Platter OpenForum – a milestone event.

Just came back from attending the interesting Platter OpenForum re the road ahead for the most important wine guide in South Africa. The owners and publishers of the Platter guide set up an forum which was attended by well over 200 interested parties – most of them winery owners or winemakers/wine marketeers.

We are fortunate to have such a great South African wine guide available, but there are always folks left unhappy with the outcomes every year.

The editor, Philip van Zyl explained in detail how the current Platter process works. He also gave some good insight into their view of the changes that would improve the Platter guide going forward. Their process is based on a sighted tasting by a single judge. To his credit Philip did not try to debate the merits of sighted vs blind tastings, but rather explained their context and the specific instructions to the judges they work with.

There is enough evidence out there to show that both formats have their pitfalls. Standford University published the results of a key study re the impact of price on a wine’s perception last year. Another four year study by retired Humboldt State professor Robert Hodgson( mentioned by Philip), looked at the effectiveness & accuracy of tasting panels in California and showed that even blind tastings were not perfect due to the human fallibility factor.

I personally agree with some of the audience comments raised re moving to a 2 person tasting team per winery vs the current single taster. Tastes vary and with one person you may hit the jackpot or strike out. I also think Philip’s suggestion to do more of the tastings at the winery, with the winemaker and/or owner present, is a good one given the overall context they are aiming for.

An interesting example of the contrasts comes from a local winery who scored less than 80 out of 100 for all of their wines in a major US publication’s blind tasting, but got 4 or 4.5 stars for the same wines in Platter. How in the world can that be ?? The truth probably lies somewhere in between!

My personal view and belief is that the consumer’s view is most important. Why not look at how one gets their votes in and counted ? If you look at the travel world, it is clear that many tourists prefer their peer’s reviews on the highly successful vs that of a journalist who spent some time their on a freebie.

Maybe it is time for :-)

Philip did reveal that making the Platter information available on the likes of iPhones, Blackberries and similar 3G devices, was coming soon. The US based Wine Spectator recently started offering mobile access to their wine review database too. This is really great news for a few reasons:

  • You won’t have to lug the 600 page book with you all over and look like a real wine nerd in the process!
  • It will definitely make it a lot easier to start gathering consumer ratings – look up a wine on your PDA, drink it and rate it! Consumers do this for many other products and services today, so is not a new concept and it makes a lot of sense.
  • Global access – more South African wines are consumed overseas than in SA nowdays – this will make the Platter guide info available to so many more people and I am sure there is a good revenue model to support the digital media move

Once you have all the Platter info online (including consumer ratings & possibly other competition results), you could expand it to some new directions. Eg. a restaurant (or someone else) could upload a winelist and the consumer could review it in context of the Platter info, peer ratings etc.

Embracing the digital world is a brave and very important step for the Platter guide and I look forward to see how it evolves over the coming years!

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5 Responses to Platter OpenForum – a milestone event.

  1. Neil Pendock says:

    My problem with sighted tastings is not that they’re sighted per se, but rather who does the ratings.

    The current Platter line-up includes retailers, commercial winemakers, highly paid consultants etc.

    How can they be objective? Recusing yourself from wineries that pay you doesn’t work as retailers have a position about every wine they stock. Ditto for commercial winemakers.

    Sighted tastings are fine for independent judges.

    I’m with Dirkie Christowitz (Monis cellarmaster) who tastes blind as “I don’t want to bullshit myself.”

  2. Pingback: Platter's Wine Guide Open Discussion Forum | Backsberg

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  4. Grant says:


    There’s an old saying that “wine always tastes better in the company of the winemaker.” I don’t think there is a perfect solution to this issue, but I would argue that a critic/reviewer would be less likely to write an objective assessment of a wine if he/she were forced to do so in front of the winemaker or winery owner.

    As for the matter of judges being people who are involved in the trade, where else are we going to find experienced palates who have the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff? In reality there are very few tasters who understand wine well enough to be able to correctly identify faults and to make comparitive judgement across a wide range of wines- those that can tend to be at the coalface of the wine trade. I would rather have an experienced taster assessing my wines than to pass the responsibility onto a neophyte who qualifies for the job merely because they have never come in contact with anyone in the wine industry.

    As I said, there is no perfect system, and this debate will rage on until long after we have all turned up our toes. Cheers.

  5. James says:

    As a wine taster I find that one important aspect of wine is that it does have a technical side. This is of essential value to the consumer, who should in my opinion be the beneficiary of all this wine tasting. Just one example is Brett, an effect on wine that can make it attractive at times but can reduce a maturing wine to a bitter, fruit deprived mess. Wine is made from fruit after all. Therefore the need for expertise and continuous exposure to wine and all aspects thereof, including wine makers. If we cannot be direct and honest in the face of the winemaker we are in trouble. Therefore the idea of sip advisor above is flawed. There is no expertise required to judging a place to stay only an opinion. Wine tasting comes from an informed opinion as well as significant experience.

    Objectivity is impossible due to many well noted factors, i.e. preference. As a trained taster it is paramount to me to access what the producer is attempting to achieve with his wine and then judge accordingly. So the wine is broken down to basics and re-built to what it, either a commercial offering or a serious wine, done well or badly. The consumer then informed accordingly. So whichever ways one tastes, blind or sighted, paradigms apply that require expertise and experience.

    Wine tasting is always only a vehicle to guide and never an absolute. Enjoy the options!

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