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Benchmark grows ever stronger for Halliday’s Wine Companion

The highly anticipated James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion 2008 was released yesterday. Winetitles spoke to Halliday on the day of the book’s release about the process of collating information for the Wine Companion, and choosing the Winery of the Year.

Soda water, cheese and green olives is what gets Halliday through the hundreds of wine tastings nearly every day in preparation for his annual Wine Companion. For over 12 months he paces himself between regional and capital city wine shows collating tasting notes and data.

The ever-increasing size of the industry has forced Halliday to drop 665 wineries and 1090 wines that were listed at 86 points or less. However, the entire list of data will be available online in early August this year.

“With the increasing growth of the industry it is impossible to include all entries. Despite all the doom and gloom over the past year, the birth rate of new wineries and wines are still exceeding the death rate,” James Halliday said.

Balnaves of Coonawarra was awarded Winery of the Year. With approximately 10 wineries in the running for this accolade, it was the Balnaves’ consistency of style over previous years that won them the award.

“The wine from Balnaves all have polish to them, are exceptionally fine and elegant wines yet with lots of flavours. Balnaves’ wines are a wonderful example, and clearly articulate all that is good about Coonawarra terrior,” Halliday said.

“Of course, it is not as simple as basing it on its allocation or ratings as they are not absolute. It is more to the point that Pete Bissell is a talented winemaker who makes the regional specialties Cabernet and Shiraz, but he also makes a fantastic Chardonnay.”

Halliday noted the quality bar of Australian wines was being lifted but there was a danger of winemakers being too complacent.

“The moment wineries are complacent, the greater risk they will be in falling out of the incredibly competitive wine market.

“The quality of wines has increased from new Australian winemakers as they travel to overseas markets and gain a greater understanding of winemaking, other societies and marketing perspectives.

“I see the potential market for Australian wine to be Greater Asia which will more than likely occur in the next 10 years. It will be a medium term opportunity, once the infrastructure has been established. But when the time to invest in the region will be, is unknown.”

Halliday notes climate change, although extremely difficult to quantify, will slow the volume growth, especially in warmer climates like the Riverland and Riverina. These changes, primarily due to water allocation, will eventually be reflected in future editions of the Companion.

After being the solo taster for the Companion since 1986, Halliday has enlisted a tasting assistant, Ben Edwards, for future editions, starting from the 2009 edition.

“Tasting wine is my full-time job, and it’s mentally exhausting. Having Ben on board will ease the pressure and is part of our succession planning.

“Hardi Grant and myself have a vision for the Companion beyond my working life and we hope Ben will fill this role. I have known Ben for several years and from previous tastings together we are quite compatible.

“The 2008 Companion is the best yet. I am really pleased with the result. Working on a venture with Hardie Grant Books has been an enjoyable team effort.”

James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion 2008 can be ordered from Winetitles by telephoning (08) 8292 0888. Visit Winetitles at stand 932 at next week’s WineTech exhibition to purchase the Wine Companion and browse other wine and viticulture books on offer.



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