This is the 22nd edition of a New Zealand wine book classic, and it delivers everything earlier books have done. It’s pretty much a comprehensive guide for a wine interested person who wishes to buy a local wine from a wine shop, in a restaurant or wine bar, from a wine cellar door or on-line. The book will give the reader a good indication of what it tastes like, an idea of the cost, and how it fits in relative to the wine scene in terms of quality and standing, and sometimes how well it might keep. What else does anyone need, when thinking about buying a wine?
However, Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide has far more than one might expect from the title, as the author has a long experience and involvement in the industry, and is a prolific writer, with a number of books to his name, including the outstanding ‘Wine Atlas of New Zealand’. The ‘Buyer’s Guide’ outlines the country’s growing regions with a vintage report of the 2013 harvest, quoting people from each district. And there’s sensible information on cellaring wines.
Classifications, Best Buys and Reviews
Michael has built up his own framework and overview of this country’s wines with a tier system recognising the top, which he calls ‘Super Classics’, of which there are 41 wines listed. These are followed by ‘Classics’ and ‘Potential Classics’. There’s even a category he calls ‘Everyman’s Classics’ which are wines to take note of, especially in terms of value. This classification system has taken a life of its own and is seen as authoritative as anything can in an unofficial sense. Michael adjusts the lists, upgrading as the pedigree of a wine becomes more established. I’m not sure if he has ever demoted a wine yet.
Another call that is anticipated is Michael’s ‘Best Buys of the Year’, and for this year, it’s the Main Divide Waipara Valley Pinot Gris 2012 for white, and the Petit Clos by Clos Henri Marlborough Pinot Noir 2012 for red.
The heart of the book comprises the reviews of 3,159 wines, 101 wines less than last year. This breadth and depth is what makes the book valuable. I reckon Bob Campbell MW will taste and note more than this and maybe Sam Kim of ‘Wine Orbit’ might better him too, but their reviews aren’t published in book form. I review about 1,500+ on my website yearly, to date, so am definitely not up there in numbers of wines written about. However, I know that keen wine enthusiasts find non-book form reviews easily nowadays.
Michael writes in a very straightforward and easy-to-understand manner, and avoids any floral language. Some of the wine descriptions are full and detailed, others short with a couple of sentences only. The reviews are essentially sorted by style or variety, and Michael provides a considerable amount of information in the introductions to these sections. There’s so much information here that it can be easier to locate a review by going to the brand index at the back of the book.
The Future of the Buyer’s Guide
There’s a lot of discussion about books in general, nowadays. With electronic readers and the explosion of websites, book sales are surely and steadily declining. I wouldn’t be surprised if the latest editions of this book are experiencing a drop in numbers sold. The book nowadays has some disadvantages and limitations. Essentially, it’s out of date as soon as it is published, and one can easily see that with many of last year’s releases listed, when the current vintage not written about yet. And the size of the book makes it something you can’t carry around unobtrusively or effortlessly. It’s certainly no ‘pocket book’.
Michael has anticipated this with the launch of his website www.michaelcooper.co.nz The content of the ‘Buyer’s Guide’ is on it. I know how much work is involved in keeping a website up-to-date, so Michael will certainly be changing his work, writing and publishing protocols to manage this. He’s announced his intentions by stating that he’ll publish 50 new reviews every month, as of the start of 2014. The website is similar in concept to the majority overseas in that there is ‘free’ content, and areas where one must subscribe to be able to view. It’s a model that is not seen as income viable at present, unless there’s advertising involved. The future of wine writing and publishing and the ethos around it is still evolving, and no doubt different, workable outcomes are possible.
I for one enjoy the physical experience of holding a book and turning pages, and a book can become part of one’s household effects and personality. It isn’t the most efficient way to read, and an electronic reader certainly has its advantages, such that every household should have them. But I’ll still buy the ‘Buyer’s Guide’ for all my physical reasons, and it can sit alongside my e-reader, and hopefully not always underneath it. I don’t think I’m a dinosaur…
Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines 2014, By Michael Cooper
Hachette New Zealand Ltd, Auckland, 2013, ISBN 978-1-86971-314-0