Golfers and Wine

golf flag

Last week at an event, we poured wines to fit the theme, “Golfers and Wine.” Who knew so many wines would have a golfing hand (or club?) behind them! I have yet to see another sport with so many members in the winemaking field. The styles of wine from these swinging guys (though gals are getting into the fray as well!) range the gamut, with some sparkling, some white, some red.

Here are the wines we poured at the event and the stories behind them.

greg norman

Golfer & Wine: Greg Norman Sparkling Brut – Dry and crisp, with citrus and stone fruits. Because it’s a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, you get that bright citrus mixed with a richer, almost nutty character. Great value for the bubbles.

About: Greg Norman, aka “The Shark,” began drinking wine on the tour, soaking up the wines from Europe and California as he played and tasted his way around the world. In the 1990’s, Greg paired up with Beringer Blass Estates to create Greg Norman Estates in Australia. More recently, Norman put his name on Greg Norman California Wine Estates, producing a range of wines from the entire state. Though he does not  make the wine or own the vineyards, he approves the decisions and the wines reflect his style – approachable, easy-to-drink but with lots of character.

Golfer & Wine: Arnold Palmer Santa Barbara Chardonnay – Ripe stone fruits and juicy citrus backed by a good acidic backbone. A touch of oak and a creamy texture round out the wine making it refreshing and delicious.

About: Before Tiger there was Arnold. This guy has won 92 national and international golf championships! Not too shabby. A savvy businessman and wine lover, Palmer partnered with Luna Vineyards, a well-known winery in California, to create his line of wines. Established in 2003, Palmer just released the 2005 vintage of his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Santa Barbara Chardonnay. Both are typical of their region and quite good.

luke donald

Golfer & Wine: Luke Donald Claret – Ripe black fruits dominate this blend with a spicy and smooth texture. Soft tannins, big fruit.

About: A native of England, Luke Donald has been on the tour since 2001. He got into the wine business more recently, partnering with the Terlato Wine Group (he’s good friends with Bill Terlato) and releasing his first vintage in spring of 2008. His Claret, or Bordeaux Blend, is a classic Napa Valley blend. Big fruit, smooth tannins, long finish. Earlier this year he released his first white, a Burgundian-style Chardonnay from Carneros.

 

Golfer & Wine: Nick Faldo Shiraz- Spicy pepper and sweet plums mix to create a well-balanced red. More spicy than sweet, this Shiraz shows the typical style of Coonawarra reds.

About: Like Donald, Faldo is of English origin, but chose Australia as his country of choice to produce wine – the Coonawarra region to be exact. Longer in the game (both golf and wine) than Donald as well, Nick’s first vintage was 2000. His wines, Sauvignon Blanc, Shiraz & Cabernet Sauvignon, come from the Terra Rossa (red earth) soils of Coonawarra, giving the wines lots of backbone and a touch of eucalyptus and spice.

Golfer & Wine: Ernie Els Engelbrecht-Els Red Blendripe black fruits, spice and smoke marry well in this blend, with a solid tannin backbone and els a lingering finish. Will get better over time, but delicious now, too.

About: South African golf legend, Ernie Els, partnered up with old friend and wine veteran, Jean Englebrecht, for his wine venture in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. They launched their first wine in 1999 and opened a winery in the region 5 years later. The brand creates a range of wines, from the affordable Guardian Peak to the collectible flagship wine, Ernie Els. The Englebrecht-Els blend is distinctively South African, a blend that marries Els’ love of Bordeaux Blends with Engelbrecht’s passion for Shriaz.

Not only the boys are making wine. Annika Sorenstam recently partnered with Wente Vineyards and launched a $60 Syrah under her name. We’ll keep you posted on more golfers that turn to producing wine, as well as other sports that have players in the wine game. What other sports have you seen in the wine field?

Chardonnay Revisited

ABC – Anything but Chardonnay. You may have heard it from a few wine drinkers along the road. Fed up with the over-oaked, big butter, creamed-corn style Chardonnays that were coming out of California about 10 years ago, many wine lovers swore off the grape, particularly California style. I still talk to people who tell me they just don’t like Chardonnay (which is when I have them taste Chablis). While I did not have  an adamant hatred of the grape, I certainly would choose a slew of other wines before ordering or drinking a California Chardonnay. But recently, this changed.

It all started when I wasnewton chard vines categorizing some wines into our “style of wine” categories on Wine.com. A few wines I had not yet tried, and so instead of throwing all California Chardonnay into “rich and creamy,” I carefully read through the tasting notes offered by the winemaker and even ordered a few of which I was unsure. As I read note after note, even those that were rich and creamy, with notes of butterscotch, fig and crème brulee, I started craving a California Chardonnay. Enough with grassy, acidic Sauvignon Blanc, or my go-to Rose for summer. No more cool Torrontes or Gruner Veltliner. Not even my favorite Chablis would do the trick. I wanted Chardonnay. Not the buttery oak bombs of yesteryear, but the delicious fruit & oak balance with a creamy finish that these wine notes promised. I was salivating.

I ordered a few Chardonnays to taste and also had the pleasure of tasting a few at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend over Labor Day. I am officially a Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley Chardonnay girl. Sip after sip, I re-introduced my palate to California Chardonnay and am happy to say that they will once again have a place in my wine-drinking repertoire.

Here are the wines I found to quench my California Chardonnay thirst:

Davis Bynum Russian River Chardonnay – I remember stopping by this winery in 2003, before I’d ever heard of them (I was younger then, and living on the east cost). Their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir got two thumbs up, and we packed some up in our luggage to bring home. I got to re-taste these delicious wines at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend and once again, gave them all two thumbs up. About $24.

anabaAnaba Sonoma Coast Chardonnay – a fairly new winery producing a red and white Rhone blend as well as this Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Wow. This was an excellent wine and a perfect example of what cool-climate Chardonnay can do. Clean, crisp, with lovely ripe fruit balanced by a creamy texture and subtle vanilla oak flavors. Really lovely. Winemaker, Jennifer Marion, knows her stuff, too. Young and eager, she is doing some great things here…  $25.

Landmark Overlook Chardonnay – mmmmm… this is one of those full-bodied wines that while rich, have a nice backbone of crisp acid and citrus to back up the tropical fruit & oak. The '2007 vintage is $26

Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay – An all time favorite. It’s expensive, but if you have the opportunity to taste it, do so. Apple, toast, spice and a long finish make this a wine to savor. See Newton Vineyard pictured above. The ‘06 vintage is on sale for $53.

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay – Jim Clendenen shows us what California Chardonnay should be. From a warmer climate, the ABC combines bright donkey and goatfruit and lush vanilla and oak into a Chardonnay that is definitely California, but the way it should be. This is a Chardonnay I truly enjoy AND it’s at $20.

A Donkey and Goat Chardonnay – Small boutique winery in Berkeley, CA, Jared and Tracy Brandt get their Chardonnay fruit from the Chalone appellation, which is a bit warmer, but they do this wine well. Again, the balance is excellent. They actually blend in some of the ver jus to heighten acidity and lower alcohol. The result is fantastic! $40.

My favorite non-California Chardonnay picks are these, and they are great, easy-drinking Chardonnays, almost all at $20 or less.

Catena Chardonnay – From Argentina. A perfectly balanced Chardonnay. Always a crowd pleaser. $20

Meerlust Chardonnay – Excellent South African Chardonnay – good balance and structure. Also $20

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay – Rich and delectable, this has got layers of complexity, great balance and a wonderfully long finish. Great for the price!!! $18

Cape Mentelle Chardonnay – Always a winner from the left coast of Australia. Classic Chardonnay style. $20

Tell us – what are your favorite Chardonnays?

Perfect Indian Summer Whites from Southern Italy!

italy

Fall indicators become apparent after the Labor Day Weekend with school back in session and the leaves on the trees about to change color. But  many parts are enjoying an Indian summer with unusually warm temperatures. On those hot days, I always recommend dry and aromatic whites from the Mediterranean. Specifically, I’m quick to mention the array of Italian white varietals for the dinner table and barbecue gatherings. Where can you find more varietal options than Italy, which holds claim to over 2,000 native varietals?

The Italian White category is one of the most underrated categories in the White Kingdom for the QPR (Quality Price Ratio)! Anothsellamoscaer perk is that the category offers a great range of pairing options from semi soft cheeses to the foods of the sea. Also, let’s not forget the antipasti course. The most known Italian grape is Pinot Grigio hands down, which hails from the Northeastern corridor of the country: Alto Adige, Collio, Friuli, Trentino and the Veneto. But, let’s not forget the wonders of Southern Italy, where many native cultivars date back to Phoenician and Greco-Roman times. greco

There’s no better place to start in the South than Campania, the district that surrounds Naples, and where the grapes Falanghina, Fiano and Greco di Tufo take center stage. These varietals languished for several decades, but now have made a roaring comeback, making Campania the center of the Southern Italian Wine Renaissance.

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has followed suit over the last 15 years, with wine imports recently hitting an all-time high. Importers are finally bringing in an array of wines made from ancient varietals like Inzolia, Catarratto, Ansonica and Grecanico. Several noted houses blend Inzolia and Chardonnay together. The finest producers make incredible blends from several of the above mentioned grapes – these are worth seeking out.

Zipping over to Sardinia, or Sardegna to natives, Vementino takes prominence in the northern portion of the island. Galluria is the most noted vermentino sardinia and prized D.O.C.G. for this region. Vermentino also grows in Tuscany, but the exotic fruit characteristics on the nose and palate really shine through with the Sardinian rendition.

The common denominator for all these Southern Italian whites are great price points, praise from the press, alluring aromatics, exotic fruit notes braced by excellent minerality and acidity, versatile food pairing wines, and alcohol levels are in check (12.0%-13.5% alc.) without the use of cumbersome oak. Both the neophyte and serious enthusiast can find tremendous benefits from this category.

My highly recommended picks:

Falanghina: Terredora, Irpinia D.O.C., Campania 2008

Greco: Feudi di San Gregorio, di Tufo D.O.C.G., Campania 2007

Ansonica-Catarratto blend: Donnafugata “Anthìlia”, Sicily IGT 2007

Inzolia, Catarratto & Grecanico blend: Regaleali Bianco, Sicily IGT 2007

Vermentino: Argiolas “Costamolino”, Sardegna D.O.C. 2008

Why I love Viognier

This often mis-pronounced grape is being found on more tables and taking up more room in wine store racks – thank goodness! What a delicious and complex wine this grape can become! It can also offer wonderful easy-drinking values. I love it because it can come in so many forms – single varietal, in a white wine blend, or even in a red wine blend.

Due to the fact that the grape is naturally low in acidity, Viognier can be tricky to pick and produce. It has to be harvested at just the right time to maintain that balance between acid and fruit. It also lacks longevity, even at the high-end, so even when you’re buying “collectible” bottles, they are meant to be drunk within a few years.

What makes Viognier so appealing? Hard to put a finger on it, but for me it's the combination of aromatics and texture that make it so delicious. The nose is full of apricot, peach and perfume, while on the palate, you have this lovely, rich coating texture that is all from the grape rather than oak or malo-lactic fermentation. One drawback (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) is the alcohol levels can be high. Still the wines are a pleasure to drink.

Viognier is also a master blender, both for white wines as well as red. In white blends, its favorite partners include other Rhone varieties like Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. For red wines, it is actually co-fermented in small amounts with Syrah. The original region using this blend, Cote Rotie permits up to 20% of Viognier in its wines though its usually a much smaller percentage. Oddly enough, the addition of Viognier actually deepens the color of the Syrah and definitely boosts its aromatics. So successful in Cote Rotie, the practice has been picked up elsewhere, most notably in Australia, where you commonly find Shiraz + Viognier blends.  ch  grillet

Where does Viognier grow best? As a single varietal wine, you have the classic all-Viognier, all the time appellation, Condrieu. Condrieu is situated in the northern Rhone and produces some of the most delicious and complex Viognier you can find. Within Condrieu lies Chateau Grillet (pictured to the right), a small appellation of only a few hectares, which also produces only Viognier. Always under single ownership, this small production of Vigonier has a higher price tag, mostly due to its scarcity. California is also making some awesome Viognier, a few of my favorites being Cline and Bonterra. Australia has also found a niche with Viognier – Yalumba is doing great stuff with the grape and has an excellent organic Viognier.

When it comes to Viognier in blends, head to the Rhone where you’ll find it in many of the Rhone whites (though not in Chateauneuf-du-Pape whites, as it is not one of the 13 permitted varieties). And, like the single varietal wines, California and Australia are making some excellent white Rhone blends with Viognier.

For Syrah/Shiraz with Viognier? Cote-Rotie is the classic place to find this. But the hefty price tag and scarcity of those wines may send you looking elsewhere, in which case head to Australia. They have really embraced this blend and producers like Innocent Bystander, d’Arenberg and Yalumba are making some quite delicious examples. Do watch those alcohol levels though… they can get up there!

For food pairings, I love sipping it with roast chicken or a rich pasta sauce. My corny side loves to enjoy it on its own watching the sunset.

Malbec. It’s hot.

melipal

Malbec. Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone’s drinking it. It’s on wine lists and wine shelves and it’s taken the US wine market by storm. In fact, imports of Argentinean wine have jumped 39% in the first 6 months of this year, and a majority of that jump is Malbec. Talk about hot, you’ve got to check out our amazing deal on the Melipal Malbec 2006 – 95 points and only $18. The perfect Malbec to try if you are new to the grape, and the perfect Malbec to buy if you are a seasoned Malbec lover.

What exactly makes this grape so hot?

So what exactly makes this grape so hot?

argentinaThe history: A bit of a Cinderella story, Malbec’s typical role has been as one of the five grapes in Bordeaux blends, but usually only composing a meager 5% or less, particularly in Bordeaux. The grape is susceptible to rot and is not the best of the bunch over in Bordeaux’s maritime climate. However, when placed in the high altitude vineyards of Argentina, Malbec showed its true colors (a very dense, purple color) and made itself a very happy home there. The county’s wine industry will never be the same – when consumers think Argentina, they think Malbec. When they think Malbec, they think Argentina.

The wine: This is the most important aspect of a grape, is it not? The wine it becomes? Malbec creates a wine that is dense and purple. Aromas include  blackberry, plum, black cherry, violets, mocha and spice. The styles range from sweet & jammy to spicy & peppery. The wines have smooth but firm tannins and often a touch of oak. The majority are concentrated. Some are easy-drinking quaffers while others can be more complex and layered. Big-wine lovers love this wine!

The food: Obviously the grape does not make food, but the wine coming from the grape is an excellent match with beef! Steak, roasts, grilled  beef ribs… it’s a meat wine. Which leads me to the next reason Malbec is hot…

The price: It’s a value! At a steak restaurant, when that California Cabernet you love looks too ridiculous at $150, look to Malbec. You’ll find some excellent wines under $50 (at the restaurant!) that will match your meat just as well – if not better – that your usual Cabernet. Most Malbecs fall in the $10 – $25 range, though some producers make complex, age-worthy Malbec in the $50+ range. Beauty of the wine is, you can drink very well at a very nice price.

Sold yet? Here are some producers to look for: Catena (one of the oldest producers in Argentina); Crios; Melipal; Dona Paula; Terrazas; La Posta; Zuccardi . There are many more producers that are excellent, so keep exploring! 

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