The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

NZ’s most popular wines are getting cheaper

We all love a bargain, especially as we head into the festive season, so Kiwi consumers will be delighted to learn many of their favourite wines have become a lot cheaper over the last decade.

Michael Cooper, New Zealand’s most acclaimed wine writer, made the discovery when researching his latest title New Zealand Wines 2020: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide (Upstart Press, RRP$39.99) which hit bookstores on Tuesday 19 November.

Michael set out to see if wine prices had risen in line with inflation figures from the Reserve Bank, comparing the suggested retail price of wines in the 2010 edition of his Buyer’s Guide with those in the 2020 edition.

“Firstly, I looked at six mid-priced wines from long-established, mostly family-owned wineries – Babich Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Brookfields Bergman Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, Hunter’s Marlborough Riesling, Mission Hawke’s Bay Merlot, Saint Clair Marlborough Pinot Gris and Seifried Nelson Gewürztraminer,” says Cooper.

“A decade ago, this collection would have cost you $116.  Since then, half of the wines have not altered their prices; the others have each risen or fallen by no more than three dollars; and their total price is identical – $116.”

What about brands often displayed prominently in supermarkets? Michael then turned his attention to Brancott Estate Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Church Road Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, Church Road Hawke’s Bay Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon, Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Lindauer Brut, Oyster Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Roaring Meg Central Otago Pinot Noir, Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay. He was surprised to find they were down by 19%.

Cooper attributes this to legislation introduced six years ago, banning the advertising of discounts over 25% on alcoholic beverages, except inside licensed premises. Until then, wineries commonly ‘priced up to price down’, thereby creating the scope for discounts that always looked far better on paper than in the glass.

“Once the advertising of ‘50% off’ discounts was banned, the supposed ‘normal retail’ prices of many wines dropped dramatically,” says Cooper.

However, it’s not all good news for the nation’s wine lovers with Cooper finding the average price of prestige reds such as Church Road Tom Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, Craggy Range Le Sol, Esk Valley Heipipi The Terraces, Felton Road Block 5 Pinot Noir, Te Mata Coleraine and Trinity Hill Homage Syrah has climbed over the past decade by 50%.

This increase is only likely to continue, especially on the back of a strong 2019 vintage. While the harvest was lighter than expected, quality expectations are high thanks to one of the country’s hottest, driest mid to late summers on record.

Despite the good growing conditions, Cooper says the country’s winegrowers are grappling with huge marketplace challenges. Over 40% of the wine drunk in New Zealand is imported and at the same time the amount of NZ wine consumed by Kiwis has declined 20% over the last decade.

All this insight and more is contained in New Zealand Wines 2020: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide. Creating this bible for New Zealand wine drinkers, which is now in its 28th year, sees Cooper taste over 2500 wines, meaning he must average seven wines a day to get through the tremendous workload.

Eagerly anticipated are Cooper’s two Best Buy picks – a red and white wine that punch above their weight and over-deliver for their price point. This year he’s named:

Best White Wine Buy of the Year: Villa Maria Cellar Selection Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ★★★★✩, $18 (down to $15)

From one year to the next, this is one of New Zealand’s greatest wine bargains. When the 2016 vintage featured as Best White Wine Buy of the Year in the 2017 Buyer’s Guide, I enthused that ‘this classy wine has pretty much everything you could hope for in a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, for $20 or less . . . often a lot less’. Now comes the 2019 vintage, offering equally irresistible value.

Best Red Wine Buy of the Year: Alexander Dusty Road Martinborough Pinot Noir 2018  ★★★★✩, $27

Designed for early drinking, but also age-worthy, the Dusty Road Pinot Noir 2018 is an estate-grown, single-vineyard wine, hand-picked and matured for 11 months in French oak barriques (20 per cent new). Bright ruby, with a fragrant, savoury bouquet, it is mouthfilling, with concentrated, ripe, plummy, spicy flavours, showing good complexity, and the structure to mature well. Approachable now, it should be at its best from 2022 onwards. Alexander’s wines stand out not only for their quality but also for their consistently great value. Over many vintages, Michael has rated Dusty Road Pinot Noir with four or four and a half stars, out of five, on a quality level that matches many Pinot Noirs in the $40–$45 category.