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Pairing Wine with Golf

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Player-Vintners: Who’s Got Game?

We’re undoubtedly in the age of celebrity marketing: Get famous and you’ll soon find that your name can sell anything from doughnuts to SUVs. So it’s no surprise that there’s been a proliferation of wines produced by some of the world’s top golfers. What is surprising is how good some of these projects have turned out to be. Most celebrity wines fall into a category that includes, for instance, Vince Vineyards, owned by Vince Neil of the rock band Mötley Crüe (the fact that Neil has a tattoo of his winery’s logo doesn’t seem to have improved the quality of the wine much, alas).

PGA Tour players such as Nick Faldo, on the other hand, mostly apply the same high standards to their wines that they do to their games. The result is that the best of these bottlings, like Greg Norman’s intense Reserve Shiraz or Ernie Els’s Stellenbosch red, a stylish cabernet sauvignon-based blend, can compete with the world’s top wines (and have garnered scores in the wine press to prove it).

Lately, even the PGA Tour itself has gotten into the business. Ed Moorhouse, one of the Tour’s chief operating officers and a wine collector himself, says production of its labels (including Commissioners Private Reserve and Champions Estate) will grow to twenty-six thousand a year. "It was a lifestyle marketing decision for us," he says, but adds that he and commissioner Tim Finchem enjoy getting together every February in Pebble Beach with winemaker Brian Zealear to taste barrel samples.

More projects are in the works. A passel of South African reds under Gary Player’s name have been aging for the past couple of years in a cellar in Stellenbosch, awaiting release later this year. Even John Daly will roll out a wine in coming months; whether it goes better with a steak au poivre or a double cheeseburger at Hooters remains to be seen.

Herewith, the best the pro golf world has to offer, with my ratings and tasting notes. —Ray Isle

Greg Norman Estates Reserve Shiraz 2000
$45 • Score: 93

Padthaway, Australia
Potent blackberry jam on the nose and lots of juicy blackberry fruit ending on a black-coffee note. Powerhouse shiraz. Impressive stuff.

Ernie Els Bourdeaux-style blend 2003
$90 • Score: 92

Stellenbosch, South Africa
Blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, petite verdot and malbec. Tobacco-y aroma and brooding dark fruit. Will be superb.

Mike Weir Estate Icewine Vidal 2005
$42 • Score: 92

Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Succulent, gorgeously rich dessert wine: viscous texture, intense peach and honeysuckle aromas and flavors that recall super-ripe golden apples.

Nick Faldo Shiraz 2003
$15 • Score: 91

Coonawarra, Australia
Classically Coonawarra: a touch of eucalyptus/menthol overlaid on bright, juicy raspberry fruit.

Commissioners Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
$44 • Score: 91

Dry Creek Valley, California
Cherry cider aroma; seriously ripe vintage. Big, lush cabernet that’s full of super-ripe black plum flavor.

Champions Select Zinfandel 2004
$24 • Score: 90

Dry Creek Valley, California
Jammy, with a hit of cinnamon when you sniff it. Tastes like a rich boysenberry liqueur.

Greg Norman Estates Sparkling Chardonnay/ Pinot Noir (nonvintage)
$15 • Score: 90

Crisp, zesty sparkler. Apple scent and lemony flavor.

Commissioners Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
$60 • Score: 89

Napa Valley, California
Black cherries and some seriously tough tannins. Needs time.

David Frost Wines Par Excellence Meritage 2002
$45 • Score: 89

Paarl, South Africa
Ruddy black-red color, with the scent of black currants and a firm tannic structure. Spicy on the end from the cabernet franc in the blend.

Commissioners Private Reserve Chardonnay 2004
$38 • Score: 88

Sonoma County, California
Intense, spicy-vanilla French oak up front followed by creamy lemon curd and apple flavor. Full-throttle California chardonnay, if a bit over the top.

Mike Weir Estate Chardonnay 2005
$16 • Score: 88

Niagara Peninsula, Canada
Zesty, cool-climate chardonnay with refreshing lemon curd flavors and a touch of vanilla oak.

Greg Norman Chardonnay 2004
$13 • Score: 88

Victoria, Australia
Aussie chardonnay: ripe pineapple aromas, rich tropical fruit flavors and spicy oak notes.

Champions Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2004
$30 • Score: 87

Alexander Valley, California
Red currant fruit with a touch of bell pepper. A little austere and leafy.

Greg Norman Pinot Noir 2004
$15 • Score: 86

Santa Barbara, California
Cherry-berry aromas and some sweet berry fruit. Not complex, but pleasant for the price.

Arnold Palmer Chardonnay 2004
$15 • Score: 84

Simple, quaffable chardonnay. Ripe pineapples and apricots. A little bland and fat.


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