Book Review – Five Stars Again!
Platter’s by Diners Club International 2018 South African Wine Guide – John Platter SA Wine Guide (Pty) Ltd, 2018 – R260
I was more than pleased to get my hands on the latest edition of the ‘Platter’s Guide’ – to use the abbreviated title known by all wine enthusiasts – as my 2017 copy was falling apart from daily use. Worse, I had given the copy to my partner for Christmas and had used it far more than her. The book was my first Book Review and so it feels vaguely comforting to be writing about it again.
The numbers are impressive: the 2018 version is the 38th Edition; 8,000 wines from more than 900 producers are listed; and the Guide extends to over 650 pages. The size and format follows the trusted path to differ little from the 2017 Edition. It has near identical number of pages. The cover has seemingly ‘ripened’ in colour from forest or, should I say, vine green to garnet red, the shade of a Nebbiolo or a Sangiovese (much better than Habanero-red as Editor Philip van Zyl describes it).
The information given for each vineyard is comprehensive and, if the 2017 copy is anything to go by, extremely reliable, whether contact telephone/email details, website, opening times, GPS coordinates, amenities etc. That in itself is a huge undertaking alone. More still of course is the enormous task of the 14 Tasters who judge the wines and give their all important ratings and descriptions. The cross-checking and listing of individual entry; Summary Rating by Cultivar; ‘Buy Now, Drink Later’; Hidden Gems; Highly Recommended; and Wines/Wine/Winery of the Year is a massively complex and difficult editorial challenge too. I noticed too that the Guide (at page 10) sets out the judging process, from basic entry through to Wine of the Year. I do not recall seeing this laid out before and the transparency is welcome.
The opening section that discusses the Trends in South African Wine is one of the most interesting as it changes from year to year. The Editor has picked out the decline in the industry as it transitions for the future; concerns over climate change, drought and decreasing yields; domestic consumption and exports; old vines (interestingly, over 35 years is given as the determinant); the excitement of new blends and ‘niche’ cultivars as winemakers experiment; ‘deconstruction’ of grapes by soil type or even clone; and changing fashions in world winemaking. I was reassured if not flattered to read many parallels to the ‘Reflections in a Wine-Glass ©: Blend Trends piece that I wrote in June where I predicted the rise in popularity of ‘hybrid’ blends that cross the traditional Bordeaux/Rhone, France/Italy, and other combinations, as well as the rise and popularity of minor cultivars.
I find that some of the smallest sections in the Guide are the most used and the most useful. These are the pages at the back that cover Grape Varieties; Wine Styles; Wine Tasting and Winemaking Terms; and of course the maps. I would prefer the maps to be in some kind of logical order, whether alphabetical or geographic (even allowing for the different sizes of map for each region) as this is the least ‘user friendly’ – yet oft used – part of the Guide. As a result, I find myself repeatedly flicking through the maps to find the one I need. I would like too, as mentioned in January, a ribbon or two bound into the spine as bookmark/s. The pocket size of the Guide means that it does not easily rest open (unless the spine is showing the signs of wear of my 2017 copy) and I would gladly pay a little extra for this.
These, however, are but minor irritations to an otherwise excellent 2018 Guide. Like any reference book, consistency of structure and format makes for easiest use. I have no hesitation in awarding the Guide another 5 Star rating …. and look forward to spending much time together with over hundreds of glasses of wine.