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Featured Publication

Recent Wine Review Guides

Reviewed by Sue Courtney, 15th December 2007

Michael Cooper Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wine 2008 ($34.99).   cooper book 08
This is the 16th edition of the book and the most authorative as well. A whopping 528 pages in length, it is the most inclusive New Zealand wine rating guide 'in print' with 3085 wines reviewed according to the front cover, including 524 chardonnays, 415 sauvignon blancs and 469 pinot noirs.

The format is the same as in previous years, including the necessary guide on how to use the book. There's the latest season's vintage report (2007) covering the 10 major regions; trends in the wine market (did you know kiwis still drink more beer than wine?); where to buy wine and cellaring information. He writes extensively about his White and Red Wines of the Year, which are not necessarily the best wines he has tasted all year, but the ones that fit the criteria of quality, availability and affordability.

Then there are the 'Classics' - Super Classics, Classics and Potential Classics - and another unnamed category for wines not at the forefront in quality terms but benchmark wines of their sort because they have been produced for many vintages, are widely available and deliver good to excellent quality and value.

In the 'Classics', he highlights the wines that have been elevated in status - but there is no mention of the ones that have been dropped. To find out if there are any that have been dropped, it is necessary to compare the current guide with last year's guide, and I don't have a copy of the 2007. In fact the last guide I have seems to be the 2005.

So to the wine reviews, which Cooper rates on a five star rating system, with '5 stars' the best and 'no stars' to be avoided. Quickly flicking through the book, I didn't find any wines less than two stars and a largest percentage would have three stars or above. What would be good, I feel is a breakdown of stars awarded - and also stars awarded by region.

As comprehensive as the book is, there are a number of brands missing, and not all wines from every producer have been reviewed. It must be frustrating for writers of wine guide books to have wines arrive on your door step the day after you close off the document and send the manuscript to the publisher. So there are some current vintage wines missing as well.

Bottom line on this book - If your palate is attuned to Michael Cooper's palate, then this is the guide for you. Basically it's the only printed, comprehensive ratings guide of New Zealand wines, therefore the leader in its category.

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joelle book 08In the 2008 Indispensable Wine Guide ($24.99), by Joelle Thomson, 862 wines under $25 are reviewed and there are plenty of tasty overseas wines as well as local tipples. Joelle's penchant for modern European reds is reflected in her top picks. Chivite Gran Fuedo Reserve 2001 ($24-$25) from Spain is her number one wine. La Mura Nero d'Avola 2005 ($14-$15) from Southern Italy is best value.

Clearly presented and easy to read, wines are star-rated and unusual grape varieties, such as Nero D'Avola, are explained. It's a great buyers' guide for everyday savvies and chardonnays but also for something a little unusual, as well.

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Peter Saunders first wrote "A Guide to New Zealand Wine" in 1976 and in the middle of 2007, this 25th edition was released. With 480 pages, this is the most detailed review of New Zealand wineries in print. It includes a comprehensive industry overview, then wineries are listed in alphabetical order with winery background and reviews of recently available wines. Wine are not rated by stars or any other means but Peter, whose second name could be 'Frank', tells you in words whether the wines are ready, unfolding or past it. saunders book 07

Peter goes out of his way to find information about new producers, including even dropping me the occasional line to see what I know, so this is the most up to date winery guide in that respect. I also like the inclusion of synonyms for wineries and second labels in the alphabetical listing, which refers you to the main winery entry for that brand. Also of use is the inclusion of brand names that are now defunct.
A solid introduction to the evolution and current state of the New Zealand wine industry precedes the winery listings.
My only gripe would be that some of the wine reviews are rather old - for a book published mid-2007, I'd expect more 2006 wine reviews to be included. There's also the odd typo (which I am notorious for myself), and somehow the map was omitted.

I consider it a worthwhile industry and winery reference.

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taste book 08.jpg Taste Food and Wine 2008 by Matthew Dukes and Tyson Stelzer is an interesting book, with only 365 wines reviewed - and for some of the wines actual 'taste' reviews are lacking, but you do learn about the producer's ideals and background.  Wines are split into sparkling, white, rose, red and sweet/fortified section and listed ascending order of price.  They are mostly Australian wines with a smattering of rather predictable New Zealand wines - Kumeu River, Cloudy Bay, Dog Point and Felton Road among them.

I'm not sure if the size of the book is right because with 384 sturdy pages it is rather thick for its narrow footprint. But where this book stands out is for it quirky presentation. Snippets of descriptors (from where I've no idea) head each page, although bear little relevance to the text below. But just flicking through page after page of these 'headers' is fun on its own and shows the authors have a sense of humour.
There's a comprehensive section of food and wine combinations - prepared with more thought than many other guides that usually reproduce predictable same old same old combos. Taste also list foods to avoid.
A "who's who" of top wine producers in the author's opinion has some surprising omissions in the NZ section and also some surprising inclusions.  Similar comments apply to the 'Great New Zealand Pinot Noir Classification".
The book costs (probably) from $25-$29 in New Zealand and it's probably available at one of the wine shops that is listed in the retailers section.
These guys are Internet savvy, so you can read more about this book online. Check it out at

Parts of these reviews appeared in Sue Courtney's column in the Rodney Times in November 2007.

© Sue Courtney
15th December 2007

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