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Tuesday, January 13, 2015


Over the past 35 years Platter’s South African Wine Guide has become the basic reference book for all involved in the making, sale and consumption of wine.

The first edition, published in 1980, ran to 119 pages and listed 1,250 South African wines. The newly published 2015 edition has 646 pages and lists more than 7,000 wines from 96l producers. It sells at R195.

Wine writer John Platter started the guide and ran it for many years. It is now owned by a company linked to Diners Club.

The guide gives address details and brief descriptions and histories of all South Africa’s producers, most of them in the Western Cape. And it gives assessments, on a one-star to five-star basis, of the wines.

These quality judgments are made by a panel of 15 experienced and fair-minded connoisseurs.

It is worth noting, however, that their verdicts are based on “sighted” tastings, not the “blind” tastings practised by many amateur wine enthusiasts. In other words, the expert knows in advance the name of the wine and, perhaps more pertinently, how much it costs, roughly anyway.

In a foreword the editor of the guide, Philip van Zyl, says that sighted tastings give the tasters the chance to learn as much as possible about the wines allocated to them and enable them to give a better assessment of the wines.

Maybe. It also saves them from looking silly by giving low marks to very expensive wines or high marks to very inexpensive wines.

In any case, preferences in wines are highly subjective. Every consumer will make up his or her own mind. And this book does give valuable comments about the taste and aroma one can expect from a wine, and it does give a generally good idea of the quality.

Incidentally, the 11 wines of the Obikwa range, which are sold in more than 40 countries and offer (in my view) the best value in South Africa, are given 10 lines in the guide. Much more space is devoted to Strydom Vintners and Webersburg Wines. Never heard of them? Neither had I. – Michael Green