What do Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els have in common? Apart from being golfing greats who have all lifted the Claret Jug at The Open at Muirfield, they are all keen wine lovers who have put their name on a bottle of wine.
Eleven leading golfers now have vinous links. Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, David Frost, Mike Weir, Luke Donald – and two women golfers Annika Sorenstam and Cristie Kerr – are among those involved with a wine range. So far all these golfers’ tipples hail from New World wine countries: Australia, the US, Canada, South Africa or Argentina.
First off the tee with an extensive range of Australian, Californian and Argentinian wines was Greg Norman – who has also designed a golf course at Wente’s winery in California. Norman, who has been a wine lover since the 1970s, launched his first Aussie range in 1996 with Wolf Blass. He now makes Australian Eden Valley Chardonnay and Limestone Coast Cabernet, Lake County Zinfandel, Californian Paso Robles Petite Sirah and most recently, an Argentinian Malbec.
Ernie Els is on a par with the White Shark. The Big Easy (as Els is affectionately known) set up his own showpiece Stellenbosch cellar in the Western Cape in 1999, producing his first vintage in 2000 in association with Jean Engelbrecht of renowned Cape winery Rust en Vrede, employing winemaker Louis Strydom and viticulturalist Charl van Reenen to manage his 75 hectares of vineyards.
Els’s wines are big, bold and mainly red (90 per cent of his 10,000 case production each year is red), a style all the rage in Stellenbosch’s Helderberg valley when he began. His favourite wines are Bordeaux and Napa claret-lookalikes.
Fellow Cape golfer Gary Player has teamed up with a Stellenbosch winery, Quoin Rock to produce his wines. The Black Knight plans to release nine vintages to commemorate his Championship wins: with the 2003 vintage labelled Muirfield 1959 and the 2008 labelled Augusta 1961. Younger Cape golfing pro David Frost has four wines made by Perdeberg winery, a Paarl estate known for its chenin blanc.
Two British golfers Nick Faldo and Luke Donald have chipped in, putting their names to wine labels in Australia and California respectively. Faldo teamed up with Katnook estate in Coonawarra, but has now turned from grape to grain as he promotes Glenmorangie whisky at this year’s Muirfield Open. Donald has paired up with Bill Terlato, launching his new small batch Carneros Chardonnay, Napa Bordeaux Blend from Stag’s Leap and Rutherford and a viognier from Stanford & Benedict winery earlier this year – with a limited 3,000 cases on offer.
When Canadian golfer Mike Weir is not on the greens, he is tending his 150 vines planted in his front garden at home. His Italian father had a vineyard on Niagara Falls and he was keen to promote Niagara wines at his events – so using bought in grapes he has launched his own fizz, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and more.
Arnold Palmer is great friends with Mike Moone of Luna Vineyards, so this Napa winery was an obvious choice for him to launch his cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. Annika Sorenstam launched two wines with Wente, whilst Cristie Kerr makes her wine with Suzanne Pride Bryan at Pride Mountain Vineyards in Napa, helping raise money for breast cancer charities.
Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus has had more to celebrate than any other. A long-time wine collector, Nicklaus has his own range made by Napa-based Terlato Winery and is planning to commemorate his 18 major wins over a quarter of a century with the Golden Bear Commemorative Series.
Ernie Els Big Easy White 2013
(£9.95, Great Grog, Edinburgh; Village Coffee Shop, Gullane; www.sawinesonline.co.uk; Abbey Wines, Melrose)
Bit of a zinger with plump tropical fruit and a creamy palate – a good example of Cape chenin blanc.
Luke Donald Carneros Chardonnay 2011
Donald’s ace is this sleek Burgundian-style elegant, citric chardonnay; oaky undertones slice through to a fine long finish. Stylish and not too pricey, considering its origin.
Ernie Els Big Easy Red 2011
(£14.99, Great Grog; Village Coffee Shop, Gullane; www.sawinesonline.co.uk; Abbey Wines, Melrose)
A sweet juicy shiraz-dominated blend; this Bordeaux and Rhone multi-grape blend will be useful around the greens.
Ernie Els Signature Blend 2010 (£39.99, www.sawinesonline.co.uk; Abbey Wines, Melrose)
This five Bordeaux grape blend matured for 20 months in French oak is aimed at serious claret lovers: well made, concentrated – but pricey.
Nick Faldo Coonawarra Selection Shiraz 2008 (£17.55, www.uvinum.co.uk)
Very acceptable shot at an Aussie shiraz, but disappoints with a bitter shank on the finish.
Luke Donald Napa Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Cabernet Franc/Petit Verdot 2006
(£27, Matthew Clark, Glasgow; £34, www.cellarviewwines.com)
Donald has sliced this big burly red into the bunker. Its firm tannins and intense spices will need time to mellow.
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