“Whiz-bang technology” and Mr Merlot deliver the goods.
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.
NEW ZEALAND WINES 2019: MICHAEL COOPER’S BUYER’S GUIDE (Upstart Press, $39.99)