The release of this book is a milestone for Michael Cooper. He is one of the most prolific authors on New Zealand wine with 41 books to his credit, the ‘New Zealand Wines 2017’ being the 25th edition of this publication. That’s a remarkable track record, and it is notable that Michael has won a number of literary awards for his other books, my pick being his ‘Wine Atlas of New Zealand’, which still serves as an essential reference.
Nearly 3,000 Tasting Notes
What draws most readers to this book are the nearly 3,000 tasting notes of New Zealand wine by the author. For the wine interested enthusiast and buyer, the book is a huge collection of notes and ratings of wines that is contained in one hands-on source. Ostensibly this is the book’s most valuable asset. The reader can easily search for a wine, as the notes are logically presented, being arranged into White Wines, Sweet Wines, Sparkling Wines, Rosé Wines and Red Wines, the ‘White’ and ‘Red’ wine sections broken down into variety or style. The varieties are listed alphabetically, with the producers’ names then listed alphabetically.
However, the notes do vary, some are quite brief with two lines, others more comprehensive. The rating system that Cooper employs is detailed and is integral with overarching perspectives he has gained in the 25 years of this publication and his long experience of the wines and the industry. Not only are the wines rated to a 5-star scale, but if they meet the criteria, they are noted as ‘Super Classics’, ‘Classics’ or ‘Potential Classics’. The tasting note gives an indication of the wines’ sweetness level, pricing and the value according to the author. Some tasting notes, of the more prestigious wines especially, have information on past vintages, the rating of those vintages according to the producer and a drinking window.
Publishing Wine Reviews in the Modern World
The major problem with the tasting notes, as voiced in my review of last year’s edition of the book (click here to see), is that once the book is published, it is out-of-date. The tasting notes for many of the wines are not of the most current releases, or what is available on the retailers’ shelves or offered on-line Also, it is impossible for any wine writer, reviewer or critic to have a notes on every single wine produced, published in their writings. There are just too many New Zealand wines being made now. However, one must give credit to Cooper for his admirable work in compiling so many reviews.
It would be fair comment to say that the majority of wine consumers search for information on wines they are keen on via on-line means, and from multiple sources, to get a balanced view of what the wine is like and how good it is. What is published on-line is generally more up-to-date and undeniably more comprehensive than any book. It’s the way the world is, as can be seen by the global demise of newsprint, magazines and books. Unfortunately for the author also, much of the information on any wine can be obtained freely. For example, my own website has no charge for readers to see my writing. The author has his own website www.michaelcooper.co.nz and as with the majority of other reviewers, the website charges a fee for readers to access the information. We all acknowledge that a writer, reviewer or critic must get some monetary compensation for their work, as practically no-one can work for free! If you pay your monies to buy this book, you’re quite possibly likely to pay for access to www.michaelcooper.co.nz Most wine consumers will opt for one means or the other – not both. So from my observations, the probable conclusion is that this book will become obsolete in the coming future. The trends as seen here, have been heeded by the publishing industry, which is now not only more critical in what they choose to publish in printed form, but increasing their operations into the on-line world.
An Overview of the New Zealand Wine Scene
If the tastings notes in this book have a degree of redundancy, then the introductory chapters are very useful. Cooper’s preface summarises the current status of our wine scene pretty well, and he has a one-page map of the New Zealand growing regions with basic statistics. There’s a vintage chart for the major regions with their performance for white and red wines going back a decade to 2007. Then there’s the 2016 Vintage Report chapter where he describes. with quotes from winegrowers, the growing and vintage conditions in each region.
One of the features of Michael Cooper’s Buyers Guide is his annual selection of ‘Best Buys of the Year. This year, it’s Villa Maria ‘Cellar Selection’ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 and Church Road Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2014. These aren’t necessarily the best wines he’s tasted through the year, but rather wines that meet multiple criteria that end up with wines that the ‘average’ consumer can appreciate and access, which is very laudable in market terms. To celebrate this 25th edition, Cooper has listed ‘25 Not-to-be-missed New Zealand Wines’, which takes into account quality and value.
Then come Cooper’s lists of ‘Super Classics’, ‘Classics’ and ‘Potential Classics. These comprise the top wines of the country as rated by the author, and incorporate his accumulating experience and the progress made by wine producers. This year, the author has upgraded and added 6 new ‘Super Classics’, 17 ‘Classics’ and 33 ‘Potential Classics’ to last year’s lists. These groupings of wines are those that will most likely interest the winemakers themselves and the keener enthusiasts. After these lists is yet another list of quality wines that have a good track record, are widely available and deliver value. Cooper sees these as benchmark wines of their type – “a sort of Everyman’s classic”. Without being too cynical, there are probably too many lists, there being lists for lists’ sake, and the result can be confusion, as so many wines are recommended for one reason or another.
The final pages of the introductory material cover the cellaring of different styles of wines. This is a practice that is losing ground now, as consumers enjoy immediacy. The author puts forward a good case on the worth of keeping wines until they show their full potential.
This year, I enjoyed the book for the introductory material. Maybe the future for this publication could head along these lines and expand on what is offered in the introduction to the reviews.
New Zealand Wines 2017 – Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide, 25th Anniversary Edition, By Michael Cooper
Upstart Press, Auckland, 2016, ISBN 978-1-927262-66-5