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Book Review- New Zealand Wines 2018 - Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide, By Michael Cooper


13-Jan-2018


As regular as clockwork, Michael Cooper releases his annual ‘Buyer’s Guide’ for New Zealand wines just before Christmas, in time for wine enthusiasts and their friends to purchase as a present. I was sent a copy to review at the end of November in 2017, but I must admit I’m not as punctual as Michael, with my review. December turned out to be a very busy time with events to attend and visitors from overseas to host. But hopefully, my review will still be useful, as we start the new year; after all the book is for New Zealand wines in 2018.

A Successful, but Dated Formula?
This is the 26th edition of this book, and it follows a very successful formula that interests New Zealand wine enthusiasts. The heart of the book is the near-3,000 reviews of wines Michael has tasted and rated over the course of the year. The notes are very clearly presented in their different varieties or categories, being in alphabetical order. Information is given on the wines’ star ratings (out of 5-stars), their standing in Michael’s ranking of categories, the wines dryness or sweetness level, an indication of pricing and a judgement by Michael on their relative value. The tasting notes describe the wines; some of the notes reasonably comprehensive, other quite brief. I find the tasting notes and ratings fair and I’m in general agreement with them.

While all of Michael’s work is impressively detailed, the book has a flaw in that it is dated as soon as it is published. There are a significant number of notes on the wines that are superseded by newer releases which are already on the shelves, but not listed in the book. It’s a problem with all published work. Michael has his website www.michaelcooper.co.nz which is more up-to-date, and one can subscribe to it. I suspect that wine enthusiasts will prefer the on-line option over the printed version, and not avail themselves to both forms of information provision.

A New Approach
I respect Michael’s diligence and propensity for correct detailing, and this has made his New Zealand Wine Atlas a wonderful reference work. I believe the time is ripe for Michael to take a new approach with this publication, as the world is ever-increasingly embracing on-line publications to obtain current information. Michael’s website can do this for his wine reviews.

But where to take this book? To me, the Buyer’s Guide has other material to would make it worthy of purchasing alone, without the wine reviews. What I like is the Vintage Report of the year just gone. It gives a concise run-down on the growing season and resultant wines, quoting one or two sources for each region. This could be expanded and more detailed. There is already a vintage chart that rates the quality of white and red wines for the different regions for the last ten years. There is modest information on each of the winemaking regions of the country, primarily in the form of a map. Again, this could be a lot more comprehensive. And there is a section on cellarng wine, important for any collector.

A unique feature of the book is Michael’s list of the ‘Classic Wines of New Zealand’, with this country’s best wines classed as ‘Super Classics’, ‘Classics’ and ‘Potential Classics’. There’s even a selection which is loosely called ‘Everyman’s classics’. I know wine lovers and producers take these lists seriously, and wineries included are proud of their status, many hoping to move up into the next category. The composition does change for these, and a new book could make a great deal more of it, explaining why some wines have been promoted or demoted if this is case.
Another unique feature of Michael’s Buyer’s Guide is his selection of ‘Best Buys of the Year’. For this edition, he chose as his ‘Best White Buy’ the Mud House Waipara Riesling 2016, and as his ‘Best Red Wine Buy’ the Vidal ‘Reserve’ Gimblett Gravels Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2015. These are certainly not his highest-rated wines by far, but include the wines’ value and no doubt availability in the market place, as factors influencing their selection. They are populist wines for sure, but valid for it.

In essence, I see that the Buyer’s Guide could be altered to be an annual up-date of the Wine Atlas. This would have the benefits of being up-to-date on subjects less prone to the advance of time, and it would continue the Wine Atlas information in a tighter, but more easily produced publication. What about it, Michael?

New Zealand Wines 2018 – Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide, By Michael Cooper
Upstart Press, Auckland, 2016, ISBN 978-1-988516-06-6
RRP $39.99 
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