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'Has Covid-19 changed how we buy and drink wine?'

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wine is a symbol of the good times, but we enjoy it in times of stress too. This challenging year has no doubt seen many Kiwis reaching for a glass or two of wine, but our wine-buying and wine-drinking behaviour has shifted.

Michael Cooper, New Zealand’s most acclaimed wine writer, believes the biggest changes are in where consumers are buying their wine and the brands they are selecting.

"During times of crisis, when people spend less time browsing the shelves, famous, ‘safe’ brands flourish at the expense of less familiar labels," says Cooper, whose new book New Zealand Wines 2021: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide (Upstart Press, $39.99) hits shelves today [Thursday 3 December].

Michael says New Zealand’s large, often overseas-controlled, wine companies are trading through the pandemic far more profitably than the majority of small, family-owned vineyards. Big producers, with extensive distribution through supermarkets, are flourishing, because more and more people have been eating at home, but smaller producers are more likely to rely on restaurants, whose wine sales have fallen significantly.

Around the world, there was a swift drop in the per-bottle spend on wine in March, but there are now signs of a recovery to pre-Covid spend levels. Internet sales have surged, with many small wineries offering sharp deals online. One prominent Central Otago producer says the forced closure of its cellar door was more than compensated for by a surge in online orders.

Research shows that the occasions when we reach for a glass of wine have changed too. When people are at home all day during lockdown, the traditional routine of a glass of wine only with dinner is disrupted. Internationally, at-home drinking of wine without food has increased in frequency.

Summer drought was bad news for farmers, but dry weather is excellent for winegrowers and Cooper says the wine from the 2020 vintage looks excellent.

Sauvignon Blanc dominated the harvest. Almost 65 per cent of the country’s entire grape crop was of a single grape variety from a single region - Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Cooper reports the early releases from 2020 are highly aromatic, vibrant, crisp and punchy, offering excellent drinking this summer.

Every year Cooper names two Best Buy picks - a red and white wine that punch above their weight and over-deliver for their price point. But for the first time, he’s also included a rosé recommendation, a reflection of the growing popularity of this style.

All this insight and more is contained in New Zealand Wines 2021: Michael Cooper’s Buyer’s Guide.

And while New Zealanders’ drinking preferences have been impacted by the pandemic, Cooper’s have stayed largely the same. Writing his annual guide, which is in its 29th edition, requires him to taste over 2,500 wines, meaning he must average seven wines a day to get through the tremendous workload.

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