Michael Cooper's best red and white wine buys of the year

The 2013 edition of the Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines
Wine author Michael Cooper

Michael Cooper's 21st annual Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines ($39.99 RRP, Hodder Moa) went on sale this week. With independent and unbiased tasting notes on 3260 wines, it is a superb reference for aficionadas and casual buyers. Check out his Best Buy white and red wines.

Best White Wine Buy of the Year

Spy Valley Marlborough Chardonnay 2011
5 stars, NZ$19.95–$22.95

‘Chardonnay is back in fashion,’ says Blair Gibbs, general manager of one of Marlborough’s most successful family-owned wineries. Given the top quality and stunning value of Spy Valley Marlborough Chardonnay 2011, it certainly deserves to be.

For its modest price, this is an unexpectedly refined and elegant wine. The bouquet is highly fragrant; the palate is fresh and finely poised, with strong, ripe citrus-fruit and peach flavours, hints of nuts and butterscotch adding complexity, good acidity and a long, harmonious finish. At $22.95, it’s a steal – and if you visit the winery cellar door, you can snap it up for $19.95.

A gold medal winner at the Spiegelau (formerly Liquorland) International Wine Competition 2012, judged in Blenheim, Spy Valley Marlborough Chardonnay 2011 is enjoyable now, but also a definite candidate for the cellar. Gibbs describes it as ‘a very fresh and vibrant, tightly structured wine with lovely acidity. The vintages back to 2001 and 2002 are still looking good.’

Spy Valley’s top Chardonnay, labelled ‘Envoy’ ($40), is a Burgundian style, very elegant and minerally, with impressive structure and intensity. ‘The grapes for both wines are grown to the same standard,’ says Gibbs. He confirms what I suspected – that in the 2011 vintage, some of the barrels earmarked originally for the Envoy label have been blended into the mainstream Spy Valley bottling, elevating its complexity and richness.

The grapes were estate-grown at two sites – the sweeping Johnson Estate Vineyard in the lower Waihopai Valley, and the densely planted Outpost Vineyard, on a steep, west-facing hill slope in the Omaka Valley. Under the guidance of viticulturist Adam McCone, the fruit was all hand-harvested in ripe condition with high natural sugar levels in the berries (23 to 24.5 brix).

At the winery, Paul Bourgeois – Spy Valley’s chief winemaker since 2007 – and Kathy-Lee Sowman fermented and matured the Chardonnay for a year in French oak casks, with some use of indigenous (native) yeasts. They describe the bouquet as possessing ‘a sweet mix of ripe citrus and blossom notes, oatmeal and oak spice’. On the palate, ‘the texture shows off the fine acidity and ripe citrus-fruit flavours from vintage 2011. Barrel influences impart a creamy texture.’

Spy Valley suggests drinking this very classy, bargain-priced Chardonnay now, or cellaring it for up to five years. Gibbs enjoys it by itself (‘it’s pretty tasty’), or with chicken and fish dishes with rich sauces.


Best Red Wine Buy of the Year

Bannock Brae Estate Goldfields Pinot Noir 2010
5 stars, NZ$29.95

Looking for an outstanding Pinot Noir from Central Otago at a sharp price? This beauty has been rated five stars by Winestate magazine and awarded gold medals in two New Zealand competitions – yet you can buy it for just under $30.

A very graceful, smooth wine, it is invitingly deep and youthful in colour, with bold cherry, plum, spice and slight liquorice flavours, earthy, smoky notes adding complexity, and a finely textured, lingering finish. A ‘serious’ yet ‘sexy’ wine, that dances across your palate, yet hints at unexplored potential, it’s a great buy.

Crawford and Catherine Brown purchased their Bannockburn property – then a barren block supporting ‘a few rabbits and even fewer sheep’ – in 1996, convinced it was grape-growing land. They were right. Since the debut 2002 vintage, Bannock Brae has emerged as one of this country’s most-awarded single-vineyard Pinot Noirs.

What style of wine are they after? ‘We are looking for Pinot Noirs that express the terroir,’ says Crawford. ‘We want a wonderful expression of Central Otago, and are blessed by living at Bannockburn. During autumn, we get warm days and cold nights, which slows everything down and gives time for the tannins to form. So when the grapes hit 25 brix [an advanced level of sugar ripeness], they are fully ripe in all respects.’

Their priciest Pinot Noir, labelled Barrel Selection ($60), is just what the name suggests. But not all the best barrels are reserved for the Barrel Selection; others are set aside and blended with those that miss the cut to produce the notably fine second-tier label, Goldfields. ‘Every year is different,’ says Crawford. ‘The wine itself tells us what percentage should be under each label.’

Matured in French oak barriques (24 per cent new), the 2010 Goldfields was bottled unfined and unfiltered. At the 2012 New Zealand International Wine Show, the Barrel Selection won the trophy for champion wine of the competition – but the 2010 Barrel Selection and 2010 Goldfields both won gold medals.

After 28 years working as a brewer for Lion, Brown reports he is ‘comfortable talking about winemaking’, but the 2010 Goldfields Pinot Noir was made by Jennifer Parr at the Olssens (now Terra Sancta) winery.

So when should you drink this hard-to-resist Pinot Noir? ‘It’s lovely now,’ says Crawford, ‘but I’m sure it’ll have a life to 2018.’ He enjoys it with ‘darker poultry, such as duck, or ostrich, or gamey meats’.

Catherine Brown cuts to the chase: ‘You can serve it with everything, or anything – or nothing.’

Reproduced from Buyer’s Guide to New Zealand Wines 2013 by Michael Cooper with permission from Hachette NZ Ltd, published by Hodder Moa, $39.99 RRP available nationwide.

See www.michaelcooper.co.nz for more information.

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