How To Read Wine Tasting Notes

It is essential to read this brief section to understand how the tasting notes on this website work.

The majority of wines have been listed on the website according to their principal grape variety, as shown on the front label. Any wine brand can be located simply using the Quick Brand Search located just below the main menu bar. Or you can use the Advanced Wine Search to further refine your search.

Most entries are firstly identified by their producer’s name. Wines not usually called by their producer’s name, such as Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (from Constellation New Zealand), or Triplebank Awatere Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir (from Pernod Ricard NZ), are listed under their most common name.

The star ratings for quality reflect my own opinions, formed where possible by tasting a wine over several vintages, and often a particular vintage several times. The star ratings are therefore a guide to each wine’s overall standard in recent vintages, rather than simply the quality of the latest release. However, to enhance the usefulness of this website, in the body of the text I have also given a quality rating for the latest vintage of each wine; sometimes for more than one vintage. (Since April 2010 wineries have been able to buy stickers to attach to their bottles, based on these ratings.)

I hope the star ratings give interesting food for thought and succeed in introducing you to a galaxy of little-known but worthwhile wines. It pays to remember, however, that wine-tasting is a business fraught with subjectivity. You should always treat the views expressed in these pages for what they are: one person’s opinion.

The quality ratings

Outstanding quality (gold medal standard)
Excellent quality, verging on outstanding
Excellent quality (silver medal standard)
Very good quality
Good quality (bronze medal standard)
Average quality
Plain
Poor
No Star: To be avoided
Not Rated (Tasted prior to bottling)

These quality ratings are based on comparative assessments of New Zealand wines against one another. A five-star Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon, for instance, is an outstanding-quality red judged by the standards of other Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blends made in New Zealand. It is not judged by the standards of overseas reds of a similar style (for instance Bordeaux), because the book is focused solely on New Zealand wines and their relative merits. (Some familiar New Zealand wine brands in recent years have included varying proportions of overseas wine. To be featured in this book, they must still include at least some New Zealand wine in the blend.)

Where brackets enclose the star rating on the right-hand side of the page, for example (★★★), this indicates the assessment is only tentative, because I have tasted very few vintages of the wine. A dash is used in the relatively few cases where a wine’s quality has oscillated over and above normal vintage variations (for example ★–★★★).

Super Classic wines, Classic wines and Potential Classic wines (click here) are highlighted in the text by the following symbols:

Super Classics
Classics
Potential Classics

Each wine has also been given a dryness-sweetness, price and value-for-money rating. The precise levels of sweetness indicated by the following four ratings:

DRY: Less than 5 grams/litre of sugar

MED/DRY: 5–14 grams/litre of sugar

MED: 15–49 grams/litre of sugar

SW: 50 and over grams/litre of sugar

Less than 5 grams of residual sugar per litre is virtually imperceptible to most palates – the wine tastes fully dry. With between 5 and 14 grams, a wine has a hint of sweetness, although a high level of acidity (as in Rieslings or even Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs, which often have 4 to 6 grams per litre of residual sugar) reduces the perception of sweetness. Where a wine harbours over 15 grams, the sweetness is clearly in evidence.

At above 50 grams per litre, most wines are unabashedly sweet, although high levels of acidity can still disguise the degree of sweetness. Most wines that harbour more than 50 grams per litre of sugar are packaged in half bottles, made to be served with dessert, and can be located in the Sweet White Wines section. However, a growing number of low-alcohol, sweet but not super-sweet, mouth-wateringly crisp Rieslings, not designed as dessert wines and usually packaged in 750-ml bottles, can also be found in the Riesling section.

Prices shown are based on the average price in a supermarket or wine shop (as indicated by the producer), except where most of the wine is sold directly to consumers from the winery, either over the vineyard counter or via mail order or the Internet.

The art of wine buying involves more than discovering top-quality wines. The real challenge – and the greatest satisfaction – lies in identifying wines at varying quality levels that deliver outstanding value for money. The symbols I have used are self-explanatory:

Value for money

–V = Below average value

AV = Average value

V+ = Above average value

The ratings discussed thus far are all my own. Many of the wine producers themselves, however, have also contributed individual vintage ratings of their own top wines over the past decade and the ‘When to drink’ recommendations. (The symbol WR indicates Winemaker’s Rating, and the symbol NM alongside a vintage means the wine was not made that year.) Only the producers have such detailed knowledge of the relative quality of all their recent vintages (although in some cases, when the information was not forthcoming, I have rated a vintage myself). The key point you must note is that each producer has rated each vintage of each wine against his or her highest quality aspirations for that particular label, not against any absolute standard. Thus, a 7 out of 7 score merely indicates that the producer considers that particular vintage to be an outstanding example of that particular wine; not that it is the best-quality wine he or she makes.

The ‘When to drink’ (Drink) recommendations (which I find myself referring to constantly) are largely self-explanatory. The P symbol for PEAKED means that a particular vintage is already at, or has passed, its peak; no further benefits are expected from aging.