It’s just a Guide...

Yeah right! Tell that to the South African wine producers which get 4½ stars... or those which get 3 stars and aspire to the bragging rights that 4 stars would give them.

The first week in November saw the release of the 40th annual Platter Guide to South African wines, now published under the Diners Club International banner, as it has been for the past few years.

(Eagerly anticipated every year, the 40th edition
of the 2020 Platter’s is Karoo Night Sky)

So what does the edited highlights package for this issue hold? Quite simply an astonishing fourth Winery of the Year for Swartland producer Mullineux, along with five 5 star wines and two category winners with their Vin de Paille and 2017 vintage Granite Syrah. But is it really a surprise since the husband and wife team of Chris and Andrew Mullineux are so very focussed on terroir and quality? (And the timing of this success could not have been better since a terrible traffic accident saw a delivery truck loaded with a large chunk of Mullineux’s annual production of Old Vines White wiped out just weeks earlier!)

Chris and Andrea Mullineux are flanked by JP Rossouw, publisher of the Platter guide
Ethel Nyembe (Head: Card Issuing Standard Bank) and Esh Naidoo (Managing Director Diners Club Pan Africa)

Hard to believe that he falls into the Newcomer of the Year category after 30 years at the helm of Graham Beck’s bubbly production, but Pieter Ferreira was singled out for the maiden release of his eponymous Cap Classique sparkling wine.

But probably the most quietly significant top award went to Boekenhoutskloof winery of Franschhoek, the Editor’s Award. In his preamble to the announcement Platter’s editor Philip van Zyl highlighted the problem that South Africa still has with producing top quality wine in commercially significant quantities – something that this winery is able to do with its 100 000 case The Chocolate Block. (But then it also has Porcupine Ridge, The Wolftrap, Porseleinberg, Cap Maritime and The Vinologist as well as Boekenhoutskloof’s stellar wines in the fold too.)

Platter’s publisher JP Rossouw, left, with Marc Kent of Boekenhoutskloof
and Ethel Nyembe (Head: Card Issuing Standard Bank) and Esh Naidoo, the Managing Director of Diners Club: Pan Africa.

“(It is) further testimony to how the overall range spans a number of quality and price levels – notably producing good and even numerous 5-star wines in large enough quantities to be extremely significant, something still comparatively rare in South Africa,” Van Zyl wrote.

A quick scan of the various producers which won wines of the year accolades for being the best in their category reveals worthy winners, names which are recognised in trendy wine bars an boutique wine outlets in London as much as they are on shelves in Joburg or Cape Town: Sadie Family Wines (also five 5 star wines), Rall, Storm, Raats, The Foundry, Delaire Graff, Tokara to name but a few.

These are undoubtedly world class wines – but with few exceptions are also made in very small volumes. Any wine enthusiast will be more than happy to lay their hands on a bottle or two but that’s about it. So to be able to produce The Chocolate Block in significant volumes and take it to market – locally and internationally – is a feat to be emulated.

Publisher JP Rossouw did a quick trip down memory lane highlighting a few factoids from each decade of the guide’s publication. 1980, he said, was sold for the princely sum of R6.95! (Recommended retail price for this edition is R295.) One fact which provided some amusement was that just 1 000 wines were reviewed – and there was a single example of Chardonnay in the maiden publication. The popularity of the noble white grape was illustrated by the fact that just one decade later in 1990 there were 40 Chardonnays in the guide. There are comfortably hundreds, both wooded and unwooded, in the 2020 edition...

Overall 125 wines and one brandy (a stonkingly good 99-pointer from the KWV!) achieved 5 stars out of the more than 8 000 wines assessed for the 2020 guide. Consumers should take heed of the fact that Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir, Cinsaut, Semillon and even Viognier (for only the second time in the history of the book) were singled out for Wine of the Year accolades. It’s significant that the country’s vinous mix now comfortably goes beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pintoage, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

On the evidence of that one Chardonnay 40 years ago, we could soon look forward to Assytiko, Nero d’Avola, Vermentino and other grapes joining their ranks.

In this age of instant information and superfast access to ratings and opinions, the Platter Guide remains relevant. For 40 years it has provided a snapshot of the state of the South African wine scene through its sighted and blind tastings. Long may it continue to do so.

Fiona McDonald
(Declaration: Fiona is one of the team of 12 who taste for the Platter Guide).