Spring has sprung in Auckland and the sun's (trying) to shine. It's my favourite time to thrive. I love being barefoot on the beach, packing a picnic dinner, relishing the extra daylight hours and indulging in wine time.

When I'm drinking alcohol I like it to fit with the occasion. You know, a generous glass of gutsy red wine by an open fire, a couple of beers at the cricket or a glass of champagne to bring in the new year.

However, I find picking suitable wine varieties a bit overwhelming. So, this season, I decided to lift my game and talk to local wine connoisseur, Michael Cooper. This guy is the country's most acclaimed wine writer and the brains behind the annual Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wines.

He's been putting the hefty catalogue of vino together for more than 20 years. This year's book features information on 3260 different wines - covering vintage, taste and price points. Cooper insists that his advice is independent and unbias.


He spends an hour most days sampling six to ten wines, then the rest of his waking hours he's writing notes. This guy knows his business.

Michael Cooper will be joining us for a live chat on Life & Style from noon until 1pm tomorrow, Friday 16th November. Get your questions in early below and be in the running to win a copy of his latest Buyer's Guide to New Zealand Wine. Then remember to join us for a lunch time wine tomorrow.

Cooper says this year is a pretty small vintage for New Zealand wine because of the wet weather we've had during the harvest. This has led to a bit of an increase in price that will become visible over the next couple of years - at the moment, the average bottle of wine will set you back $12 in the supermarket.

The most popular wine among Kiwi drinkers is the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc - but this could have something to do with price - it's been widely available for under $10. Cooper says a "rising star" has got to be Pinot Gris, although we still drink more Chardonnay. Chardy has been getting a bit of a bad rap of late. I put it down to its prevalence in Aussie bogan comedy Kath and Kim.

Cooper can see where I'm coming from, but reckons the flavour was getting too oaky. However, winemakers have learnt their lesson and the white wine is making a comeback this summer, he says.

When it comes to drinking for the occasion, Cooper knows what's best. Looking for a lunch time or picnic plonk - Riesling is the way to go.

"It's got quite high levels of acidity which makes it taste crisp ... that's why they're usually slightly sweet ... which gives it a harmony."

Rose, one of my favourite chilled wines, is best drunk when it's nice and young. This year's varieties are nice and crisp making them the "perfect picnic wine," according to Cooper.

If you're sitting around a smokey barbie, a rich red works well. Go for something gutsy, like an Australian Syrah or a Merlot. Alternatively, Pinot Noir always suits because it's so smooth, Cooper says.

When it comes to price, Cooper says you can use cost as a guide to quality, "but it's very rough and ready".

The average Kiwi consumer spends about $10 on a bottle and won't spend more than $15 unless it's a special occasion. If you're prepared to fork out over $20, you're likely going to get a bit more personality in your pick.

However, the biggest trap that people tend to fall in to is one that am sucked in to just about every time I browse around the local liquor store.

"The wine marketers know that people like discounts," Cooper warns. So if you see something that's on sale, remember it could have been hiked up just so that it could cop a price cut.

Kiwis are taking a greater interest in what wine they're drinking and when. Cooper reckons our palettes have matured. This summer, I'm going to make more of an effort to pick appropriate plonk that matches the thriving that I'm getting up to.

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