I’ve got a collection of Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guides in my bookcases, going back many years, not quite all 23 editions of which this 2015 guide is the latest, but the lineage is greater than any other annual wine publication I buy. It’s a testament to the thoroughness and value of the author’s opinions on a huge number of the wines that are made in this country.
Many would assume that Michael and I are competitors in the wine review business, and in some ways we are. I don’t always agree with Michael’s scores and ratings, and this can be attributed to our different philosophies, experiences, aims and roles. Michael is certainly an advocate for the consumer, and has a Ralph Nader-like approach to wines and the industry, whereas I’m more a consultant for the wine industry, providing advice and encouragement. There is crossover, as his work and mine is viewable by the public in general. I respect Michael’s views and opinions highly, and this is why I keep buying his books.
Michael is one of New Zealand’s most prolific wine writers, working as such since 1991. He has nearly 40 books published, including the best New Zealand wine reference book, the ‘Wine Atlas of New Zealand’. His writing has earned him many literary awards as well as New Year Honours in 2004. With such a track record, Michael’s opinions and thoughts on the wine industry and its wines should be taken into account.
The 2015 Buyer’s Guide
The 2015 edition follows a proven format with the core of the book comprising Michael’s tasting notes for over 3,000 wines organised into White, Sweet White, Rosé and Red Wines, the notes grouped under their grape varieties for the White and Red wine sections. Each variety and category has a brief introduction as to the styles to expect and its plantings and prominence. The tasting notes for each of the 3,000+ wines includes a rating to the 5-star system with an indicator of its dryness or sweetness, approximate retail price and its idea of value. Many of the tasting notes also include information from the winemaker on their ratings of various vintages and their recommended drinking window. For me, it’s the star rating and descriptions that matter most, and for the majority of the notes, I’d have a similar judgement, though I find I’m a little more positive and generous.
The book has a lot more information too, including a map of the winemaking regions, vintage charts over the last decade and a report of the 2014 vintage covering all the major growing regions. And there are also essays on cellaring with cellaring guidelines for different varieties and styles of wines. As can be expected, there’s a useful and practical index at the back to help locate a particular wine one might want to search for.
One of the more interesting sections is Michael’s classification system where the top wines of the country according to his judgement are called ‘Super Classics’, of which there are 46, 5 more than last year. Next in line are the ‘Classics’ and then ‘Potential Classics’. Wines which fit into these top tiers are marked as such in the main body of the book in the tasting notes. Michael also has a group of wines loosely called ‘Everyman’s Classics’ which he deems offers quality and value. Every year, Michael nominates two wines as his ‘Best Buys of the Year’ one a white and the other a red. For the 2015 edition, they are Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Hawke’s Bay Viognier 2014 and Brancott Estate Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2013. The classification system and to a lesser extent the ‘Best Buys’ have a life of their own and following by the industry in particular.
The Future for the Buyer’s Guide
In my review of the 2014 edition of Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide last year, I posed the question on how useful the book is, with the growth of on-line information that is more up-to-date than an annually published volume, as well as the easy access to the internet by computers, lap tops, tablets and smart phones. As stated last year, the book is out-of-date as soon as it is published, and indeed, it is common to come across wines of newer vintages on the shelves that aren’t listed in the book.
Michael has his own website www.michaelcooper.co.nz that was launched the same year as the 2011 Buyer’s Guide, and this is his answer to the above questions. The site has all the information in the book; and it would be complete if it had all the historical notes. While some of the content is free to view, most of it requires a subscription, this being $39.99 per annum, the same cost as the book. It makes sense for readers who wish to follow Michael Cooper on New Zealand wine to access his website rather than buying the book. I guess it’s only a matter of time before Michael ceases the hard copy edition.
New Zealand Wines 2015 – Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide, By Michael Cooper
Upstart Press, Auckland, 2014, ISBN 978-1-927262-14-6