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Featured Publication
posted 9 June 2001

Pocket Guide to Wines of New Zealand
by Michael Cooper

Pocket Guide to Wines of NZ - by Michael Cooper
published in 2000 by Reed Books
ISBN: 0 7900 0753 3

Michael Cooper is New Zealand's most prolific wine author, having authored over twenty books on New Zealand wine including the award winning 'The Wines and Vineyards of New Zealand'. However many of his titles, such as the annual Buyers Guide to New Zealand Wine and the Buyers Guide to Imported Wines, are designed for the domestic market.

This, the Pocket Guide to Wines of New Zealand, is not. It is part of the highly successful Mitchell Beazley Pocket Guides and has been designed for wine lovers around the world, wherever New Zealand wine is sold.

First published by Mitchell Beazley in 1997, this 2000 edition is full of up-to-date information, with 280 pages covering the background and current state-of-play of the New Zealand wine scene.

The brief history of New Zealand wine is well researched and condensed into just over 8 pages. Most of the major events are covered from the time that grapes vines were first introduced into New Zealand in the early 1800's, to the development of the Liquor Licensing Laws almost seventy years later, to mid-2000 - just before Corbans was sold to Montana. If you don't know the story, it is fascinating reading.

"A cool climate is New Zealand's key viticultural asset" commences the 2-page section on Climate and Soils. Cooper points out it is hard to draw parallels between New Zealand and other fine wine regions as we are alone in the southern seas and far from the influence of continental air masses. The soils are talked about in general terms only at this stage of the book.

The section of the key grape varieties covers in detail nine white varieties: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon and Semillon; and seven red varieties, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Pinotage and Syrah.

Cooper acknowledges Neil Culley, the winemaker at Babich Wines, as helping with the section on Making Wine in New Zealand. "Modern wine production is a challenging task", it begins. Within the chapter are sub-headings of Growing grapes ("'The unsung heroes of New Zealand wine are the viticulturists"), Making Wine, White Wine, Red Wine and Sparkling Wine. Cooper points out that New Zealand's late development into the fine wine scene allowed the industry to avoid other countries' mistakes and to adopt only the established best practices.

Philip Gregan, the Chairman of the Wine Institute of New Zealand assisted with the details for the Laws and Labels chapter. Did you know, that in New Zealand, a wine carrying the name of a single grape variety has only to contain 75% of the stated grape? Similarly a wine labelled Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot only requires 75% of the stated grape varieties and the variety that appears first must be the dominant one. Cooper muses on the fact that our wine labels laws have loopholes, perhaps something that led to the wine labelling scandal in 1998, the first major wine industry scandal since the 'watering of wine' almost 20 years earlier.

Before the book launches into winery profile by region, we see a vintage chart covering the years 1990 to 2000. These are based on a 7-point scale; 7 being 'outstanding' and 1 being 'bad'. Vintage ratings for eight main areas; Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago, are covered.

However the winemaking regions that follow also include Northland and Waikato/Bay of Plenty, which are presumably lumped into Auckland in the preceding vintage charts.

Over 250 of the countries 370-odd wineries are profiled. Each listing includes the physical address, date of establishment, the owners' names and annual production at the time of writing. A little about the people, the setting, the history and the wines they produce, follow. Cooper then lists his 'average' star rating for the company's wines, based on his tastings over several years for his Buyers Guides and other reviews). Star rating on newer wineries, where there have not been enough samples tried to give and accurate average, are placed in parentheses.

240 pages cover the regions and winery profiles of this 280-page book and the wineries are fully indexed at the end of this section.

The Pocket Guide to Wines of New Zealand costs about $24.95 in New Zealand. It is an excellent overview of the New Zealand wine industry and is a good primer for Michael Cooper's new book, The Wine Atlas of New Zealand, which is due for release later this year.

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