21 November 2009

The People's Guide 2010 -- Book Review

Columnist and fearlessly outspoken chronicler of the wine industry Neil Pendock has become increasingly critical of the popular annual Platter Guide for its policy of tasting wines ‘sighted’, in other words reviewers see the label of the wine they taste. Pendock’s feud with Platter is so deep that he cannot now mention its name without using the prefix ‘sighted’.

“It was time I had to put up or shut up,” he told me, handing over a hot-off-the-press copy of his new ‘People’s Guide 2010’. For this review Pendock together with Michael Olivier and a small team tasted 1200 wines unsighted over six days and selected 561 recommendations. The book’s cover claims ‘blind-tasted wines are honest wines.’

The paperback book is most attractively designed and printed in full colour with a photograph of every bottle, and stripes with coloured backgrounds giving an initial tasting note with additional comments from one or more of the judges complete with a ‘Did You Know’ odd fact and technical details of appellation, alcohol and sugar levels.

Wines that particularly impressed the judges are awarded a Coup de Coeur (blow to the heart) and given an entire page to themselves.

Wines are not rated; they are described “using plain language rather than scores out of 20 or 100 or awarding stars. After all, it’s about writing, not arithmetic and best is a matter of personal opinion.”

So inclusion in the book is the recommendation – and almost 50% of the wines tasted were. 76 wines were awarded a Coup de Coeur, (That is around 6% compared with 42 (0.5%) Five Star wines out of 8000 rated in Platter.

So how does the People’s Guide compare with Platter? Platter attempts to rate every South African wine giving a necessarily cryptic tasting note and a rating from zero to 5 stars.

The Peoples Guide uses ‘plain language rather than scores’ and yet the tasting notes are brief in the extreme. Whereas Platter is limited by space, even when a full page is dedicated to a Coup de Coeur wine its description can be as short as six words, for instance Two Oceans Pinot Noir 2007 is summed up as “Wham. Intense sour cherries, smooth fresh.”

However this is a different guide. There are also exuberant food matching comments from ex-restaurateur Michael Olivier which range from “a pasta-sorta wine” (De Grendel 2006 Merlot) to “would go with Karoo Muisies, little liver cakes wrapped in caul fat and cooked over coals” (Long Mountain Reserve Pinotage 2007). Other tasters add in their comments from succinct to wordy plus those intriguing ‘did you know’ quirky facts.

There are signs of a rush to get to print with several typos and one entry being repeated in its entirety, and I wondered whether “Pinotage nose with plums and berries” was an accurate descriptor for a Sauvignon Blanc.

But minor quibbles aside, this is a good looking, readable and interesting book which doesn’t claim to be comprehensive but if you choose your wine from its recommendations you won’t be disappointed.

Here’s hoping Pendock & Olivier can keep it going for the next 30 years!

The People’s Guide 2010:
navigate the winelands in a shopping trolley
by Michael Olivier & Neil Pendock with Anibal Coutinho
99 Rand
304 pages including advertisements.
Published by Whisk Publications
ISBN 978-0-620-44882-6

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