Wine Blogs

Wine blogs are canaries in the coal mine of wine appreciation. SA has several. The pioneer is Gulp! updated most Fridays by WINE magazine editor Christian Eedes, in spite of counter claims by Cathy van Zyl for her own Cathy’s Wine Blog hosted on the Grape website Gulp! has had its fair share of controversies with the most recent a suggestion that two high ratings by international magazines for a wine made by a pair of wine-growers, one black, one white, was some kind of affirmative action assessment. Tricky as the ratings were made blind.

Back at Grape, the most controversial contribution is an occasional anonymous gossip column called The Widow, penned by two Platter’s wine guide associate editors Tim James and Cathy van Zyl and senior Platter’s taster Angela Lloyd.

mario Wine Blogs

On the subject of anonymous blogs, Manhattan celebrity chef Mario Batali (shown above) sums it up nicely: “many of the anonymous authors who vent on blogs rant their snarky vituperatives from behind the smoky curtain of the Web. This allows them a peculiar and nasty vocabulary that seems to be taken as truth by virtue of the fact that it has been printed somewhere. Unfortunately, this also allows untruths, lies and malicious and personally driven dreck to be quoted as fact.”

A good example of this is The Widow’s column posted on May Day that stirred the local wine spittoon into a frenzy. Billionaire industrialist and owner of L’Ormarins, Johann Rupert, is mocked as Johannn Rupertt “who’s so rich I think he deserves that extra, extra ‘n’ on his name, and a little something for his surname too.” Johann Krige, owner of Kanonkop, is probably not holding his sides with laughter, either. The Widow notes “it’s very difficult to even get to taste Johannn’s wines” as “he won’t let a wine taster near his fancier-end stuff unless he’s there to guide them through the tasting.”

Something quite common among high-end wine-growers actually, as Jancis Robinson – a great Grape favourite – confirmed in the San Francisco Chronicle last month. A request to Annie Favia “vivacious vineyard manager” of cult Napa cuvée Screaming Eagle for a taste of her own wine was met with a definite “I wouldn’t dream of letting someone taste my wines unless I was there to tell them about them.”

Johann remains in good company as I also come in for some stick for failing to make a proper declaration of a freebee trip to Bushmills in a whiskey story which ran on April 20. Since I was asked to go to Bushmills by the Sunday Times and not by Bushmills, a comment from me was superfluous. But why spoil a good story with the facts? My “monomaniacal urge to rubbish the Platter Guide” is attributed to my having been fired as a taster for the guide – a “fact” flatly contradicted by Platter’s editor.

But my main crime seems to be that I am large (“sightings of him are getting easier all the time – he seems to be getting increasingly, er, big….”) and rich (“his day job has apparently made him very rich”). If only. I’m surprised not to have been dammed as “suspiciously childless” too, as the scions of two of the Cape’s most prestigious wine estates were in 2006, in a vicious attempt to “out” them à la Peter Tatchell.

Which was the core of Johann Rupert’s heated objection to The Widow and all her works to 2/3 of the Grape editorial collective present at a tasting of the entire L’Ormarins range last year – including “fancier-end stuff.” “What on earth has being suspiciously childless got to do with making wine?” asked Johann. Embarrassingly, the 2/3 of The Widow present didn’t seem to understand the question.

South African wine is in turmoil: chairman Kader Asmal and most of the SA Wine Council resigned last month, the SA Wine Industries Trust is rumoured to be bankrupt and the London Times described “a recent tasting of the five-star wines and runners-up in the 2008 John Platter Guide, widely regarded as the Cape’s crème de la crème” as “a cruddy, stomach-heaving and palate-crippling disappointment.” With three of Platter’s senior tasters wasting everybody’s time dressed in the weeds of a vicious Widow, no wonder.