Michael Cooper ONZM strikes a pose

It’s been called ‘the absolute bible of New Zealand wines’ and ‘totally indispensable’ by critics and consumers alike, and over the last 20 years I’ve watched Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines grow from a dainty, pocket-sized paperback to a tome so heavy SAS troops are made to complete torturous 10km training runs with volumes stuffed into their backpacks. From Albarino to Zweigelt, over 3000 wines have been assessed by Cooper covering close to fifty different grape varieties and wine categories.  Always value-focused, Cooper has revealed his Best Red Wine Buy of the Year to be the Wild South Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010, which at $18 or less offers unbeatable value.

“It’s just as impressive as most Pinot Noirs in the $25–­$30 price bracket.” His White Wine Buy of the Year is the Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011.

In addition to comprehensive updates on national vineyard areas, highly accurate vintage reports from every wine growing region and the absolutely essential Classic Wines of New Zealand list, Cooper always writes an insightful essay on the state of the industry.  The 2012 edition focuses on the way our wine industry had changed so dramatically over the past two decades.

In 1991 when his first book came out, Cooper tasted just 1000 wines, these days he says you need to taste about 10 wines every day to keep up with industry developments.  He can’t just “open a couple of bottles a night at home” any more. “Back then a national vineyard tour could be completed in a month, taking in about 100 wineries and tasting around 1000 wines” says Cooper, “these days you’d be gone forever, trying to visit 700 producers and taste 4,000 wines”.

Easily NZ’s most acclaimed wine writer, with 35 books and several major literary awards to his credit, Michael Cooper was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004 for services to wine writing. He was also awarded the Sir George Fistonich Medal in recognition of services to New Zealand wine in 2009.

‘The Guide’ is also online for the first time for a fee of $39.99.

The 20th Anniversary edition of Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines 2011 (Hodder Moa, $39.99 RRP, on sale now)

MacDonald family launches new wine from Marlborough’s historic Wairau Bar

Blenheim’s MacDonald family has launched a new wine from their property on the Wairau Bar. The family – who affiliate with Rangitane, Ngati Rarua and Ngai Tahu – has lived at Wairau Bar since 1350, and their wine is called te Pā in recognition of their home. te Pā has launched with a 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, and the family is currently trialling Pinot Noir. The Wairau Bar is probably the most important ancient site in New Zealand where evidence of what was the very first settlement of Polynesian people close to 800 years ago.
“We have always cultivated our land – whether it’s been crops, dairy, beef, or fishing in the river or ocean on either side of the Bar,” says Haysley MacDonald. “te Pā captures a long family heritage of living off our land, and sharing our bountiful resources with other people.”

The Wairau Bar in Marlborough - site of the first human landing in New Zealand

According to the www.wairaubar.wordpress blog ‘The Bar’ is an 8km stretch of gravel bank formed where the mighty Wairau River collides with the turbulent waters of Cloudy Bay and the Pacific Ocean, dragging gravel and boulders into a long thin arc that divides ocean from lagoon.  It’s flat, windswept and at the mercy of the elements, but for the first people who reached these shores it was a perfect place to live.  On one side the ocean was full of fish, while the massive seires of lagoon theat shelter behind the bar teemed with shellfish, eel, waterfowl and whitebait.  The Wairau River gave access to the valleys and mountains of Marlborough – home to the giant Moa.

From hunting moa to farming more conventional livestock centuries later, I’m also told the MacDonald’s 500ha farm once provided the Marlborough region with potatoes, complete with its own chip factory on the property.  Now a 150ha chunk of that land is under vine.

The first vines were planted on the property in 2004 and the vineyard sits between the Wairau River and Cloudy Bay. The rich topsoil of the lower Wairau Valley, combined with the Rarangi alluvial deposits present on the site, help produce fruit with a complex flavour profile according to Haysley.
The wine won a silver medal at the Christchurch International Aromatic Competition in October which I judged – and everyone on my panel agreed it was nicely put together “Which, in its first vintage, bodes well for future success” says marketing manager Scott Wilson.

The MacDonald family has run a successful contract harvesting business in Marlborough for seven years, but the decision to move into grape growing came after discussions from established winemakers in the area. “We’ve had enormous local support making our start in the wine industry. That’s what I love about this area. It’s our family home, but the whole community is a family too; and we all want the same thing—to make great wine,” says Haysley.

Sip of the Week

Amisfield Central Otago Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $25

If you’re thinking sauvignon from these seriously southern climes would be lean and green, think again.  Amisfield’s has pungent, ripe, tropical pineapple, lime and passionfruit aromas with basil and peapod notes.  It’s vibrant, refreshingly zesty, ultra-tangy and has a lovely, satisfying mouthfeel and superb, clean length of flavour. Great stuff. www.amisfield.co.nz

Amisfield Central Otago Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Naturale Skor Premium Lager ($6 x 340ml)

Created by Tony Dapson from BrewMoreBeers Ltd, this is a fantastic little lager that I discovered at the Hawke’s Bay A&P Show recently.  Vibrantly hoppy with flavoursome, mouthfilling malt and a refreshingly rich finish it’s a good drop from this small brewery.  Even my truck driver dad pronounced it “pretty flash” which is high praise indeed.  Email brewmorebeers@actrix.co.nz to order.

Naturale Skor Premium Lager

Yealands Marlborough Pinot Noir Rosé 2011 $19

Soft strawberry and redcurrant aromas open the door to a crisp, rhubarb-like tang on the tongue and a long, slightly herbaceous finish.  Available from www.yealands.com

Yealands Pinot Noir Rose 2011

te Pā Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $19

This debut sauvignon from the MacDonald family is a little cracker.  Aromatic green herbs and soft, limey notes are punctured by passionfruit and followed by grassy, tangy tropical fruit and lingering minerality on the finish.  Fabulous with steamed Cloudy Bay clams.  For where to buy email scott@tepawines.com

te Pa Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2011

Kim Crawford First Pick Lo-Cal Sauvignon Blanc 2011 $17

I can see this being a sure-fire hit for summer with its delicate aromas of white peach, elderflower and soft citrus.  At only 9% alc and with 25% less calories than it’s classic First Pick cousin it’s extremely crisp, clean and lightweight but has a delicious pineapple and passionfruit zing on the finish.  Widely available.