A New Tasting Modality

Tim James, associate editor of the Platter guide, is pioneering a new tasting modality: blog tasting.

tj A New Tasting Modality

The debate on the merits of blind versus sighted tastings has been blown wide open by the pioneering of a new wine assessment algorithm by Platter associate editor, Tim James: blog tasting. His understated Plattering blog takes digital surfers on an exhilarating barrel-ride through the rip curls, bomboras and honkers of the SA sighted spittoon.

As a prelude, the activity (and TJ’s starring role in the drama) is highlighted, with a recent entry titled “the fun and the privilege and the responsibility.” Surfers without sound will have to imagine Marlon Brando in the background running cold water over his bald pate in Apocalypse Now.

This is mega gravitas stuff, with TJ conceding that tasting is “a privilege and a responsibility” although I personally prefer the approach of celebrity chef Bill Bruford who noted in Heat (Knopf, 2006) “it’s not your mother.” That said, TJ lives in the Mother City. “I only taste at home, with wines delivered there from the distribution hub at the Vineyard Connection wine shop outside Stellenbosch” he vouchsafes.

A photo confirms a dark book-filled room with boxes stacked on the floor next to a school-of-Giacometti sculpture. As Anthony “dance to the music of time” Powell noted “books do furnish a room.” Perhaps the many pulled corkamorimcork A New Tasting Modality
by Amorim Cork
s could be used to transform the room into a replica of Marcel Proust’s cork-lined chambre à coucher in Paris in which he composed the magnificent social commentary À la recherche du temps perdu. For blog tasting has definite elements of social commentary and a distinct air of nostalgia pervades.

Since Platter ratings are widely reproduced on restaurant wine lists and blazoned across retail advertising flyers, they are serious matters for producers. Which makes TJ’s “quasimoto” (sic) stance of tasting for consumer, rather than producer (we’re sternly reminded “our prime loyalty must be to the wine drinker rather than the producer”) problematic.

For although big Danie Malan from Allesverloren will be pleased to hear “his modest wines… are really nice”, that they won’t be getting four star ratings in Platter 2009 will drive the Lusan marketing department to drink. Especially as the comment “but I would drink them much more happily than some four-star wines I’ve met in my life” rubs salt into the wound. Perhaps Lusan could make a stick-on decal for Allesverloren bottles featuring this recommendation from a senior Platter pundit (which rather undermines the whole Messier catalogue in passing).

As an aside, it seems that this season’s Platter bon mots will be “nice” and “appetising.” Which comes as a welcome relief to “linearity” which originated from a mis-understanding of the description longiligne from France’s most fashionable taster, Michel Bettane, when in SA on a tasting jolly a few years ago. As TJ notes “the words that kept on croppping [sic] up in my notes were ‘subtle’, ‘fresh’, unpretentious’, ‘clean’, ‘fresh’ [again] and suchlike. Above all, perhaps, ‘appetising’.” Dear Angela (“she lives quite nearby and we often use each other…”) confirms elsewhere on the Grape site that “TJ aptly describes [the Sterhuis 2005 Cabernet] as appetising” confirming leakage.

Perhaps the biggest problem with blog tasting for producers is a confirmation of prejudice. TJ admits “I suppose I do have a little residual prejudice against [Sauvignon Blanc] because generally its aspirations seem to me limited to being very good at best, largely unexciting, essentially undistinguished.” Which really gets hairy when TJ realizes “Sauvignon is not Chardonnay or Riesling [Crouchen Blanc], and I blame it for that unfortunate existential failing.” All rather begging the question, why then rate them for a guide? A point confirmed by another Platter pundit Jörg Pfützner who was bemused to be sent a selection of Muscadels to rate last year, a style that by his own admission, he knows nothing about.

A more sensible and defensible tasting strategy is the one employed at the Winemakers’ Choice Competition, which could explain why Investec Private Bank decided to sponsor it. “Wines are judged by discussion and not graded with scores, and undergo a rigorous blind tasting, with open debate, by the panel of winemakers, therefore making the system very fair.”

At the end of the day, it’s up to consumers to decide whether to listen to winemakers or TJ. This consumer, for one, will be hoping there’s always space for TJ and his provocative pronouncements handed down on digital tablets from the very peak of Mount Anoraque.