Opinion, Rants, and Stories

Holding On To The Past: The Cape Vintner Classification


It made a dull thwack. A  thwack, full of bewilderment, confusion and wonder. It was the sound of my palm hitting my forehead.  Continue reading “Holding On To The Past: The Cape Vintner Classification”

Opinion, Rants, and Stories

In Defence of the Weird

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 by Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968


This post first appeared on WOSA’s Cape Chatter Blog

Reading was my first love. Before girls, before wine, before cricket. I use it to explain how, like wine, the more you know the more enjoyable it is. If the first glass of wine I ever drank was a brilliant Burgundy, or an excellent old South African Pinotage, there is no question that my enjoyment and appreciation would be less than it is today. Similarly, if I tried reading Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne when I was 12, I would not have understood very much. Continue reading “In Defence of the Weird”

Opinion, Rants, and Stories, Wine Reviews

Reverie Chenin 2012 (and some other ramblings)

REVERIEI love talking to winemakers. They are so wonderfully opinionated. And, most of the time, they have some sort of explanation for their opinions too. Whether it be philosophical, scientific, populist, or controversial, they all are damn sure they are right. Once you get a winemaker going – some will launch into their spiel, others you have to wind up – they take a lot of stopping. It’s great. I love hearing all of these opinions of wine, sulfites, acidity, the market, other winemakers, other regions, labeling, sugar content, new-oak, old-oak, Chenin, Pinotage, whatever. I love it because much of the time it makes me reconsider what I had previously thought on a subject. Only to speak to another winemaker and find myself disappearing down a different path of vinous contemplation.  Continue reading “Reverie Chenin 2012 (and some other ramblings)”


Prejudices and History: a trip to KWV pt. 1


One of the most fascinating and complex wine institutions in South Africa is the Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging or KWV. OK, I know they are no longer a cooperative, but that name, in Dutch, is retro-awesome. That last sentence should be read with the required amount of irony by the way. Anyhoo.

Continue reading “Prejudices and History: a trip to KWV pt. 1”

Opinion, Rants, and Stories

Some Recent Thoughts On The South African Wine Writing Scene

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 3.00.31 PM

I’ve been absent dear readers, absent-minded mostly, but also absent from this blog. My apologies.

I have ended my year or two stint writing weekly columns for 2oceansvibe.com, so I will hopefully now be able to focus my efforts back here. Not just for wine, because I have learnt a life of writing focused solely on wine is a life that will make you mad, and also poor.

Much has happened over the past year to South African fine wine. Mostly in that the rest of the world seems to be catching up on what our new crop of very very talented wine makers are up to.

It is delightful to see that we have wines that international wine journalists are now happy to use ‘cult’ before mentioning them. High scores in the important publications, entire columns in national British papers dedicated to us, South Africa, and our new talent. Delightful.

Continue reading “Some Recent Thoughts On The South African Wine Writing Scene”

Opinion, Rants, and Stories

Tracing Terroir: South Africa’s Wine of Origin System


Here’s a rather lengthy article I wrote for Classic Wine a couple months back. It turned into a sort of introduction to the South African Wine of Origin System. 

Of all the words used to describe, sell, and market wine, terroir is the one that causes the most frustration. It is a word that means much to hardened wine geeks, and little to those who just want a sweet rose. In South Africa the first stop on the journey understanding terroir is the Wine of Origin System, but how useful is the system to understanding terroir and fine wine?

Continue reading “Tracing Terroir: South Africa’s Wine of Origin System”


For the Record

Here’s my response to Pendock’s comparison of his and Platter’s guide. I am not affiliated to Platter in any way shape or form, I just feel Pendock’s insinuations and veiled accusations of corruption in Platter should be addressed. I have used Platter on countless occasions, and while I do not always agree with its ratings it is the most useful publication on South African wine. 

Pendock writes:

1. John Platter no longer tastes for the guide, having been replaced by a committee of nearly two dozen tasters including importers, educationalists, sommeliers, commentators and retailers.  Neil Pendock is himself and Aníbal Coutinho, winemaker and buyer for Portuguese supermarket chain Continente.

Alright, there is a difference here. It is not as if Platter covers up for this and it is very clear ‘Platter’ is a brand. Open up Platter and it’s obvious who tastes what. Nothing dodgy here.

2.Pendock insists on tasting blind.  Platter tastes sighted, recommends a handful for the ultimate honour and then re-tastes them blind and calls it a blind tasting.

The 5 star tasting is tasted blind. The tasters do not know which wines are which although they would have an idea that some wines are in the line-up somewhere. Platter is not misleading anyone when they say the five star tasting is blind.

Blind tastings have their own issues, especially when you only have two tasters. You are getting what two people prefer, rather than any attempt at objective results. This is fine, but should also be made clear.

Also, tasting sighted gives the tasters the ability to judge a wine over various vintages. Is it perfect? No. Is it useful? Yes. Can the same be said of blind tasting? Of course.

3. Platter has wines shipped at producer’s expense to tasters.  Pendock travels to appellations and tastes them in situ, even paying wine routes to organize blind tastings, in some cases.

If wineries feel the fee to be included in Platter is exorbitant I would like to hear it. It’s great that the Pendock guide does not charge. As a criticism I would need it  explained to me how the fee skews results. If it did, nearly every competition I can think of would also be at fault. If it doesn’t, why bring it up?

4.Platter accepts paid-for advertisements from restaurants, B&Bs, retailers and producers; Pendock does not.

If this is a criticism of Platter, the insinuation is that these advertisers somehow sway ratings and results. I would expect some evidence if this is the case. Having chatted to a number of tasters asking how they go about assessing wines for Platter, the idea of an advertiser influencing them seems ridiculous at best. If it is not a criticism, again, I wonder why he brings it up at all.

5. Platter accepts wines made from grapes grown in multiple appellations.  In a quest to pin down regionality, an important component of terroir; Pendock does not.

Fair enough. Platter is not a guide to terroir, I have never thought it was. If Pendock’s guide goes some way to helping understand terroir in a South African context I will be delighted. We will wait and see.

6. Platter rates non-vintage wines; Pendock does not as the consumer has no way of knowing which one was tasted.

This is tricky, and Pendock avoids the issue by not tasting the wines. The Platter guide’s assessment of these wines is hardly an attempt to screw the consumer. Surely non-vintage wines are an attempt at consistency by the producer. As platter tasters taste the same producers’ wines for a number of years, the system works well for keeping up with NV wines from year to year. Again, this reads as a criticism of Platter, but I don’t understand how it is.

7. Platter rates tank and barrel samples; Pendock does not as the consumer has no way of knowing if the finished wine will taste like the sample.

As far as I can tell, when a barrel or tank sample is tasted it is made clear in the Platter guide. Would you rather have a suggestion at what the wine is going to be like or nothing at all? Also, the producer has the choice of submitting a tank or barrel sample or not. So really, it is trying to assist the consumer rather than screw them as Pendock makes out.

8. Apart from a good-value swoosh, Platter disregards retail prices; Pendock ranks wines within an appellation by price.

Good for Pendock. I do not see how price has anything to do with quality, so this has no effect on the ratings themselves. Do consumers prefer it? If they do they should buy Pendock’s guide.

9.Platter gives  ★★★★★ to a couple of CWG Auction wines which is totally ridiculous as the auction is ancient history and the wines are not commercially available; Pendock does not.

I am happy to see how the CWG wines are judged by Platter. What if a consumer sees a bunch of CWG wines in a restaurant and would like to see what other tasters have thought of the wines? They will not be using Pendock’s guide, that’s all I can say.

10. Platter is sponsored by Diners Club.  Pendock is not.

So? Again this seems to be another insinuation of corruption by a sponser, if so I would like some evidence. If not, who cares?