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TEEING UP THE WINES OF THE PGA

All my life I've dreamed of being an athlete, but genetics did not work in my favor. Even today, I sit in front of the television wishing I had the size, strength and coordination needed to play the sports I watch on ESPN.

Unfortunately, the physical demands of professional poker are well beyond me. Luckily, there's always golf -- though I prefer to participate vicariously through drinking the wines of the PGA.

The pioneer in wine endorsements was Greg Norman, whose love of wine and international fame made him a perfect spokesman for the Australian wine industry. Also, Paul Hogan was busy endorsing Foster's Beer. (Otherwise, you might have seen a commercial with Crocodile Dundee saying, "Shiraz? You call that a shiraz? This is a shiraz!")

Norman partnered with one of Australia's largest producers, Beringer Blass, and spent five years planning with them before releasing the first vintage of Greg Norman Estates Cabernet- Merlot in 1998. That wine made the Wine Spectator Top 100 List, and his subsequent releases continue to get high ratings. He says his personal favorite is his Reserve Shiraz, a wine with deep, intense flavors and a great finish (something that may surprise anyone who remembers his last round of the 1996 Masters).

Norman remains very involved with his wines; he is the brand's general manager and, according to his Web site, "pays particularly close attention to quality assurance." (Translation: he drinks a lot of his own wine.) But if there's any golfer with an even more personal interest in wine, it's Ernie Els, a native of the "emerging" wine region of South Africa (they've been at it for a long time, but politics kept their wines off the international market for many years).

Els is a longtime friend of Jean Engelbrecht, the owner of Rust en Vrede and one of the top red wine producers in South Africa. Els actually met his wife at the winery, and they held their wedding there in 1998. Two years later, Els and Engelbrecht bottled their first vintage. Their signature wine (literally; the label has no name other than Els' signature) is a Bordeaux-style blend using all five of the Bordeaux varietals (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, petit verdot and malbec), something rarely done even in Bordeaux.

For the nostalgic golf fan, you can't do better than Arnold Palmer, who, through his friendship with former Beringer Estates president Mike Moore, became an investor in Luna Vineyards in Napa Valley. Luna now bottles a chardonnay and a cabernet sauvignon under Palmer's label.

In a display of class not often seen among aging golfers, Palmer declined to play in the Masters this year despite his automatic invitation as a former champion; he felt he couldn't play well enough to participate. Following his example, I've decided to give up golf as well. I have too many memories of bouncing shots off windmills and getting a ball stuck in a clown's mouth.

The worst part is, this did not happen while I was playing miniature golf.

Howard Riedel is a local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on WBFO-FM and an evolving spirits pontificating franchise. His e-mail is hriedel@wbfo.org.

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