It's no surprise to me that golf, a game awash in affluence, would link the greats on the PGA Tour with the finesse in the bottle. I'm certain I'm not alone in harbouring both a strong love for wine and for golf. I may however be the only one to switch club membership (from ClubLink's King Riding to King Valley) because of the wine list. Okay I exaggerate a bit. The latter's course is pretty spectacular but all the more reason to enjoy the après game view with a fine tipple.
That said, as a wine columnist and critic for over twenty years, I did question whether wins on tour translated to award winning wines. Was it just a marketing ploy or would a champion's name guarantee greatness in the bottle and not just on the label? When Greg Norman first launched the product of a joint venture between Great White Shark Enterprises and Beringer Blass Wine Estates in the late nineties, I was dubious. I felt his 1996 cabernet merlot blend from Coonawarra in Australia hit a tad on the rough side. Colleagues were less critical including those at the Wine Spectator which rated it 91 points out of 100. His reds and his chardonnay continued to appear at golf tournaments and golf clubs where I played and as vintages went by I became a convert. Recently when I purchased a bottle of Limestone Coast Shiraz Cabernet 2002, I found the rich mélange of plump plum, crisp blackberry and vanilla spiced oak tastes to be delicious. When my husband heard it cost me a mere $19.95, he exclaimed "Buy three cases of it now!" Featured in Ontario as an LCBO Vintages wine of the month for March, this time it truly deserved its accolades. And unlike the sometimes disappointing finishes of its namesake, the wine lingered on with great fruit delivery. Also recommended are the Greg Norman Shiraz 2002 and Greg Norman Cabernet Merlot 2002 both $23.95.
Greg Norman Estates initially focused on quality wine at the "right"
price moving up market with a Shiraz Reserve at twice the bucks after establishing
their reputation. Ernie Els took the opposite approach. His Ernie Els Stellenbosch
2000 soared onto the North American playing field with a hefty price of over
$60 US and instant acclaim. The Wine Spectator rated it 93, the highest score
ever given by the magazine to a South African wine. "Ernie Els wine is
hugely expensive," says his Ontario agent David Thompson "and it goes
up ten per cent a year no matter what." The upcoming vintage 2002 is expected
to sell at over $100 a bottle in Canada when it hits our shores. With an allocation
of a mere 150 bottles for the entire country, it's more a question of which
club will get lucky rather than who will buy. Last year's 180 bottles mainly
went to Magna Golf course in Aurora, Ontario with Toronto restaurant Boba bagging
According to agent Thompson, Els got the advice of going high from Norman who let on that's exactly how he would do it if he had it to do over again. Now Els has his rainmaker wine on solid ground, he's moving into the quality for price arena. Slated to come to Canada this year are Engelbrecht Els red blend at around $50 and a line called Guardian Peak in the $12 to $15 range. Engelbrecht Els is the new venture between Els and Jean Engelbrecht son of Jannie who owns Rust-en-Vrede, the original winery where Els' first wine was made. Engelbrecht junior had a falling out with his father, severing ties with Rust-en-Vrede but taking the winemaker of Ernie Els wine as well as the rights to the flagship wine of his longtime friend Els. Expect the Ernie Els Stellenbosch red to remain a fine classic Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec, cabernet franc with a touch petit verdot built in a full robust style to age well. The Engelbrecht Els also a blend of red grapes will first make its appearance this summer when Jean comes to Canada to host a series of dinners at golf clubs. The more basic Guardian Peak features single varietal wines such as the shiraz expected to be on the market in the Fall and SMG, a syrah, mourvèdre, grenache blend.
Mike Weir Estate Wines are an exciting new development in golfer wines for Canada especially. Creekside Estate Winery, an excellent producer in the Niagara region of Ontario, approached Weir for this joint venture. Fifty-one acres of premium vineyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake, nearby esteemed Chateau des Charmes winery, have been designated for Weir wines. There's a 7,000 square foot basic facility on the site now with the goal to open for retail shopping by 2006. Weir's brother Jim is on the board of directors of the new winery and Mike himself approved of the labels and taste of the first two wine offerings. The 2001 Chardonnay ($15.95) is a steal. It's complex, more burgundian in style than New World fruity, with the toasty flavours to be expected from a four year old white aged in oak. The 2002 Cabernet Merlot ($17.95) is a blend of mainly cabernet sauvignon with cabernet franc and merlot created in a bordeaux style. It's medium bodied, fairly taut with a pleasant intertwine of oaky fruit, silky tannins, good balance with a crisp finish. "We expect trial will be very high so we went for affordable prices with a huge over-delivery," said Barry Katzman, Creekside president and director of Mike Weir Estate Winery. Not only is the wine generous but so is the man behind them. Net proceeds go to assist children's charities through the Mike Weir Foundation. Expect to see Weir wines served at the likes of Redtail, Magna, Copper Creek, Legends, The Hunt Club and of course Taboo. I say any club who doesn't stock them is a putz.
Swaine top picks:
Greg Norman Shiraz Cabernet 2002, $19.95 Agent Maxxium Canada 1-866-263-0171 www.maxxium.com
Mike Weir Chardonnay 2001, $15.95 Mike Weir Estate Winery 1-877-262-9463 ext.235