Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Success on the Links and at the Table



Recently some of the top golfers of the past 25 years have decided to come out with their own label of premium wines. While there have been a few ordinary wines, most of these projects have been quite impressive, especially the wines from South African Ernie Els (one of the nicest guys in the game) and his partner Jean Englebrecht.

I'd like to recommend the wines from two relatively new projects: Jack Nicklaus Wines and the Luke Donald Collection. As anyone who knows an inkling about golf realizes, Jack Nicklaus was arguably the most successful golfer of all time, winning a record 18 majors. He certainly has one of the three of four most recognizable names in the history of golf and was truly one of the great athletes of the 20th century.

Donald has enjoyed some wonderful success as well on the links and finished 2nd in the 2010 FedEx Cup, just missing out on a $10 million bonus (though he'll be in good shape with the $3 millon runner-up award). At 32 years of age (33 in December), he's #8 in the world golf rankings and has made a tremendous comeback after a serious wrist injury just two years ago. The future, needless to say, looks bright for Donald on the course.

He's done pretty well also with his wines and the story of how his label originated is a fascinating one. A native Brit, Donald went to Northwestern University in Evanston, just north of Chicago and enjoyed great success there, winning the NCAA Championship individual honors in 1999. His coach was Pat Goss, who also was friends with Bill Terlato of the Terlato Wine Group in north suburban Lake Bluff. Terlato owned two Napa Valley wineries at the time, so after the Donald-Terlato friendship was formed, the golfer (Donald, that is!) was able to work with the Terlato family on producing a wine from Napa grapes. As Donald played in a lot of events in Europe, he had acquired a taste for great wines and he was allowed to sample blends and put his approval stamp on the finished product.

I recently tasted the two newest releases of the Luke Donald Collection: the 2008 Chardonnay from Carneros and the 2006 Claret. Briefly, the Chardonnay is quite rich with aromas of baked apples, saffron and orange and has good weight on the palate and very good persistence in the finish. The oak is admirably handled and as the grapes were sourced from the cool Carneros zone in southern Napa, the acidity keeps everything in balance. I'd love to taste this over the next 2-3 years with lobster, swordfish or most rich seafood or even pork or veal. At $30, this is worth every penny (this is very limited - only 900 cases produced) and if I had a seafood restaurant or was buying wine for a country club, it would be on my list.




Back to Luke Donald in a bit, but a few words on the Jack Nicklaus Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 from Napa Valley. This wine along with the Private Reserve, which I didn't get a chance to try (next time, my friends at Terlato?), was first sampled at St. Andrews Golf Course in Scotland earlier this spring and then in this country in May at the Memorial Tournament, run by Nicklaus in Columbus, Ohio.

The 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon is instantly recognizable as Napa Valley Cab with its black cherry and plum aromas; add to that the medium-rich palate, round tannins and balanced acidity and you've got a real crowd pleaser. This is a wine that will drink well for the next 3-5 years, but it's instantly appealing now and would be a natural partner with any red meat. Again, if I were buying wines for a steakhouse list, this would be a no-brainer - how could you miss with an elegant Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with the Jack Nicklaus name? This 100% Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is value priced at $35 and based on this wine, I can't wait to taste the next offering of the Reserve Cabernet.




Saving the best for last, we have the 2006 Luke Donald Collection Claret. This is a blend of 44% Merlot, 43% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc and 1% Petit Verdot. It's quite rich on the palate and features enticing aromas of currant, cassis and crushed rose petals. This is a beautifully balanced wine with very good acidity, which is not always the case with too many of today's Napa Valley reds. The oak is very well integrated and the wine has the stuffing to age gracefully for 7-10 years, perhaps even longer. The price on this is a very fair $40 (almost a steal for a Napa Valley wine of this quality these days) and while it would pair beautifully with steak, this would also work well with game birds and brisket, as this has more spice and earthiness as compared to the Nicklaus bottling.

How nice to taste a complex Napa Valley red that is more in a Bordeaux style than the super ripe international approach so prevalent these days! How nice also that this wine is styled with the thought of cellaring in mind.

As a closing thought, I'm not sure what I'd treasure more, a mixed case of the Luke Donald wines or a putting tip from Luke himself! Luke, I do live in Chicago, so I'm not far away!

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