THE wine industry's rankings machine has cranked into its year-end action, with the Veritas show results and the Platter Five Star awards announced in the same week. Since both operate along largely complementary routes, they cannot be expected to produce identical outcomes. Veritas - like other wine competitions - depends on what has been entered by producers. The Platter Guide, on the other hand, reviews all the South African wines likely to be available for sale in the year ahead.
Show judging is about blind tasting. The Platter system, however, is something of an amalgam: a first round - tasted sighted - by judges whose names are clearly indicated at the end of the entry in the g uide, followed by a panel blind tasting of the five-star candidates.
Both systems have their merits and their flaws. Show judging - however well managed - depends on a panel dynamic. Veritas works with groups of seven at a time so there is the inevitable averaging effect of committee decisions. All blind tastings have the virtue of stripping the wine of its marketing message, but all are wholly dependent on how the wines taste on the day. Young wines can be "moody", presenting well on one occasion and tasting "dumb" the next. Without any sense of a wine's pedigree no allowance can be made for this difference in performance. The great Don Bradman, who only needed to score four runs in his final Test appearance to achieve a century average throughout his career, was bowled for a duck. If you had been a spectator at that game, you would have concluded he wasn't much of a batsman.
Show judging is best at assessing how well a wine has been made, rather than how it is likely to turn out. (For this you would need to know more about its provenance). This doesn't always matter: most wine buyers are not looking any further into the future than a few days.
Glimpsing at this year's Platter and Veritas Double Gold laureates, you would be forgiven for thinking they were passing judg ment on two completely different wine industries. There are 45 Platter Five Star winners, and roughly the same number of Veritas Double Golds. If you try to find the same wine on both lists, you will see only Nederburg Eminence 2010, Strandveld Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Graham Beck Chalk Board Cabernet 2007, and the Boplaas Cape Vintage (port) 2009.
The Platter Five Star laureates are often made by smaller producers, many of whom steer clear of Veritas. For example, two of this year's top Platter wineries - Boekenhoutskloof and Mullineux - generally don't enter competitions. Still, with only four wines identified as world class by both selection processes, it's easy to understand some of the cynicism about show results.
KWV emerged as the top cellar at the this year's Veritas awards. In fact, it won more Double Golds and Golds than any other producer in the show's history. This turnaround in KWV's fortunes was certainly evident at the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show earlier this year. There is also a KWV wine among the Platter Five Star laureates, for the first time since 1986. While the actual Veritas Double Gold winners weren't on either the Platter or the Trophy Wine Show lists, it is clear KWV is again making very good wine. It is equally true, from the wealth of awards in the limited edition ranges of Nederburg and Fleur du Cap, that the same is true here. In fact, it makes sense to use the Double Golds and Gold medal lists as a kind of confirmation about the brands, rather than the wines themselves. There are enough Delaire, Flagstone, Bon Courage, Cederberg, Graham Beck, Kanonkop and Nuy wines listed to instil a degree of confidence about the wine-making, if not about the wine judging.
. www.veritas.co.za . www.wineonaplatter.com
. Fridjhon tastes for Platter and the Old Mutual Trophy Wine Show and has been a judge at Veritas.