By Jayson Greene

Here we are in the middle of season, and you know what that means—a steady stream of visitors from the frozen north. In addition to soaking up the mid-winter sun, many will want to hit the links, as the Suncoast boasts more golf courses per capita than anywhere else in the U. S.

Why not continue that golfing theme postgame by enjoying some of the current wine offerings bearing the names of golf legends that so many visiting duffers ache to emulate?

In 1996, Arnold Palmer joined in partnership with old friend Mike Moone, former president of Beringer, in Napa Valley’s Luna Vineyards. Luna sits on the former site of the St. Andrews Winery on the Silverado Trail in Napa, which ironically bears the name of the “Home of Golf,” St. Andrews in Scotland, and the St. Andrews Country Club Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course in Boca Raton. In 2005, Luna bottled the first vintages of Arnold Palmer Wine, the 2003 chardonnay and 2002 cabernet sauvignon.

The current release of the chardonnay, the 2008 vintage, is handcrafted from grapes sourced from vineyards in the Napa and Santa Barbara Valleys. Sixty percent of the wine was aged in French oak for 12 months to add richness and structure, with the balance aged in stainless steel to maintain the pure varietal characteristics of the grape. The result is a beautifully balanced, zesty white, exhibiting aromas of green apple and fig, leading into melon, pear and tangerine on the palate, enhanced by freshly baked brioche on the finish.

The 2007 North Coast cabernet sauvignon with fruit sourced primarily from select vineyards in Oakville, and the balance drawn from Lake County, is blended with 10 percent Sonoma merlot. Aged in small French oak barrels, 50 percent new, the wine bursts with bright raspberry fruit on the nose, and rich chocolate, blackberry and espresso, wrapped in fine tannins on the palate. What is truly amazing about these wines is the price, as both can be found retailing for about $15 a bottle.

Longtime wine collector Jack Nicklaus got into the game this past year with the first release of two above-par selections produced in partnership with Anthony Terlato and his sons, Bill and John, of Terlato Family Wines. The 2007 Nicklaus cabernet sauvignon is sourced from estate-owned vineyards in Napa, fermented in stainless with daily pumpovers, and aged 18 months in French oak. The result is a deep garnet-colored wine showing classic Napa cab aromas of black cherry and plum, and displaying blackberry, dark cocoa, red currant and tobacco on the palate. As there were only 250 cases produced, this wine is indeed a rare and special find, retailing at about $35 a bottle.

Also premiering in this vintage is the Nicklaus Private Reserve 2007. A blend of 81 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent syrah, 5 percent merlot, two percent malbec and two percent petit verdot, and also aged 18 months in French oak. This powerhouse explodes with ripe dark fruit, vanilla and spice on the nose, developing into flavors of black currant, raspberry, black cherry, mocha and cedar wrapped in velvety tannins. Only 250 cases of this wine were produced as well. It retails at about $40 a bottle.

In 2000, Coonawarra’s Katnook Estate produced the first vintages of Faldo Wines, named in honor of legendary Australian-born golfer Nick Faldo. The estate produces three wines–sauvignon blanc, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. The Faldo 2008 sauvignon blanc is stylistically similar to a New Zealand sauvignon blanc in that it exhibits pungent aromas and flavors of gooseberry, lemongrass, lime and fig. Refreshing and graceful, it is an ideal accompaniment to any fresh seafood dish or spicy Asian fare.

The 2006 Faldo shiraz, whose grapes hail from the famous “Terra Rosa” or “red dirt” of Coonawarra, is representative of the wines of that heralded Australian wine region. Aged 20 months in predominantly American oak, the wine coats the tongue with ripe raspberry, licorice and rich sweet vanilla. It is the perfect complement to any barbecued dish or tomato-based pasta.

The deep plum-colored 2006 Faldo cabernet sauvignon exhibits a bit more complexity than the fruit-driven shiraz, but is no less powerful. It introduces itself with heady aromas of ripe plum, mulberry and mint, followed by layered red cherry, black raspberry, mocha and dill on the palate. Pair this with grilled rosemary lamb. The Faldo wines are a terrific value at about $15 a bottle.

The wines in this series that have gained the greatest critical acclaim are those produced by Ernie Els Wine Cellars. Champion South African golfer Ernie Els partnered with old friend and wine visionary Jean Engelbrecht of Rust en Vrede and founded Englebrecht Els Vineyards in 1999. Five years later they built Ernie Els Wine Cellars on the slopes of Helderberg Mountain in Stellenbosch, South Africa. They enlisted the talents of winemaker Louis Strydom, one of the leading winemakers in the South African wine industry for more than 13 years and responsible for the four successive vintages of Rust en Vrede that appeared in the “Wine Spectator Top 100.” The first vintage they produced together was the 2000 Ernie Els Stellenbosch, a Bordeaux-style blend that was awarded 93 points by Wine Spectator, the highest-ever rating for a South African wine, followed by a second 93-point rating for the 2001 vintage. The 2005 Ernie Els Stellenbosch was honored with a 94-point rating. The current release, not yet rated, is a blend of 65 percent cabernet sauvignon, 20 percent merlot, five percent petit verdot, five percent malbec, five percent cabernet franc. The five clones are vinified separately. After blending, the wine is aged in French oak for 20 months. Deep ruby red in color, it exhibits aromas of cassis, licorice, dark chocolate and eucalyptus. Rich, full and expressive, the wine exhibits well-structured, complex layers of blackberry, mission fig, spicecake, plum, cedar and mocha, rounded out by soft, supple tannins. This is one of the great wines of the world. Any vintage of this wine is a treasure. It can be found retailing at about $85 a bottle.

Although focusing on the wines of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Ernie Els in this article, one must also give mention to the delicious wines of American golfer Luke Donald, and the enormously popular, always critically acclaimed vast variety of California and Australian wines produced by Greg Norman Estates. Let’s all raise a glass in honor of the great achievements of these legends both on the golf course and off.

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