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Book Review- New Zealand Wines 2019 - Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide, By Michael Cooper


Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines is the 27th iteration of this dependable reference book. It comes out just before Christmas, and makes an ideal stocking-filler for almost all wine drinkers who are interested in New Zealand wine.

The core of the book is made up of around 3,000 reviews or tasting notes of New Zealand wine that Michael has tasted over the year. The book is well ordered in that the wines are presented alphabetically in their variety and styles, and it is easy to search for a note on a wine you wish to find out more about. Michael rates the wine (out of a maximum of 5-stars), and if relevant, where it fits in, in his classification of the best wines, such as ‘Super Classic’, ‘Classic’ or ‘Potential Classic’ by the inclusion of 3, 2 or 1 grape clusters. Other important information includes sweetness level, a judgement on pricing or value, and how the producer rates different vintages of the wine. Some of the notes are very detailed, while others are somewhat briefer and more a cursory opinion. Michael’s matter-of-fact style lends an air of authority to his notes.

As noted in my reviews of previous editions of this book, the essential flaw, as with any similar book, is that it is already out of date on publication: there are many new wines that have been released since. The book is useful in that it gives a history of the wines tasted that still may be on the shelves or available through a winery’s website, but there will be no review on the current release wine. Of course, one can extrapolate – or go on-line to a review website that will be more up-to date, including Michael’s own site at One must subscribe to access reviews, so it’s a matter of buying the book and subscribing to his website, to get the latest information.

A Useful Overview and Reference
Despite the criticism as stated above, there’s plenty of good information about the New Zealand wine industry at an overview level as well as reference detail. Vintage charts going back a decade and regional reports on the latest vintage (here it is 2018) give a great insight to the growing season in the main grapegrowing districts, so one might have an expectation on the wines still to be released.

Another feature is Michael’s ‘Best Buys of the Year’ these being the Thornbury Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 for the White Wine, and the Esk Valley Gimblett Gravels Merlot/Malbec/Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 for the Red. These aren’t the author’s very best wines he’s tasted, as the selection involves the concept of value too.
For the serious New Zealand wine enthusiast, Michael has his lists of ‘Super Classics’, ‘Classics’ and ‘Potential Classics’ as his thoughts as to the best wines made in the country, taking into account how these wines have performed over a number of vintages. It’s a bit of an honour to be included as one these wines.

In this edition, Michael bemoans that a number of high profile wineries have not sent in samples in recent years "despite regular invitations”, so have been removed from these lists, as he can not make judgements on the latest wines. Michael sees the influence of other reviewers who might give a better review as one of the reasons. But in reality, not every wine producer has the resources, availability and finances to send out their often very expensive wine to every possible wine critic in the country. I know for a fact that some of these producers have chosen not to send their wines to Michael now send their bottlings to overseas critics who have a more direct influence on their sales, and who will offer a greater, global perspective. So as with all wine reviewers and their work, any publication – printed or on-line – will never be comprehensive. Wine writers and critics have no right to the entitlement of being so.

The Future
In my review of the 2018 edition of this book, I suggested that it’s time for a new approach for the book. The overview of the industry could be made more detailed, and Michael could offer more of his thoughts on how the industry is going, or where it should be going. I believe the author’s best works have included his ‘Atlas’ of New Zealand wines, and there hasn’t been an up-dated edition for a while now. Michael is also well-known for his advocacy for the consumer, and this approach could be delved into more deeply.

The latest edition of Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand wines is now 560 pages long, and it’s not a small ‘pocket-sized’ publication. It’s a book you need to consciously bring with you to the wine shops and supermarket, and it’s one that you need a table to rest it on while you peruse. It is in all reality a proper reference book. Many people now use their cellphone or a tablet when looking for more information on a wine they intend to purchase. As with many books, this guide is becoming less useful as it was meant to be. My suggestions made last year are more applicable this year. It is time to take a fresh look at what this book could be to, and offer the keen wine enthusiast. 

New Zealand Wines 2019 – Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide, By Michael Cooper
Upstart Press, Auckland, 2018, ISBN 978-1-988516-36-3
RRP $39.99
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