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Pairing Wine with Golf

Courtesy of The Phoenician The Phoenician

Photo: Courtesy of The Phoenician

Sometimes a wine hits you so unexpectedly, as did that shot on Sandpiper’s eighth, that all you can do is stare into your glass, reach deep for the metaphors and extravagantly exult to all present. For me that wine is a Kistler chardonnay—any year, any single vineyard. It’s rich, exciting and satisfying in ways that are difficult to articulate. I’m not a chard guy, but Steve Kistler, a superb Sonoma winemaker, makes the best in the country, his wines rivaling the most ethereal white Burgundies. Perfect for an unexpectedly perfect shot.

But my favorite wine and golf pairing dates to another round I played in the mid-nineties, a sixteen-man skins game at Mountaingate Country Club, an okay twenty-seven-hole private course built on a former trash dump in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s billy-goat golf at its most mediocre.

I was playing decently but had no idea where I stood in the skins contest (which was probably a blessing, since I was practically dead broke at the time) when we came to the seventeenth, a 440-yard par four dead into the wind. I drove it about 240 straight down the fairway. I had exactly 208 yards to a back pin, perched on the second tier of a small, severely sloping green. A three-iron seemed like the right arrow. I aimed straight at the left bunker and flushed it with just the slight blush (forgive me) of a fade. The ball landed on the upper tier on the fly and then went sideways and...and...into the hole for an eagle two!

It was the single greatest shot I’ve ever hit and would have to be paired with the single greatest wine I’ve ever enjoyed. Okay, I haven’t been lucky enough to drink the very finest wines in the world, but I once shared a bottle of 1982 Château Latour, one of the five first-growth Bordeaux, a full-throttle, mostly cabernet wine, a vintage that Robert Parker rates 100. It was pure velvet in the mouth and flawless on the finish, just like that three-iron. A bottle today will set you back $1,300, about what I made on those skins.

Finally, as my imagination continues to pullulate with great shots and their wine pairings, there are some truly memorable ones from all the golf tournaments I’ve watched in my day.

The first one that springs to mind is Tiger Woods’s preternatural chip-in on the sixteenth hole at the 2005 Masters. That’s got to be a 1990 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche, one of the great red Burgundies ever made, from one of the planet’s most famous vineyards.

What about Jack Nicklaus’s one-iron to the seventeenth green in a strong headwind at Pebble in the 1972 U.S. Open?So perfectly struck I have to liken it to one of New Zealand’s finest sauvignon blancs, say a 2005 Cloudy Bay: crisp, unadorned, exacting. Or Gene Sarazen’s double eagle at Augusta’s fifteenth—the shot heard round the world?Has to be an ancient vintage port; let’s face it, we’re drinking a memory here.

Then there are the ignominious shots and the wines I hope never to uncork. If Charles Shaw—more infamously known as the winery that produces Two Buck Chuck—were, God forbid, to put out a white zinfandel, then that bottle would go to Jean Van de Velde for his performance at the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, which was even worse than Phil Mickleson’s seventy-second hole meltdown at Winged Foot last summer. Needing a double bogey or better to become the only Frenchman (an irony when we consider wine and golf pairings) to win a major championship, he proceeded to butcher the last hole—seeing it on tape is like watching the Hindenburg burn. Like that imaginary white zin, it makes you sick just thinking about it. Hey, Jean, à votre santé!

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