Michael Cooper’s appreciation of Kiwi wines started early.
“When I was at university in the 70s, my friends were all drinking beer. Meanwhile, I was jumping on my motorbike and doing tastings at cellar doors in the Henderson Valley.”
His Masters thesis was about the New Zealand wine industry, and he worked at Babich Wines for a decade while establishing himself as this country’s leading wine writer.
“My first book was published in 1984, at just the right time. New Zealanders were becoming proud of the industry, and keen to choose local wines.”
Today, he declares, we’ve matured as a wine-drinking nation. “Wine is central to New Zealand culture. We enjoy it in a relaxed, civilised way, and appreciate how wine celebrates New Zealand’s climate and soil.”
Wine is also very big business. Export sales rose 10% in 2014, hitting a new record of NZ$1.33 billion. Sauvignon Blanc makes up 86% of our exports, and it’s also the number one seller back home.
Cooper doesn’t see this dominance changing any time soon.
“Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is so distinctive, it enabled New Zealand to make a name for ourselves internationally,” he explains. “Pinot Noir also suits our climate. Crafting wines from grapes that grow well here will further expand the export market.”
“The small boutique producers, who face enormous costs competing overseas, need to continue making wines that will sell locally.”
Newer varietals showing potential include Arneis, a white Italian grape, and the Spanish Albariño, which makes a crisp, light-bodied wine.
“Richard Smart, an Australian viticulturist, reckons Albariño should be planted from North Cape to Bluff.”
For Cooper, however, his great white wine love is, and will always be, Chardonnay.
“It was big in the 80s, and it’s having a resurgence in popularity in restaurants. That’s because it’s the most complex, food-worthy white wine of all.
“If I could only drink one white, it would be a rounded, mouth-filling Chardonnay.”
Picking a perfect Pinot Noir
Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines is now in its 24th year. The 2015 edition contains reviews of more than 700 local Pinot Noirs.
When choosing a Pinot Noir – or, indeed, any wine – there are three key criteria he judges it on:
1. Quality. “The expression of the winemaker’s craft.”
2. Value. “This doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. Rather, the wine should over-deliver for the price point.”
3. Personality. “I want a Pinot Noir that doesn’t taste exactly the same as the others, and displays distinctive character.”
Cooper observes that around 90% of wines are consumed within 24 hours of purchase, and only the tiniest fraction is cellared properly for more than 12 months.
He has a suggestion for Pinot Noir lovers: “Stash some away for a few years and see what happens!”