This seems yet another very worthwhile title by Michael Cooper, one of our most authoritative wine writers. It is the title that primarily draws one to the book, whether serious wine aficionado or relative newbie. The book is another in the ‘Must-Experience’ genre that puts the most lavish, exotic or interesting subjects in front of the everyday person, giving these ordinary folk the reason to imagine or dream of the ultimate, if not actually inspire them to do something about it. And that’s where this book is flawed.
It must be one of the more difficult tasks for any New Zealand wine enthusiast to put together a list of 100 (or in that case any number of) wines that must-be-tried-before-you-die. The criteria surely must be based on the best and most interesting experiences possible, as with all books and titles of this type. The author himself would no doubt admit to the difficulty in choosing his 100 wines, and he states the rationale behind his choices in the preface. “The whole idea of the book is to give you a diverse and stimulating array of New Zealand wines to choose from”, whether it be based on quality, novelty or value. Cooper’s “basic goal was to highlight 100 New Zealand wines of special interest and provide something for all readers, regardless of their taste preferences and budgets”.
Surely such a book should put forward the very best, the most stimulating, the most inspirational, no matter what the cost. Once the concept of value is introduced, there are compromises, and this is in the areas of quality, interest and aspiration. I’m not taking away from the importance of value, for not all of us have money trees in our garden or vineyard, but when something becomes affordable, the ‘must-try’ becomes much easier – which leads to ‘can-try when you want to’.
Why would you not want to try the Saint Clair’ Wairau Reserve’ Sauvignon Blanc instead of the ‘regular’ Saint Clair Sauvignon Blanc Cooper lists? Also, the Church Road ‘Reserve Chardonnay’ ahead of the ‘standard’ Church Road Chardonnay? Likewise the Felton Road ‘Block 5′ Pinot Noir instead of the Felton Road ‘Bannockburn’ Pinot Noir. And given the choice between Craggy Range ‘Sophia’ and the Craggy Range ‘Gimblett Gravels’ Merlot, what would your choice be to try?
The problem for the author is that he’s already covered the ground that this book purports to with his ‘Classic Wines of New Zealand, and there, he does more, in its detail and his ranking and status of the best wines of the country. I admire Michael Cooper for his writing. His ‘Buyers’ Guide to New Zealand Wines’, the twentieth edition to be released later this year, is truly the ‘Bible’ on the subject, and his ‘Wine Atlas of New Zealand’ is the definitive reference book. He has a very clear writing style and his presentation of facts and information is second to none. I find his synopsis of any wine producer and his description of their wines is accurate. This ‘100 Must-Try’ book has all the Cooper writing traits, is up-to-date and enjoyable, but misses the mark in my opinion because it doesn’t provide what the title suggests readers will want to buy the book for. His selection is interesting, fun and different. The book worth the read as long as one doesn’t expect all the wines to be ‘Must-Try’.