New Zealand Wines 2021: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide

Has Covid-19 changed how we buy and drink wine?

Wine is a symbol of the good times, but we enjoy it in times of stress too. This challenging year has no doubt seen many Kiwis reaching for a glass or two of wine, but our wine-buying and wine-drinking behavior has shifted. Read more in New Zealand Wines 2021: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide.

Michael Cooper, New Zealand’s most acclaimed wine writer, believes the biggest changes are in where consumers are buying their wine and the brands they are selecting. 

“During times of crisis, when people spend less time browsing the shelves, famous, ‘safe’ brands flourish at the expense of less familiar labels,” says Cooper, whose new book New Zealand Wines 2021: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide (Upstart Press, $39.99) hits shelves Thursday 3 December.

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Michael says New Zealand’s large, often overseas-controlled, wine companies are trading through the pandemic far more profitably than the majority of small, family-owned vineyards. Big producers, with extensive distribution through supermarkets, are flourishing, because more and more people have been eating at home, but smaller producers are more likely to rely on restaurants, whose wine sales have fallen significantly.

Around the world, there was a swift drop in the per-bottle spend on wine in March, but there are now signs of a recovery to pre-Covid spend levels. Internet sales have surged, with many small wineries offering sharp deals online.  One prominent Central Otago producer says the forced closure of its cellar door was more than compensated for by a surge in online orders.       

Research shows that the occasions when we reach for a glass of wine have changed too.  When people are at home all day during lock-down, the traditional routine of a glass of wine only with dinner is disrupted.  Internationally, at-home drinking of wine without food has increased in frequency.

Summer drought was bad news for farmers, but dry weather is excellent for winegrowers and Cooper says the wine from the 2020 vintage looks excellent. 

Sauvignon Blanc dominated the harvest.  Almost 65 per cent of the country’s entire grape crop was of a single grape variety from a single region – Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.  Cooper reports the early releases from 2020 are highly aromatic, vibrant, crisp and punchy, offering excellent drinking this summer.      

Every year Cooper names two Best Buy picks – a red and white wine that punch above their weight and over-deliver for their price point. But for the first time, he’s also included a rosé recommendation, a reflection of the growing popularity of this style.

All this insight and more is contained in New Zealand Wines 2021: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide.

And while New Zealanders’ drinking preferences have been impacted by the pandemic, Cooper’s have stayed largely the same. Writing his annual guide, which is in its 29th edition, requires him to taste over 2,500 wines, meaning he must average seven wines a day to get through the tremendous workload.

Best Buys of the Year

Best White Wine Buy of the Year

Stoneleigh Latitude Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2020
?????, $17–$20

‘Marlborough in a glass’, I jotted down, after tasting this great-value wine. Estate-grown in Pernod Ricard NZ’s vineyards in the ‘Golden Mile’, which lines Rapaura Road, on the north side of the Wairau Valley, it was deliberately crafted as a ‘full-on’ style with ‘big aromatics’ – and delivers the goods. Looking for a five-star Sauvignon Blanc at a three-star price? Here it is.

Best Rosé Wine Buy of the Year

Momo Organic Marlborough Rosé 2020
?????, $18

Certified organic, this is a delicious, distinctive marriage of Pinot Gris, Sémillon and Pinot Noir, cool-fermented in stainless steel tanks and matured briefly on its yeast lees. A bright pink, finely poised wine, it has lively peach, strawberry and watermelon flavours, showing excellent delicacy and depth, and a dry finish. From Seresin Estate, it offers delicious drinking for the summer of 2020–21.

Best Red Wine Buy of the Year

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2019
?????, $15–$18

Offering outstanding value, this Gimblett Gravels red was matured for a year in French oak barriques (15 per cent new). Deeply coloured, with a fragrant, berryish, spicy bouquet, it is mouth-filling and supple, with concentrated, ripe blackcurrant, plum and spice flavours, oak complexity, and a long, very harmonious finish. Vino Fino, a prominent, specialist wine retailer in Christchurch, praises Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Merlot 2019 as ‘the best value red in New Zealand’ – and I agree. Well worth cellaring, it’s already a delicious mouthful.

About Michael Cooper

Michael Cooper is New Zealand’s most acclaimed wine writer, with 45 books and several major literary awards to his credit, including the Montana Medal for the supreme work of non-fiction at the 2003 Montana New Zealand Book Awards for the first edition of his magnum opus, Wine Atlas of New Zealand.

In the 2004 New Year Honours, Michael was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to wine writing. Author of the country’s biggest-selling wine book, the annual New Zealand Wines: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide, now in its 29th edition, he was awarded the Sir George Fistonich Medal in recognition of services to New Zealand wine in 2009.

Designed to help the buyer to make informed choices about the best quality and best value wines available, New Zealand Wines 2021: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide (Upstart Press, $39.99 RRP) is firmly established as the most authoritative and sought-after guide to New Zealand wines. Updated yearly with new tasting notes and ratings, this is a must-have publication for the initiate and the established wine-buff alike.

Consumers who prefer to study wine online have the option to join Michael’s website where for a small annual fee they can access the vast wealth of knowledge contained in the Buyer’s Guide.

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