Australian golf legend Greg Norman is often remembered for blowing a six-stroke lead in the 1996 Masters Tournament, but that’s about his only colassal breakdown. A shrewd businessman, the “great white shark,” as he is known, designed more than 100 golf courses and launched 14 businesses. And, despite missing many notable clutch shots, he has won two British Open Championships and was ranked number one golfer in the world for 331 weeks.
But it is his wine empire -- launched the same year he infamously lost the Masters Tournament -- that hasn’t missed a beat despite the challenges of a competitive industry.
Norman wines are immensely benefited by instant name recognition. Not only does he have built-in resort markets that sell his wine, but anyone who golfs is more likely to buy a bottle with his iconic shark emblazoned on the label. His daughter, Morgan, who we recently joined to taste through the wines, said her father opens golf courses in attractive markets, builds brand identity, then introduces his wine there. No wonder the wily entrepreneur is called “the shark.”
Morgan said her father’s goal has always been to make a wine that is affordable and that can be served with dinner any night of the week. Although his name is associated first with his homeland, he has been making wine in California since 2005, and now makes wine in New Zealand. He does not own vineyards, but instead draws from the vast vineyard holdings of his partner, Treasury Wine Estates. Indeed, across the board, his wines are simple, unadorned, affordable and easy to drink -- just as he wants.
What we liked most about these wines is that they are not overblown. The wines – most of which sell for under $15 – are balanced with average alcohol and moderate fruit extraction. They complement food and are more medium-bodied than others at this price range.
We thought Greg Norman, now 62, would have been lulled into making those over-extracted Australian wines that flooded the market a decade ago, but Morgan said her dad is stubborn.
“He doesn’t play into trends,” she said.
Although most of the wines are incredible values, there is a reserve shiraz that sells for $50. The 1999 version of this wine was rated number 8 in the Wine Spectator's list of Top 100 wines.
Until then, said Morgan, the brand was known only as a “golfer’s wine.” But the ranking “put us on the wine map,” she said. Even at $50, it’s a good buy.
Here are our favorite Greg Norman wines:
Greg Norman Estates Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($14). This sauvignon blanc doesn’t fit nicely with the New Zealand profile because it doesn’t have bracing acidity. The classic pineapple and citrus flavors are simple and enjoyable.
Greg Norman Estates Eden Valley Chardonnay 2016 ($14). Only a third of the wine sees oak barrels and malolactic fermentation, so it has a clean and refreshing character with tropical fruit and pear flavors and just a dash of coconut and vanilla. Long finish.
Greg Norman Estates Limestone Coast Cabernet-Merlot 2014 ($14). One of the best-selling wines in the portfolio, this iconic Australian blend has copious floral and spice aromas, dark berry flavors and lingering hints of clove and vanillin oak. Merlot comprises only 10 percent of the blend, making the cabernet sauvignon character dominant.
Greg Norman Estates Limestone Coast Shiraz 2014 ($14). Lively and fresh black cherry and red currant flavors with a hint of pepper and spice. Very quaffable.
Greg Norman Estates Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($14). A near even split of the two grape varieties, this blend is dark in color and packed with ripe cherry and cranberry flavors. Smooth mouthfeel and lingering finish make it a great quaff.
TREATS FROM THE RIBERA DEL DUERO
Tinto Figuero has released several new vintages of its excellent line of tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero. Three separate bottlings – one aged 15 months in barrel, a second aged for 12 months in barrel and the third from old vines – show the depth and character that comes from this DO region.
Tinto Figuero's Vinas Viejas (old vines) 2014 ($68) is a special wine with elegance, velvet texture and finish. Intense notes of red currants, raspberries and anise give it a broad palate we couldn't stop enjoying.
We also enjoyed the Tinto Figuero 15 2013 ($66), with its dense darker fruit flavors and layered flavors of cocoa, spice and black pepper.
The producer's Tino Figuero 4 2016 ($22) is reasonably priced and gives you an idea of what the producer and region can do.
Avalon Red Wine Blend 2015 ($12). This is an interesting blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, tannat and petit sirah. Effusive and bold in style, it has ripe blackberry, plum and blueberry flavors.
Ruffino Modus 2014 ($25). We like to recommend this Italian super tuscan blend because it is such a pleasure to drink year after year. The local sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon combine to make a fruit-forward, softly textured with black fruit flavors.
Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune 2015 ($44). Good burgundy was once more costly than good Oregon pinot noir, but the pendulum has swung a few degrees. This classy French pinot noir costs less than most good Oregon pinot noir and it has that finesse and delicacy the region is known for. Dark cherry flavors with a splash of spice and earth.