“Whiz-bang tech­nol­ogy” and Mr Mer­lot de­liver the goods.

New Zealand Listener - - CONTENTS - by Michael Cooper

Best job on Earth” – that’s how an ac­quain­tance summed up my oc­cu­pa­tion last year. As a full-time wine writer, I have to deal with the same sort of bor­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive tasks that all self-em­ployed peo­ple face. But it’s true that, for sheer plea­sure, it’s hard to beat a job that re­quires tast­ing about 3000 wines a year.

At the end of each year, the tast­ing notes are pub­lished in New Zealand Wines: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide. Ev­ery wine tasted, good or bad, is re­viewed. Much of the fo­cus is on out­stand­ing, five-star wines, but equal em­pha­sis is given to the good, sat­is­fy­ing, four-star wines that are widely dis­trib­uted at mod­er­ate prices, thus of­fer­ing great value.

The fi­nal act is to choose the two best buys of the year, one white, one red.

BEST WHITE-WINE BUY OF THE YEAR Thorn­bury Marl­bor­ough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 $14.50

When I tasted this wine for the first time, I thought: it’s a steal! “A high­im­pact style,” I jot­ted down. “Richly aro­matic, it is very fresh, punchy and ripely her­ba­ceous, with good in­ten­sity of pas­sion­fruit/lime flavours and a crisp, dry fin­ish.” Then I saw its rec­om­mended re­tail price – $14.50.

If you hunt around, you can cer­tainly find good, four-star sauvi­gnons in the sub-$20 cat­e­gory. But un­der $15? Some re­tail­ers have marked this wine down to $12.99. This coun­try’s largest wine com­pe­ti­tion, the New Zealand In­ter­na­tional Wine Show, awarded it a gold medal in Oc­to­ber.

Thorn­bury, founded by Steve Bird, was bought by Villa Maria in 2005. Econ­omy of scale is a ma­jor ad­van­tage, and wine­maker Si­mon Fell says he also has ac­cess to “lots of whizbang tech­nol­ogy”. It shows.

BEST RED-WINE BUY OF THE YEAR Esk Val­ley Gim­blett Grav­els Mer­lot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Mal­bec 2017 $16–$20

A wine of ex­cel­lent, four-and-a-half­s­tar qual­ity, sold widely at a three-star price: that’s how I see the best red-wine buy of the year, the lat­est vin­tage of a long-term favourite from Hawke’s Bay.

Made by Gor­don Rus­sell – known to his wine­mak­ing col­leagues as Mr Mer­lot – this pop­u­lar red is a blend of mer­lot, mal­bec, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, ma­tured for a year in French oak bar­riques.

What’s so good about it? More mus­cu­lar and con­cen­trated than you would ex­pect in its price cat­e­gory, it is a mouth­fill­ing, fleshy and savoury red, with strong, ripe, plummy, berry­ish, spicy flavours, show­ing good com­plex­ity and a very well-rounded, har­mo­nious fin­ish.

It’s bet­ter than many $30 reds.


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