Since wine is a highly variable commodity subject to innumerable perils in its production process, there's simply no such thing as a foolproof selection. Nevertheless, there are a few places where geographic luck and technical skill join forces to diminish the odds that you'll come away looking like a fool, and one of the most important of these is New Zealand.

I have tasted almost everything coming to our shores from New Zealand over the past five years, and have found dud wines highly conspicuous by their virtual absence. This consistent competence is especially impressive because it has not been achieved by pursuing an inoffensive-but-boring styling strategy that sticks to the middle of the road. The remarkably low percentage of bad Kiwi wines is complemented by an unusually high percentage of exciting ones, and if this comes as news to you, the time has come to pull some corks.

We'll start with the Sauvignon Blancs that have served as the thin edge of the wedge for New Zealand in our markets, and in two weeks I'll return with other whites and a bunch of killer reds, including Pinot Noirs that threaten to surpass anything else made outside of Burgundy. Recommended wines are listed in order of preference within categories, with approximate prices and all appellations other than Marlborough shown in parentheses. If you want to track a particular wine by reference to its D.C. wholesaler, I'll indicate distributors at the top of my Live Online show on washingtonpost.com at noon today.

OUTSTANDING

Kim Crawford 2002 ($18): A complete wine with a near-perfect balance of all the classic elements, including fruit reminiscent of tart apples and grapefruit, citrus-like acidity and mineral notes. Some 2001 is still in our area, and it is still in great shape.

Whitehaven 2002 ($16): A stunningly intense (and therefore somewhat challenging) wine with notes of grapefruit, freshly cut grass, dried herbs and minerals. May require 220-volt converter.

Mt. Difficulty (Central Otago) 2001 ($16): An extraordinary wine from an appellation better known for Pinot Noir, this shows ripe, lime-scented fruit crosscut with lots of mouth-watering acidity.

Gusto Luma 2000 ($16): A remarkably vibrant wine given that it was harvested in the first months of 2000. Tart apples with citrus edging and excellent acidity.

Grove Mill 2001 ($18): With real substance but also excellent freshness, this seems to be right in its prime.

Nga Waka Vineyard 2001 ($22): A juicy, medium-bodied wine full of ripe fruit and lifted by zesty acidity.

Jackson Estate 2002 ($15): A perennial winner with classic notes of citrus, herbs and minerals. The 2001 is still going strong as well.

Goldwater Estate "Dog Point" 2002 ($20): Delicious and complete, with less pungency than most other 2002s but still plenty of excitement. Zippy but ripe and minimally herbal/grassy, with pretty ripe acidity. The 2001 remains very good.

VERY GOOD

Mount Riley Wines 2001 ($16): Full of flavor but still very fresh.

Lawson's Dry Hills 2002 ($15): A little aggressive immediately upon opening, but with a bit of air this shows very high quality.

Allan Scott 2002 ($12): Remarkably flashy stuff for the money, with delicious fruit and impressive structure.

Coopers Creek Vineyard Reserve 2001 ($15): Deeply flavored with fresh acidity and the faintest touch of sweetness in the finish.

Framingham 2001 ($15): A lovely wine with fresh fruit and lots of chalky mineral notes.

ALSO RECOMMENDED

Brancott Vineyards (Montana Wines) "Reserve" 2001 ($20); Seresin Estate 2001 ($22); Giesen Wine Estate 2002 ($13); Omaka Springs 2002 ($15); Babich 2002 ($12); Red Hill 2001 ($10); Nautilus Estate 2001 ($16); Mills Reef (Hawkes Bay) "Reserve" 2001 ($16); Spy Valley (Johnson Estate) 2001 ($10); Tasman Bay (Nelson) 2001 ($16); Blue Duck 2001 ($15); Palliser Estate (Martinborough) 2001 ($16); Charles Wiffen 2001 ($15); Forrest Estate 2001($16); Nobilo 2002 ($12); Glazebrook (Ngatarawa Wines)(Hawkes Bay) 2001 ($12).

Michael Franz will offer additional recommendations and answer questions live today at noon on washingtonpost.com