Marthélize Tredoux: Are Platter’s ratings a boon or a bane?

I usually refrain from jumping on bandwagons and simply throwing my opinion onto an already sizable pile, but today I’m going to make an exception. There’s been a lot of chatter since the 2018 Platter’s Guide was launched recently,

Quick review for those who have been under a rock:

• 2018 Platter’s Guide was launched (the colour is “Habanero Red” because apparently that’s a thing)
• Winery of the Year is Raats Family Wines
• White Wine of the Year: The Foundry Grenache Blanc 2015
• Red Wine of the Year: Nederburg Two Centuries Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
• Dessert Wines of the Year: Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2013 (Unfortified) and Beaumont Starboard Dessert Wine NV (Fortified)
• 111 Five Star Wines announced

Most notably, aside from the familiar 5-star ratings, the guide this year added scores on the 100-point scale to the offering – though as I understand it, these scores are not available in the printed guide but will only be on the app and as stickers.

This is where my annual doubt about the true relevance of Platter’s begins to creep in.

Now, before I get pelted with a pile of Platter’s Guides, first a little caveat on any criticism that may follow: It has undoubtedly become an institution in South Africa, which is no small feat. If you have ever spoken with any of the people who taste and write for the guide, you will have an idea of the sheer amount of work that goes into it. The tastings alone are a rather intimidating mountain to conquer – more than 8000 wines are evaluated. The guide is impressively detailed in the extensive information it contains.

I think this is where my dissonance about the guide’s value – or purpose – comes in.

Its usefulness as a comprehensive guide to nearly every South African winery is currently unparalleled – both in print or digital (online or app). It allows access to information about each winery, including their offerings and of course the star ratings.

It’s those ratings that are starting to become a problem for me.

Firstly, I question the actual value of these ratings. Every year after the release of the guide and the top wines, the same conversation repeats itself in the industry and on social media – there’s a flurry of excitement and congratulations followed by weeks of grumbling about stars and stickers.

I wonder if most of the people who argue that Platter’s is merely a guide and not a competition have ever seen an average Joe walk into a tasting room with the book stuck to his face, demanding to taste “only the 4.5 and 5 star wines”. Consumers don’t care to understand, they simply chase the “best”. And pointing out the guide includes an explanation as to what each star rating is meant to represent holds no water with me because most people don’t bother reading that. So while defenders of the guide like to insist that the gradations between the different star ratings are meaningful, the real-world impact is casually ignored.

Platter's stickersAnd this year I can’t help but thinking they’ve entirely lost the plot a bit with the dual scoring system. Let’s recap, shall we?

1. 8000+ wines rated – the ratings are done on a 100-point scale which translates into a star rating.
2. The 100-point ratings are not available in the printed guide but only in the app, so if you want access to both, you need at least a subscription (and they punt the printed book so hard, the message is clear: why not get both? Ka-ching!)
3. Previously the 5-star wines were all on equal footing – now the achievement superiority gets sliced even more finely with the scores differentiating all 5-star wines based on their 100-point scores.

You see where I’m going with this? Now, producers get to slap two stickers on the bottle – the star rating AND the points rating. It will all look very festive, just in time for Christmas, because like one of my prolific industry friends said on the matter: “Christmas trees sell.”

I am finding it difficult in light of this year’s changes to see what the point of this dual system is (both in the stickers that will be sold as well as the hard copy/app subscription combo that’s being pushed) beyond a neat money spinner.

As I said before, Platter’s is an institution. But institutions fall if they are unwilling to evolve. And just because you have a digital version of a traditional concept, does not mean you are, in fact, a digital player. While the demand for the print version will likely not decrease any time soon, I can’t help but feel that the team behind Platter’s are standing on the cusp of massive opportunity to push forward into the digital sphere and innovate into something unprecedented, and they’re just sort of ignoring it.

No matter. The stickers will sell. The consumer base will chase the most heavily adorned bottles. Money will be made and congratulations will be exchanged among all those involved. And next year, we get to have the same conversation, all over again.

  • Marthélize Tredoux is the co-owner and editor at Incogvino. By day, she helps SA wineries sell their wine in the USA. She won the Veritas Young Wine Writers Competition in 2013.

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11 Comments

  1. JakkalsDecember 6, 2017 at 10:43 amReply

    Thanks for giving us your input, I’m not a Platter’s fan.

    I’m newish in the world of wine and loving Vivino.

    Trying to build my wine own journey, on what I like, taste and experience.

    Just started using the “My Cellar” function on Vivino and WOW, WOW, WOW

    Thank you, Cheers and have a blessed festive season.
    J

  2. Rex DaltonNovember 23, 2017 at 10:08 amReply

    It is sad to see that something that was started to assist all wine drinkers and has been a guide to so many for so long is now being criticized.
    This seems to be the approach recently. Why don’t we extract the positive elements from the Platters guide? We can find fault in every institution. Even in the people writing negative comments. Yet we don’t expose those on a social media platform.
    Our culture in SA has become to find fault and criticize. Lets look at promoting. Finding fault is so easy.

  3. Jacques de WetNovember 9, 2017 at 7:02 pmReply

    Great article, Marthélize; couldn’t agree more but I am left wondering why you didn’t include anything about the awkward fact that Platter tastings aren’t performed blind? (Fairly certain on that one). I realise your article wasn’t meant to criticize necessarily but I do feel that truth is kind of unavoidable.

  4. StevePNovember 8, 2017 at 10:31 pmReply

    Well, providing we don’t end up with nonsense like a 99-score 3-star wine, this will be an improvement. Platters’s stars meant so little as to be almost useless. Sure, the 5-stars sold out (as does all good SA wine) but below that you had one level (4-star) and then a vast sea of 3-stars, leaving you to try and sort out which – if any – provided any value for money.

    Because with wine it is always about value for money.

  5. Le PenseurNovember 8, 2017 at 9:33 pmReply

    Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.- Benjamin Franklin

    • MarthelizeNovember 9, 2017 at 2:18 pmReply

      Very insightful there, Le Penseur. Irrelevant. But insightful.

  6. NeilNovember 8, 2017 at 9:09 pmReply

    Thank you for your response M. I’m not a Platter fan mostly for the reasons in your article but I equally don’t want to slam their efforts which have to be commended. I also don’t want to misrepresent Tim James’ comments in an article reproduced on Winemag November 21st 2016 where he said that ‘even wearing my hat as someone involved in Platter for many years now and watching its erosion with regret (and even seeing the extent to which the guide itself is to blame)’ but it’s worth reading at http://winemag.co.za/tim-james-platters-and-the-need-for-an-organ-of-record/ Whichever camp you’re in, Platter remains a fascinating debate

    • MarthelizeNovember 8, 2017 at 10:32 pmReply

      Thanks for that link, Neil. I vaguely remember the article but I had forgotten that nugget.

      Yeah, I want to be clear that I am not slamming or disrespecting the iconic nature of Platter, or the amount of work that goes into it or the success it enjoys. It really is unparalleled at the moment, but that’s why I feel it’s important that we look critically at it, because with such potential influence, it should be moving forwards and not backwards.

  7. NeilNovember 8, 2017 at 4:03 pmReply

    Correct me if I’m wrong but I seem to remember reading, somewhere, in the not too distant past, that demand for the print version has been in decline. I’m sure there’s someone out there with the figures

    • MarthelizeNovember 8, 2017 at 5:20 pmReply

      @Neil Interesting – I’m not surprised, to be honest. Most people want things online – specifically in the palm of their hand, and I don’t mean in book form.
      Vivino is getting bigger and bigger too.
      Decline is a relative concept though. Would be interesting to see those figures – I’ll dig around a bit and see if I can come up with anything.

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