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Featured Publication
October 2003

Wine in New Zealand
Caroline Courtney (text), Austin Langford (photos) and Stephen Woodham (art).

Wine in New Zealand
published in 2003 by Random House
ISBN 1 86962 093 3

Reviewed by Sue Courtney, 14 October 2003

Here's a glossy tome, hardback, full size, full of tantalising photographs luring you to read the text to find out more and it's beautifully written text too, by Caroline Courtney whose husband is no relation my husband (as far as we know).

Of all the New Zealand wine books I've seen, this is beautifully presented and the information it provides is relatively timeless. Forget the endless lists of wine producers, where they are and what they make, forget the endless lists of producers' wines, what they taste like and how they rate. What we have here is good solid information about wine in New Zealand, our local wine regions, the popular grape varieties and wine styles and how to make the most of wine.

It's a book that's been sponsored by Montana but don't expect a totally one-sided Montana view of things. "The aim in producing it has been to help readers gain a basic understanding of the building blocks that combine to create the sensory experience we have come to expect from New Zealand wine", says Peter Hubscher in the foreword.

Terry Dunleavy compiles a historical timeline tracing the development of the New Zealand wine industry to the present day (well 2002 actually, when we exported 23 million litres of wine).

Then follows a chapter on grape varieties and wine styles. Each variety is presented with a full page shot of a bunch of grapes and a graphical representation of its ampelographic structure - by that I mean the shape of its leaf. Other photos represent images of some of the classic descriptors, for example with Sauvignon Blanc there are pictures of peas, grass and capsicum, with Chardonnay there's wood, butter, pineapple and peach. The text describes the romance of the grape, the styles of wine it makes, typical flavours and aromas and food matches and a pronunciation guide. While the emphasis is on where the grapes grow and how they perform in New Zealand, there are brief references to each grape's origins and worldwide plantings.

'Making the Most of Wine' is a comprehensive chapter, a chapter that covers what many books dedicate their whole subject matter to. How to interpret the label, the different types of bottles and closures, opening and serving wine, what to drink it out of and of course the art and science of tasting wine, a comprehensive section based on the Wine Gallery's wine education classes run by Mark Polglase. There's a section on matching food and wine with pictures that simply want to make you eat and drink and last but not least there's a section on cellaring.

The 'Wine Regions' chapter is a wine atlas in itself. Covering the main wine growing regions of New Zealand with maps and photographs, the text delves into the history of each region, the climate, soils types, key varieties, a typical vintage and trends. Where it is warranted, the sub-districts within the region are discussed.

'Viticulture' is the next chapter, what it takes to produce the best quality fruit and the challenges faced. There's more on climate and soils but in greater depth. It takes a look at the birth of a vineyard from vineyard design, propagating and planting vines, trellising and canopy systems and the annual cycle of the vines and the vineyard. Vineyard vandals are discussed too, as is organic winegrowing.

Making wine is important. A winemaker's life is fraught with decisions and this chapter looks at the options available for red, white wine styles, sweet and sparkling styles.

Finally a brief look at some of the wines imported into New Zealand and where would a book like this be without a glossary.

320 pages in all, it's massive, not for one sitting, so use the in-built bookmarker to keep your place or to mark your favourite shot so when visitors open the book on your coffee table it will quickly whisk into them into the romance of the vinous world.

I have to say I am totally impressed with this comprehensive, well presented, easy to read book that has lots of pictures and informative but not overwhelming text. I was worried that it would only be Montana wines and brands but that's not the case at all. There are little stories along the way of some of our most well-known wine producers and identities, think Kumeu River in Auckland, Milton in Gisborne, Ata Rangi in Martinborough and so on.

It really is several books in one and I consider the recommended retail of $59.95 as excellent value.

Expect to find it in major booksellers and with Christmas on the way, what a terrific gift it would make. It's suitable for wine lovers from complete novice to expert in my opinion - it's certainly a welcome addition to my bookshelf.

Overseas readers can enquire with Montana Wines - www.montana as to its availability internationally.

© Sue Courtney
14 October 2003

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