Diners' Outsider is an Eagle

The judging process for the Diners Club Winemaker of the Year Competition is the most scrupulously honest blind tasting affair of any of the many competitions I’ve been involved with. Not at all like the dodgy rating of wines sighted by the Platanna guide they also own.

No lizards creeping in from behind the scenes urging a re-look at wine #33. No briefing from the panel chair on the perils of greenness. Just Dave Hughes asking some tasters to start at the back, some at the front, while he tackles the middle. That this year’s tasting panel produced six finalists in one shot, with no final tasting round needed to resolve ties, no seeded players necessary and not a whiff of scandal, is a credit to the organizers and Dave.

cj Diners' Outsider is an Eagle

It was not always thus. Heck there is an urban legend that a few years back, when Wine magazine ran the show, someone won Diners Club and they hadn’t even entered. The winner had to fly back to SA for the Awards lunch, sharpish. But that was probably a case of miscommunication between marketing and production. At least I hope it was. Then there was the time the whole competition was cancelled with the person responsible bizarrely popping up as a candidate for Platanna publisher last month. Only in SA!

This year’s finalists are all credible: I was blown away by the Shiraz of Mary-Lou Nash called Mischief Maker 2011 when I tasted on the Paarl Challenge earlier this year. So I was not too surprised to see her Oro 2012 blend make the finals.

The Simonsig wines of Johan Malan need no bush and William Wilkinson is a regular in the ABSA Top Ten Pinotage ranks and loved by the Decanter World Wine Awards. Johan Jordaan won Diners with his Spier wines a couple of years back and David Finlayson is hot to trot. The only unknown quantity to homebody Platter visualizers, soccer moms and the coterie of free sample specialists that disgracefully passes for the wine commentating fraternity in SA, is Christiaan Groenewald (above).

Anibal Coutinho and I discovered the wines of Chrisjan when we made the pilgrimage out to Worcester last year. Our opinions of his Arendsig wines, tasted blind, ‘natch:

♥♥♥♥♥ Eagle’s Cliff Arendskloof Pinot Grigio 2012 Pinot Grigio leesy/oaky, rich tropical fruit with an extreme expression of minerality.

♥♥♥♥ Eagle’s Cliff Arendskloof Chardonnay 2012 grassy nose, sweet palate with awesome minerality.

♥♥♥♥ Eagle’s Cliff Arendskloof 2012 complex nose, orange peel, good balance .

The Diners press release on Chrisjan:

Christiaan Groenewald entered the wine industry as a manager at a wine export company before building a cellar on Welgemoed in 2003 and starting to produce wine. His ARENDSKLOOF TANNAT SYRAH VOETSPORE 2011 features in this year’s Diner’s Club competition. The wine has a distinctly different nose packed with ripe plum, prunes and hints of treacle and anise; rich red berry fruit with dark rose in the background. Dark chocolate is there with hints of vanilla and cinnamon; some tarry tones emerge at the edges. Firm tannins give great grip in a full, ripe-fruited mouth. Great depth of flavours follow the nose with the addition of clove and dark cherry. Beautifully managed oak. Long finish and loads of potential.

Chrisjan is a man we’ll be surely hearing much more from.