As is customary, the tactical release of the Platter’s Wine Guide coincides magnificently with the onset of the festive season. While the relatively docile locals of the Cape brace themselves for the inevitable Vaalie invasion, every self-proclaimed wine aficionado from up north is rushing off to get their copy and meticulously plan their every move whilst down in the land of milk and honey (and wine, of course!). It’s a little alarming that such a guide – whose reputation is questionable (tasting blind isn’t really their thing) – largely dictates the general flow of tourists during this time. But hey, it just goes to show that blowing smoke up the right hole can be rather fruitful. I’m in no way undermining the guide – it’s a terrific read. Comprehensive, insightful, and perfectly sized to slide effortlessly into your trophy wife’s handbag.
After having spent the odd holiday working in the charming little tasting room at Muratie Wine Estate, I must admit that when a group ambled in and immediately consulted their ‘trusty’ wine guide, I knew I was in for some fun. “Platter says we should just try that one…” who are you kidding? Everyone knows over-indulgence is the name of the wine tasting game – it’s just how it is! And as their meticulously planned afternoon slowly flies out of the window with every subsequent swirl, sniff and swallow, I’d take a little comfort in knowing I’d given them a bit more than what your generic fly-by wine tour would have.
It’s obvious that wine guidebooks are a valuable marketing tool and play an important role in bridging the gap of knowledge transfer from producer to consumer. This, I have no problem with. But when every second winery is depicted as an oasis of luxury, lust and satisfaction, the lines become somewhat blurred. You can’t blame the poor Vaalies for wanting to suck every ounce of vinous pleasure out of as many farms as possible. But is that really how it should be done? Sure one can argue that the more wine you taste, the more educated your palette may become. To a certain extent this is undoubtedly true. Though if you decided to put a little more effort into actually engaging with a piece of land and the bottle of wine it so graciously gave us, perhaps you’d unknowingly start to gain an understanding of how unique each vineyard is. It’s not often that one recognises how sensitive a grapevine is to its surroundings. I’m assuming most of you are familiar with the concept, terroir. A beautiful word which aptly gives perspective and promotes the notion that individuality is as ubiquitous amongst each bottle of wine as it is from person to person. The point is that we’re forever comparing different wines and debating as to which is best and often forget to just appreciate it for what it is – a little bottle of a brief period in our history, which will never repeat itself.
Next time the gang is up for a tour of the winelands, leave the guidebook at home. Take a map. Or don’t. But be sure to let your mind wander.