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Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year 2006

Francois Agenbag of Wolseley, Breedekloof, has clinched the sixth Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year title. The 2006 competition attracted 62 Dry Red Wine entries from producers aged 30 or younger.

Entrants were free to choose what they wanted to submit – blended or single varietal reds, wood-aged or not – and the field was open for them to express their flair, ability and innovation. Dave Hughes, chairman of the panel of judges who determined this year’s winner, provides an overview.

There was hardly a 'dog' to be found among the 62 entries for the 2006 Young Winemaker of the Year award. As few as three or four were considered 'rejects' by a pretty strict panel of judges. In fact the overseas juror, Frenchman Michel Laroche, remarked how impressed he was that what the panel assessed hadn’t been screened first ... There’s no doubt that in general the future of red wine making in South Africa is in good hands.

There were half a dozen Bordeaux-style blends, but more than 20 or so of the entries were really innovative, an intriguing assemblage of all manner of varieties – Shiraz, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Viognier, as well as Petit Verdot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Other wines on the tasting bench included half a dozen Merlots and the same amount of Cabernet Sauvignons, an encouraging 10 Pinotages and 13 Shiraz wines – all pointing to where the youngsters think the future lies. That said, there was an outstanding single-variety Touriga Naçional, quite rare when not being used for making port.

Laroche was impressed with the Shiraz but more so by the Pinotage. He bought L’Avenir Vineyards in Stellenbosch last year, adding to his properties in Burgundy, the south of France and Chile, and believes that Pinotage is where young winemakers in South Africa should be putting their effort as a category fairly unique to this country.

Also on the panel was last year’s Diners Club Young Winemaker of the Year, Johan Kruger, whose winning Sterhuis Chardonnay 2004 has been followed by other good white wine vintages. He reflected that “some of the wines tasted as young as their winemakers!” and was fairly critical that some of the wines entered were obviously made from fruit which wasn’t fully mature, that too few had elegance and balance. On the other hand, he was impressed by the judicious use of wood, with hardly a wine showing excessive oaking. Kruger agreed with Laroche about some of the good Shiraz examples and that the overall standard of Pinotage was very high.

Fellow panellist Carrie Adams (of the retail outfit Norman Goodfellows in Johannesburg) also thought that the Pinotage showed great promise – this from somebody who confesses to not usually being a Pinotage fan. But she was very critical about the amount of Brett in some of the wines. She felt that the Shiraz entries showed a propensity for an excess of Brett, not an opinion shared by the other judges.

Adams was impressed by the innovation and clever combination of some of the blends. However, she warned against the over-use of oak in a couple of instances.

Cape Wine Master and former principal of the Cape Wine Academy, Christine Rudman, reckoned that the majority of the entries gave her huge confidence in the future of red wine-making in South Africa, particularly as regards the blends, especially the non-Bordeaux styles.

Associate judge Busisiwe Bitela, a post-grad student at the University of Stellenbosch, was also impressed by the good quality on show, generally speaking. She, too, was enamoured with the Pinotage entries and the overall quality of all the blends, describing some of the more unusual combinations as very good ideas – albeit that in her opinion there were a couple of over-wooded wines and warned that too much tannin and oak kills the complexity and fruit.

That said, despite the high quality of the entries overall, the judges had little difficulty in arriving at a Top 10 and in choosing the winning wine, sold under a Seven Oaks label and made at Mountain Ridge (formerly known as the Romansrivier co-operative), with the two runners-up from Diemersfontein and Fairview very closely rated.

Francois Agenbag’s winning wine, Seven Oaks 6+1 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2004 (priced at R50 a bottle ex-cellar), triumphed on the basis of complexity and maturity. Tasting notes ... Powerful blackberry, chocolate, with spicy oak backing. Big, rich and full in the mouth with ripe, balanced tannins and well controlled oak. Sweet-fruited throughout. Long, fruit-filled finish. Lots of development potential.

Highest scoring red wines in the competition

Winner:
  • Seven Oaks 6+1 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2004 (Francois Agenbag, Mountain Ridge)
Other wines in the Top 10:
  • Diemersfontein Pinotage 2006 (Francois Roode)
  • Fairview Shiraz 2005 (Erlank Erasmus)
  • Groenland Antoinette-Marie Reserve 2004 (Piet Steenkamp)
  • Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 (Bartho van der Westhuizen)
  • Lategan Family Reserve Touriga Naçional 2005 (Daniel du Toit, Bergsig)
  • Quoin Rock Syrah 2004 (Carl van der Merwe)
  • Saxenburg Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2003 (Edwin Grace)
  • Scarborough Red 2004 (Duncan Savage, Cape Point)
  • Spruitdrift Merlot 2005 (Johan Weideman)
Winning Wines in Diners Club Young Winemakers of the Year Awards
  • 2006: Seven Oaks 6+1 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz 2004 (Francois Agenbag, Mountain Ridge)
  • 2005: Sterhuis Chardonnay 2004 (Johan Kruger)
  • 2004: For My Friends Shiraz 2002 (Johan Nesenberend)
  • 2003: Jason's Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2003 (Ivy du Toit)
  • 2002: Groot Constantia Merlot 2001 (Boela Gerber)
  • 2001: Slanghoek Noble Late Harvest 2001 (Henri Swiegers)

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