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Steve Pignatiello, Wine Buyer at Augusta

Use a fingertip grip with the wrist cocked. Don't squeeze too hard. Keep your head slightly tilted, and don't hurry the finish. . . .

Drinking wine and playing golf share these techniques and more, says wine expert Steve Pignatiello, who imports some of the refreshments that will be served at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week, as well as choosing wines for other vaunted venues, from the Cloister at Sea Island to Kiawah Island to the Biltmore Forest Country Club.

"Golfers appreciate quality wine," says Pignatiello, who founded Asheville, North Carolina's P.Comms International in 1998 and served as sommelier for the kickoff dinner at the 2001 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club. "A golfer told me he thought I had the best job in the world. I said I thought he did."

Asked what vintage might lift a golfer's spirits after a flat round, Pignatiello recommends a fruity red from Morey St. Denis: "It's a light, easy-sipping wine you can drink on the veranda all afternoon." To celebrate an ace, try Crémant de Bourgogne, a sparkling wine made in the Champagne method from burgundy grapes. "This is a unique, creamy treat, with tiny bubbles and a crisp finish," says Pignatiello. And for the truly discriminating, he chooses Chablis Montée de Tonnerre, Premier Cru. "It's an unoaked chardonnay by François Servin, one of the top two wine makers in the Chablis region. Servin releases fewer than a hundred cases a year, and I get forty-five to fifty of them." Much of Pignatiello's stock makes the 220-mile trip to Augusta, to be served by the glass at Augusta National. "That's a chablis with crisp flavors that are pure on the palate—a striking wine with a killer finish."

With a handicap of fourteen, Pignatiello has no sour grapes about failing to compete professionally, and he isn't jealous of Ernie Els, Greg Norman, David Frost and other pro golfers who have squeezed into the wine business. "Norman's wine is okay, not great, but his name on the label makes it more appealing to the public," he says. "That's fine, too. It gets people drinking wine, and they can graduate to better wines."
—Michael Patrick Shiels

"Great golfers don't necessarily make great wines," says Steve Pignatiello of P.Comms International (828-274-9323). We sent him a shipment of the recent vintages produced by wine-making golfers David Frost and Greg Norman, and Pignatiello found them subpar. "They are nondescript," he says. "The Norman Estates wines are good examples of New World-style wines. The ones from David Frost I can't praise. The Frost Merlot is so oaky it reminds me of a two-by-four." After a sampling, Pignatiello pronounced David Frost Wines' 1999 Cabernet Reserve "drinkable, but quite unripe. They tried to make up for that by toasting it with too much oak." He praised Norman Estates' 2000 Shiraz as "vibrant, with rich fruit." Then we asked him to taste Frost's and Norman's chardonnays head-to-head:

David Frost Wines 2000 Chardonnay
"Smooth if a bit bland, a little buttery. It's not bad, really—an industrial-style wine for the masses. And that's a nice marketing touch, putting Arnold Palmer on the bottle." **

Greg Norman Estates 2001 Chardonnay
"Fuller on the palate, crisp, with better balance, fuller flavors and better acid than the David Frost chardonnay. In this match, Greg Norman has clearly come out ahead." **1/2


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