Adventurers are spoilt for choice

There are an awful lot of South African wines out there—about 7?000. It’s tempting to abandon adventurism and reach for another bottle of the same. An understandable desire for safety is the reason big brands thrive.

The best way to find something new and enjoyable is undoubtedly a recommendation by a friend with shared tastes, or some other tried and trusted source.
Competitions can reveal wines worth trying, as can the Platter Guide, with fewer surprises (good and ill) but more comprehensively. The 2012 edition of the guide is on the shelves at R160.

I must disclose an interest here, as a taster, editor and writer for the three months or so of the guide’s most frantic period of production—one of 15 tasters, in fact. It is enough to ensure that, despite a sincere striving for objectivity, a range of vinous aesthetics colours the results.

Inevitably, for example, I can’t agree with all the ratings (high and low) given by my colleagues and the feeling is surely mutual. It’s an ineluctable consequence of having to deal individually with all those 7?000 wines parcelled out between us. What generally happens with panels of tasters, as found in most big competitions, is that these differences of taste get averaged out.

There is no entirely satisfactory method of judging large numbers of wine on behalf of others—a sad conclusion applying also to the vexed question as to whether wines should be judged “blind”, as is usual in competitions, or judged knowing their identities, track records and likely development, as in Platter (except for the unsighted judging of the five-star candidates).

Although I can’t even agree that all the five-star wines—announced some months ago—deserve that status, I’m unreservedly enthusiastic about the Wines and Winery of the Year announced at the Platter launch last week.

The top white award went to Badsberg Badslese 2009, a stunningly good dessert wine. It’s the first time the honour goes to a former co-op; the first time to a winery in hot, inland Rawsonville in the Breede River Valley.

More expected as a winner, perhaps, is the Red Wine of the Year, Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve 2010, although it is unprecedented for a pinot noir to be so acclaimed. But this Franschhoek winery has become no stranger to applause in the decade of Gottfried Mocke’s rule over vineyards and cellar.

These results derive from voting in the five-star taste-off, but Winery of the Year is the editor’s choice and clearly based on performance. This year it was another Franschhoek producer, Boekenhoutskloof, which not only achieved five stars for its Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon Noble Late Harvest, but also won the “Superquaffer” award for the white blend in its great-value Wolftrap range.

Cellarmaster Marc Kent has led Boekenhoutskloof to an unprecedented number of five-star winners over the years and this recognition is richly deserved.

Recommended under R100 this week:
Paul Cluver Cabernet Franc 2009. Spicy, herbal and fragrant, balancing ripe richness with elegance. Good drinking now. A smart example of a variety sharing much with its close relative, cabernet sauvignon. And a bargain at R80, only from Woolworths.

Recommended under R50:
Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2011. This whole range from Boekenhoutskloof reliably offers carefully made, good-value wine—like this lightish, easy bottle of tropical and grassy refreshment. Closer to R40, if you’re lucky.

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