Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Keeping (sighted) Platter Panelists Honest

One of the loudest criticisms levelled at Platter’s is that – until they are nominated for 5 stars – only one (sighted) panelist assesses and rates a particular wine. This is how Editor Philip van Zyl keeps panelists honest. 

1. Calibration Wines: Each year 5 categories of wine - entry level unwooded white, premium level unwooded white, premium wooded white, entry level red and premium red – are tasted double-blind and rated by the panel of tasters. The scores are collated and, prior to the commencement of the tasting cycle, each panelist is sent a sufficient stock of the panel-rated wines as reference.

2. Wines making their debut in the guide or returning after an absence are tasted by a panel in the first year of entry or return.

3. Should a panelist rate a wine one or more stars lower or higher than the previous year, the opinion of at least one other member of the team is sought. It’s worth bearing in mind that vintage variations are less pronounced in the Cape’s climate than much of the old world.

4. A programme of double-blind corroboration tastings runs alongside the sighted tastings. For example, random samples with known scores are sent to panelists to score.

5. Before the annual tastings commence, the tasters must sign a legally binding declaration of interest which requires them to recuse themselves from tasting the wines of producers with whom they have any sort of commercial or financial involvement, or any other circumstance which could (or could be seen to) prevent them from making an impartial judgment.

6. Should producers feel that the allocated panelist would not be able to meet the impartiality requirements contained in the declaration, they are able to communicate their concern in writing to the publisher and nominate three alternative panelists, from whom the publisher will select a new panelist. No one panelist assesses a particular producer for more than three consecutive years.

7. In keeping with the rollout of regional tastings (i.e. more within peer group) started in 2010, panelists will be going to the Klein Karoo, Tulbagh, Robertson, Olifants River, Worcester and Elim/Southern Cape to assess wines under the usual Platter rules and procedures.
Panel assessment of each wine would be a logistical nightmare – including time and money (more than 7000 wines in 2012). Also, in the rush for the annual December deadline (and Xmas sales) some wines, as submitted by producers, are not ready for assessment.

The guide – if it wishes to remain a pocket guide – cannot keep growing in its current format. One option is to only include wines rated three stars and above or exclude the descriptions of the wines scoring less than three stars. 

Another option is to have a red edition and a white edition. One for Christmas and another around mother’s/father’s/valentine's/whatever day.  This split could allow for panel assessment?

Bear in mind:

* Platter is not a competition but a wine guide – one of the most comprehensive and detailed in the world.
* Wine assessment, whether by panel or individual, is not an exact science.
 * Wines evolve in the bottle and in the glass.
* Wine is a great leveller, even (and especially) for professionals.
* The above is also an argument for a panel, but that is the beauty of wine.
* The argument against panels is that it becomes an exercise in averaging scores.


  1. Jonathan, point 6 isn't completely accurate. When there is a change of winemaker or owners after one or two years and the property takes a complete change of direction, a taster may remain responsible for that property for a further year or two just to maintain the necessary continuity. The whole point of the three year cycle is so the taster gets to understand the wines and the winemaker's philosophy. I have tasted Delaire Graff and Constantia Glen for more than three years; the latter has been because their major reds have been slow to be released, even after 4 years, I've reviewed only 2 vintages. I believe this approach is fair to both producer and taster.

  2. Thanks Angela, makes sense, although i am sure there are those who will say that anything less than x years is not long enough and others who will say they should be rotated annually.

  3. Thanks Angela, makes sense, although i am sure there are those who will say that anything less than x years is not long enough and others who will say they should be rotated annually.