as we explore and as young winemakers come through the ranks, they’re interested in varieties that are more common to the south of Europe, which suit our terroir very well.
JCW: I think that’s absolutely right because if you look at some of the new ‘varietals’ a lot of them are from southern Europe, a lot of them are from Spain, some of them are from Portugal. I think that this is a growing trend. I’ve also noticed more Italian varietals.
JPR: Yes, that’s right, they completely suit our terroir. It’s just an interesting legacy that we did start off with very north European, the classic varieties. It’s taken us, well, wine is slow turning, you don’t make a decision and things change next year. I think that’s the evolution that we’re seeing now. Is that people are realising, winemakers are realising the duty and the interest in these varieties. That to us are quite novel, but to Europeans are ancient.
A stabilisation of the Swartland revolution
JCW: The growth of the Swartland, because for the last five or six years that has been kind of one of the biggest areas of growth. I think that stabilised itself as they try new ventures. I don’t think there’s a huge amount of growth there, correct me if I’m wrong, what are you finding?
JPR: No, I broadly agree. There isn’t a huge amount of growth. I think the change or the refocus on those interesting blocks and those older vines is still in the process of, our knowledge is deepening. Rosa Kruger runs an amazing project called Old Vines Project, that’s her goal in life. Is to find, to identify and to celebrate the oldest of our Cape vineyards. Many of them exist in these farms north Swartland and along the West Coast and in corners, in high valleys.
Interesting little pockets of farms which are historically mixed farming. Only because they were not taken in a sense as seriously as on a wine farm, did they just carry on ticking over for sometimes up to a hundred years. That’s what the Swartland has really done, is to identify interesting vineyard blocks and to make fascinating wine out of them. At the same time I think what they’ve branded Revolution has in a sense now stabilised.
JCW: All right, so the RCR regime is still going strong, which is wonderful. Because when you look at those old vines, they do look ancient don’t they? They are just doing their own thing, nobody prunes them much, they just kind of do their own thing.
JPR: Absolutely and part of doing their own thing, then you’re able to withstand these drought conditions that we experience.
Those illustrious gold stars
JCW: JP, I’m just looking at the current years John Platter’s Wine Guide, or the Platter Wine Guide. Of course the thing that everybody asks is, how many Gold Stars, how many stars are the wines going to get. Every year it does seem to change. But very often some similar wines, or the same wines get the starts. What is it looking like at the moment?
JPR: That’s something that I wish I knew, because then I could make some business decisions. But let me explain the process. Platters is interesting because we use a dual phase tasting process. The first is currently underway. Which you mentioned in your intro, is that the team of around 16 primary tasters assess up to 6 000 wines in a year.
They taste those wines and write notes according to the sighted methodology. Meaning, they have the wine in front of them, they know the wine, they see the label. The reason Platters does it that way is because firstly, it’s always done it that way. Secondly, for the reason that we believe sighted tasting allows you to winkle out and extract more information for the consumer.
We can actually place the wine and reflect on what the producers is intending to do with the wine. Because they send us their supporting information. For example, how it’s made. Therefore, the taster can assess whether the intent of the winemaker has been reflected in the bottle’s product.
The other reason to do a sighted tasting is that we can accurately, more accurately compare last year’s wine with the current years wine. For that reason we also rotate tasters only every three or so years. You taste that producer for three years concurrently. That’s the sighted tasting.
During the sighted tasting the taster writes the notes and also takes the wine at certain star rating. If the taster takes it at 4.5 stars or he/she says it’s 4.5 stars, possibly 5. Then that wine is introduced to the Wines of the Year blind tasting.
That tasting Jenny is happening next week, it’ll be the end of August. That is where we taste in panels and we use the blind methodology. Obviously meaning the wines are completely hidden in terms of their identity from the taster.
There the tasters taste in slights, they taste Shiraz in its own slight, Sauvignon Blanc in its own slight. They taste in panels of three and they score the wines in that style. Where they are being very, very focused only on quality in the bottle.
Last year, for the current guide that you have in front of you we tasted 630 wines blind and we emerged with just over 80 five star wines. I really can’t answer your first question, but that gives you an idea of how the process works.
Being a wine taster is extremely specialised
JCW: Also an idea of the complexity because over 600 wines. It is very, very difficult for a lay person to conceive of tasting over 600 wines, with a limited number of people.
JPR: Absolutely, it’s a running gag when you introduce yourself as a wine writer or a restaurant reviewer and everybody says: What a great job, I want it. It is a specialist talent and it’s something that people work very hard on.
Our tasters and our panel of Platters Wine of the Year tasting are professionals. They’ve all received qualifications in tasting wine and are certified and are very experienced. The ability to have up to 70 Shiraz’s in front of you, for example, and to taste those over the course of a day or two, it’s no small feat.
JCW: No, and what always absolutely astonishes me, when I’m with people who taste wines for a living is their memory. Because their memory goes back and they sort of root around for a minute and say: Well, 30 years ago I tasted something similar. But it was perhaps a little bit drier and whatever. It’s this memory that they seem to have.
JPR: Yes, that’s right. I think tasters in wine and in food who are the best, have that memory. They can draw on association and they can really put the product into context. That marks the difference.
JCW: Give us some idea of when it’s coming out, have you got your publishing date yet? I know the month that it’s coming out, but publishing date?
JPR Well, every year it’s a bit of a chicken and an egg because we hold our awards function, this year it will be at the end of October, on the 31st. I really, as a publisher, want that book to be on the shelf the very next day, ie the 1st of November. I put myself on the line now by expressing that wish.
But it will be in the first week of November, soon after the awards. Because as soon as those awards are out and the people know the five star wines, people want to know all the other results. They want to go out and find those excellent wines.
JCW: It sounds absolutely fantastic, so thank you very much indeed for speaking to us. I’m looking forward to seeing the 2017 edition. To get these podcasts and stream live, visit dogreatthings.co.za. See you next time. JP, thank you so much.
JPR: Thank you Jenny.
JCW: Really appreciate that, thanks. Bye.