New Zealand Wines 2015: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide

There is something quite irresistible about a manual or guide. It promises to hold secrets previously unknown, perhaps ones not even contemplated and promises much more than an array of facts and figures – it offers certainty.

While some may enthral me less than others (my car manual isn’t terribly thumbed through) I do have a penchant for learning more about some of the finer gifts of la terra including chocolate, coffee (although I don’t drink it) and wine. The latter for which I have been developing a growing appreciation and especially so of our New Zealand after having lived overseas for the last six years.

New Zealand wine and Michael Cooper pretty much go hand in hand. For those of us who need the introduction he is one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed wine writers with a plethora of awards and books to his credit. He has been appropriately recognized for services to New Zealand’s wine industry and is a renowned specialist who has devoted the last twenty years to being a full-time wine writer.

And so his latest edition of Michael Cooper’s Buyers Guide to New Zealand Wines 2015 is pretty much indispensable. Fresh off the press it leaves me with a sense of confidence (and so should all my nearest and dearest feel the same way) that well equipped with this miniature tome excellent quality vino will find its way to their glasses.

Now be warned. Not a text to spend an afternoon devouring it’s not a huge page-turner (unless of course you are wholly vested in ingesting 613 pages of information in one go) but like all good wines deserves to be consulted, mused over and accordingly matched with the appropriate occasion.

Unlike some other wine guides it begins with useful information that includes vintage charts over the last decade, the different wine making regions of NZ, a very welcome guide to ‘cellar sense’ and above all a section devoted to ‘how to use this book’. As the author tells us: ‘Feel free to skip any of the other preliminary pages, but not these.’

After spending five minutes reading the above pages (twice I must confess to ensure the adhesive used for my memory wall is somewhat reliable) I can wholeheartedly recommend you do the same.

Not only because Cooper explains how the star ratings (which are based on his own subjective opinion) are given in regard to each wine’s overall standard in recent vintages, but also the various other additional ratings that he has chosen to provide. Quality ratings for the latest vintage of each wine are also included when appropriate; Super Classic, Classic and Potential Classic ratings are visually represented with varying bunches of grapes and there are also dryness-sweetness, price and value-for money ratings. Occasionally you might also find Winemaker’s Ratings (WR) and ‘When to Drink’ recommendations. Look out for the P symbol as it suggests that ‘that particular vintage is already at, or has passed, its peak and no further benefits are expected from ageing’.

You can see how indispensable those few pages are to any serious aficionado but also to anyone who would rather not proffer the wrong wine at the wedding.

The emphasis of the guide is on white and red wines. Divided alphabetically into their various categories the whites extend from Albariños to Würzers. But if you’re just looking for a good chardonnay, well then, head straight to the most prestigious white wine variety in New Zealand and browse through the various options. The details will not fail you.

Alchemy’s Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, for example, is described as having ‘concentrated, ripe, stone-fruit flavours, slightly spicy and buttery, good complexity…enjoyable young, it is also age-worthy, with plenty of personality.’ Needless to say it’s easy to forget whether we’re describing Christmas cake or hopes of how our other halves might mature over time but with a four star rating the 2013 vintage might be a winner.

If you’re a lover of red red wine however, head over to a wide selection of Malbecs, Nebbiolos, Syrahs as well as Merlots and Pinot Noirs. As a note Brancott Estate Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2013 is Cooper’s Best Red Wine Buy of the Year and Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2014 scoops up the prize for Best White.

In between the excellent selections of white and red, Cooper’s guide also features sweet white, sparkling, and rosé wines once again leaving no vine unturned in your search for the perfect liquid refreshment.

A thoroughly enjoyable, informative and essential guide that (irrespective of whether you drink wine or not) should have a place in all New Zealand homes.

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Dione is an Auckland based theatre director and writer with background in performance and community & cultural development. She works as a freelance arts journalist, guest lecturer and creative advisor on a range of different projects both in New Zealand and internationally. She is primarily a non-fiction reviewer who adores travelogues, history, memoirs and creative cooking texts. Read more at

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