A curious case of two Shirazes

2008 is shaping up to be an early vintage for Platter protests. The guide usually has to at least appear before the local spittoon starts filling up with stories of two “exactly the same” wines getting wildly different ratings. Like the four star Jordan Merlot 2004 currently appearing at the Butcher’s Shop & Grill in Pick’s Pick drag with 2½ stars. But the cause célèbre of the minute is the curious case of Columella 2005.

Rated 95/100 by US magazine Wine Spectator earlier this year (the first time an SA wine has hit the heady heights of Speccie “classic” status) this 80:20 blend of Shiraz and Mourvèdre failed to garner the guide’s highest accolade – not because the jury of tasters assembled to assess the five star candidates failed to be seduced by its charms (as they presumably were with the brilliantly understated, but perennially unrewarded, Morgenster 2003 of octogenarian Giulio Bertrand) but because it was not nominated. But does any of this even matter except on Mount Anorak?
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Five stars “sets a fire under your brand” as full house laureate Ken Forrester confirmed last month. Underlining the commercial clout of Platter and highlighting the problem of allowing tasters with commercial interests to assess wines sighted and then nominate (or in this case, not) their favourites for further glory.

These conflicts of interest or insidious vinous snobbism might also lie behind an obvious bias against corporate wines. Like Razvan Macici’s Nederburg Manor House Shiraz 2005, which last week won the Rosemount Trophy at the International Wine & Spirit Competition in London as best Shiraz in the world, adding another dimension to the concept of (manor) house wine. Surely a further nail in the credibility coffin of the Trophy Wine Show that earlier this year examined 151 SA Shirazes, finding but a single gold while roundly rubbishing the varietal.

Eben Sadie’s Columella is the flip side of the Shiraz coin. A cult cuvée made by the wonder boy of SA wine, it really has no need of Platter affirmation after the Spectator’s James Molesworth rated it an SA best yet, waxing lyrical about “sanguine notes flittering throughout.”

In fact the only sour note was calling Columella “a Spanish agronomist who lived in the third century.” Of course there was no Spain back then – Columella was a first century Roman, born in the Phoenician city now called Cádiz. But then names are not the strong suit for Mr. M – visiting the Voor Paardeberg ward where Columella grapes grow, he hilariously blogged his visit from Poor Vaarterberg, like a character in an Ibsen play.

M goes on to describe Sadie as “more than a one trick pony” since he also makes a white blend called Palladius, which he confusingly refers to as the “2006 Palladius Swartland 2005”, but rates a not too shabby 91/100 nonetheless. As both wines are made from grapes grown on the Paardeberg (Horse Mountain), ponies are quite à propos.

Alex Dale is another winemaker who makes a red and white from Swartland grapes. Called Black Rock, Christian Eedes, deputy editor of WINE magazine, used them to support a flimsy argument that “there is an increasing body of opinion that litre-for-litre, SA is making more good white than red wine” earlier this month.

For proof, he offers his own preference for Black Rock white, conveniently ignoring Dale’s Shiraz blend called Gravity (yet another Platter five star stunner) which brings Eedes’ argument down to earth with a bump. As does the Sadie duo, with 95 way heavier than 91/100 in hedonist heaven, even if Platter platitudes are lacking.
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