• with James Halliday

    Welcome to in brief with James Halliday, where you’ll find snapshots of Australian wine happenings. This is a space for James to talk to you directly, providing wine news, commentary and titbits that he finds personally interesting. See the world of wine through James’ eyes with the updates ahead. From time to time, you might also hear from our expert reviewers and the Halliday Wine Companion team.

  • Friday, January 5, 2018


    I first met Tony Keys in England in the late 1980s and I think it’s fair to say we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of matters. For a while there was a standoff, but I came to realise that he couldn’t care less about public opinion, and if he felt a situation warranted it he would go fearlessly into print on the subject. As I came to understand him better, my respect for him grew and grew. I have no doubt the Australian wine industry is the poorer for his demise, and his passing has created a hole that will not be easy to fill. His courage in the face of a death that no one would ever wish for was typical for the man. thekeyreport.com.au

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Friday, December 21, 2017


    First up is a remarkably researched and well-written book on Coonawarra. The 228 pages on high quality paper are in colour, and the nitty-gritty tells us that it was not only written but also formatted by Peter Rymill of Rymill Coonawarra, which is a mighty achievement. I cannot recommend the book too highly. Penola and Coonawarra is available through the Rymill website at a cost of $20 plus postage.

    Champagne, a Secret History, by Robert Walters is a soft-cover version of the self-published hard cover Bursting Bubbles that was released in 2016. Published by Allen & Unwin, the soft cover is slightly smaller in paper size, but so far as I see it word for word the same as the earlier version. The books – or should I say book – are irreverent on the surface, serious in much of the substance. RRP $33 and available in bookstores and independent wine stores nationally.

    The Way it Was, a History of the Early Days of the Margaret River Wine Industry, published by Margaret River Press. Peter Forrestall and Ray Jordan, both West Australian wine writers, spent an extraordinarily long time researching and writing the book. The majority of the 266 full-colour pages are full of interest and, while most is not controversial, some is fiercely contentious. RRP $39.95 and available in independent bookstores nationally, including Dymocks, Readings, Gleebooks and online via Margaret River Press.

    The fourth book to be published in 2017 is Australian Wine: Styles and Tastes, People and Places, the authors Patrick Iland, Peter Gago, Andrew Caillard and Peter Dry. Whereas the other books are roughly 24 x 15 cm, this one measures 29 x 23 cm. While the title pages say Patrick Ireland Wine Promotions first published the book in 2017, its awesome content follows the pattern of earlier versions, but includes updated material. It’s ideal for anyone with relatively little book knowledge wanting to learn more about any and every aspect of wine. RRP $59.95 and available in bookstores nationally.

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Wednesday, December 13, 2017


    Wine Australia has released its Small Winemaker Production and Sales Survey 2016-17. The survey covers wineries with a crush of up to 500 tonnes, and it may surprise others as much as it surprised me to find these wineries contribute 24% of the national value, made up with 35% of domestic sales value and 10% of export sales value. Key insights and an infographic below; the full report here

    Key insights:

    • production increase of 10 per cent on average, in line with the overall increase in the national vintage crush, to 106 million litres
    • small winemakers account for 35 per cent of domestic sales value and 10 per cent of export sales value
    • 73 per cent of small winemakers reported increased revenue, 10 per cent reported no change and 16 per cent reported a decline in sales
    • the retail channel is the largest domestic channel for small winemakers, accounting for 45 per cent of wine sales on average, with cellar door sales second at 30 per cent, and
    • other direct to consumer channels – such as own website, online retail through a third party and mail order/wine club – together account for 17 per cent of wine sales. 

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Tuesday, December 12, 2017


    The acquisition of the Wyndham Estate brand name, and the historic winery, adds another significant quiver to the bow of Sydney hotelier and developer Sam Arnault. There were two limbs to the acquisition: the brand name being sold by Treasury Wine Estates, and the winery property by Pernod Ricard. The seeds of the sales go back to 1967 when Penfolds sold the Dalwood site, but not the brand name, to Perc McGuigan. Perc subsequently sold the property to a three-man partnership that included son Brian, who took on the development of the brand with rare gusto, relentlessly driving sales and ultimately luring Pernod Ricard to buy the Wyndham Estate assets for $73 million in 1990.

    Pernod Ricard turned the Wyndham winery site into a venue for concerts, wine sales, weddings, and social and corporate events, taking winemaking to the Barossa Valley. In 2014 it shut the gate and put the property under mothballs, and it was this piece of history that the Arnault/Iris Capital Group acquired in December 2016. Sam Arnault says his group will reopen the site and return it to its glory days. If this were not complicated enough, Treasury Wine Estates sold the priceless 147-year-old Ben Ean winery to Brian McGuigan and Colin Peterson. In one of those corporate twists, the McGuigan/Peterson partnership will be able to use the name ‘Ben Ean’ as that of the site, but not as a wine brand. One has to speculate that at some point the almost forgotten Ben Ean wine brand will also be sold.

    In July 2016 the Arnault/Iris Capital Group had purchased 48ha Sweetwater, including stock and an exotic wine cellar, followed by the purchase of the Hungerford Hill complex, and now Dalwood. A neat intersection of non-competing properties and wine brands.

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Thursday, November 23, 2017


    There are two newsletters in Australia that have to be read each year. One is that of Rocky (Robert) O’Callaghan of Rockford Wines, which goes close to holy writ, the other is from the Orange-based winery Bloodwood owned by Stephen and Rhonda Doyle. Stephen Doyle’s newsletters never fail to cause me to laugh outright, but this year’s takes the cake (or, perhaps, the wine). The newsletter is studded with impossibly funny material along with photographs and, of course, details of their wines. One upcoming event is 'The Umpteenth Inaugural Chaser Lecture' on Thursday, November 30 at the University of Sydney's Maclaurin Hall, which will be presented by 'El Chiguire Bipolar, Venezuela's most trusted source of fake news'. For the event, Bloodwood is partnering with the Chaser team to raise funds for The Human Rights Foundation. Bloodwood is a 5 Red Star winery, so you get double value if you become a automatic recipient of each newsletter, with new-release wines and, as with the current newsletter, special offers not even available online: you have to ring Rhonda.

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Tuesday, November 21, 2017


    Bollinger, once the most conservative, history-steeped leader of the Champagne pack, has kicked up its heels with its 2006 Bollinger Rose. Uniquely, it is the only vintage wine to be released by Bollinger from the ‘06 vintage. A tasting note ex Bollinger below.

    2006 Bollinger Rosé

    72% pinot noir and 28% chardonnay sourced from nine crus (84% Grand crus and 16% Premier crus). Fermented entirely in barrels and matured for more than 10 years. Brilliant salmon pink in colour, on the nose are subtle aromas of warm tobacco, chocolate, mocha and roasted coffee, opening up to dried flowers, dried fruit and quince compote. The palate has fullness about it, with fruit jelly and honey flavours leading into a wonderfully fresh finish with notes of blood orange and mandarin peel. RRP $170. 

    Posted by James Halliday 

  • Friday, November 17, 2017


    A trio of interesting Saperavis came my way recently. A very old variety that originated in southwestern Georgia (the word in fact means ‘dyer’ in Russian), Saperavi has exceptional colour, partly derived from its skin, but also from its pink juice (prior to fermentation). It also holds its acidity well, ripening late in the season. It has grown in presence over the past couple of years, Hugh Hamilton one of its strongest supporters. For wine trivia games, Robinson records that four clones have been identified including Saperavi Grdzelmarcvala and Saperavi Mskhvilmarcvala (Wine Grapes, p949).

    2015 Hugh Hamilton Wines The Oddball Saperavi
    89 points

    Strong, deep crimson-purple hue; as uncompromisingly full-bodied as expected, but not tannic or bitter. Indeed, you are left to look for texture, whether it be fruit, oak or tannin derived.

    Available to 'Black Sheep Club' members only | Drink to 2022

    2014 Hugh Hamilton Wines Oddball the Great Saperavi
    91 points

    Deep colour, though not as bright as the younger sibling. This has the extract missing from the ’15 The Oddball, presumably due to the low yield across most varieties and regions in southern Aus that year. Imaginative packaging is a plus, especially the metal button fixed on the neck of the unusual neck of the bottle.

    Available to 'Black Sheep Club' members only | Drink to 2024

    2014 Hugh Hamilton Wines The Quirky Georgian Saperavi
    95 points

    Uses precisely the same unusual but attractive swan neck bottle employed by its South Aus sisters. Impressive wine, free of any technical faults. Its blackberry, tarry fruit flavours have a welcome share of tannins, and a freshness from the low-ish alcohol and pH. Made in Georgia in collaboration with Lado Uzunashvili.

    Available to 'Black Sheep Club' members only | Drink to 2026

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Wednesday, November 15, 2017


    For tasting events like the Taltarni 40-year celebration, I use a five-star rating system. The 2013, 2012, 2004, 1992 and 1988 cabernet sauvignons fared best from the reds and my tasting notes for those are below. 

    1988 Taltarni Special Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

    Totally stained cork. Major colour shift away from brick to red-purple. The palate reflects the colour, with a reserve of blackcurrant and black olive fruit. Just a trace of green tannins suggests lack of full phenolic ripeness. 

    Rating: 4.5 stars

    1992 Taltarni Cabernet Sauvignon

    The hue is good, but relatively light colour. Despite the alcohol (13%), the palate is thin and minty/green. Cork may be responsible for some of the issues. 

    Rating: 4 stars

    2004 Taltarni Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon

    My tasting note of Oct ‘05 was ‘Medium-bodied and well-balanced red and black fruits supported by soft, but persistent, tannins.’ Those persistent tannins are still there, and on the track record of Taltarni will increase their grip as the cassis fruits starts to fade. Trophies at Victorian Wine Show and NZ International Wine Show. 

    Rating: 4.5 stars

    2012 Taltarni Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon

    The shift to screwcap with this wine will be of lasting benefit. The colour is very good, the bouquet likewise offering cassis and some herbal nuances. Needs decanting and a seriously piece of steak. 

    Rating: 5 stars

    2013 Taltarni Pyrenees Cabernet Sauvignon

    Excellent colour; by far the best of the wines released so far, Campbell Mattinson’s points of March ‘16 are right on the money. I can’t see anything lurking in the wine that might imperil its future. 

    Rating: 5+ stars

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Monday, November 13, 2017


    The indefatigable Tyson Stelzer has just released his short-form perspective of the sparkling wine market in Australia, including his top 50 sparkling wine buys. Further details and links from Tyson here

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Thursday, November 9, 2017


    I don’t know anything about Tasting Book’s Best Wine in the World Competition 2017, but it claims to be the world’s largest wine competition. The initial three-month tasting phase ended on October 31 with 1,333,896 votes from more than 620,000 tasters from 105 countries. The final judging will take place in Helsinki on January 12-14 next year. In the meantime, the most votes went to the following 10 wines.

    • Monteverro 2012, Monteverro, Italy, Tuscany
    • Grange Hermitage 2012, Penfolds, Australia, South Australia
    • Le Sauvage Chardonnay 2013, Sirromet, Australia, Granite Belt
    • Hill of Grace 2012, Henschke, Australia, Eden Valley
    • Le Sauvage Shiraz Viognier 2013, Sirromet, Australia, Granite Belt
    • Dom Pérignon 2002, Moët & Chandon, France, Champagne
    • Chardonnay 2012, Monteverro, Italy, Tuscany
    • Côte-Rôtie La Mouline 2010, E.Guigal, France, Rhône
    • Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Heitz Cellar, United States, Napa Valley
    • Rare 2002, Piper-Heidsieck, France, Champagne

    The performance of the Granite Belt’s Sirromet is extraordinary. I’m not clear what will happen in Helsinki, but that’s beside the point.

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Wednesday, November 8, 2017


    The death of Don McWilliam AM on October 27 marked the passing of a figure who was, quite literally, larger than life. His imposing stature and ever-ready laugh partially disguised the intelligence and drive of a great man. I imagine he must have viewed the recent developments of Mount Pleasant with considerable satisfaction, having been the guiding force behind the establishment of the McWilliam’s Maurice O’Shea Awards in 1990. Beyond that, his achievements are too many to mention, but they all contributed to his career giving rise to the award of a Member of the Order of Australia (AM).

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Monday, November 6, 2017


    The hardbound, 290-page book Australian Wine: Styles and Tastes, People and Places (RRP $59.95), co-written by Patrick Iland, Peter Gago, Andrew Caillard and Peter Dry, covers every aspect of Australian wine past, present and future. It is an update of an earlier book by the same authors, but contains a wealth of new information. It is perfect for someone wishing to learn more about wine, reflected by the diverse fields of expertise of the author team. Order here.

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Tuesday, November 7, 2017


    An action-packed two days celebrating the 170th birthday of Pewsey Vale Vineyard included a degustation dinner featuring 16 rieslings: four from Pewsey Vale (back to 1981), four Grand Cru rieslings from Alsace, four Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett rieslings, and four Egon Muller Scharzhofberger rieslings (back to 1983), with the final flourish a 1989 Vendage Tardive from Hugel & Fils.

    It was held at Barossa Valley restaurant fermentAsian and was a dinner I will remember for many, many years. There were seven dishes ranging between outstanding and sublime, so much so that I cannot resist repeating the menu here:

    Fresh betel leaves, sticky caramelised Barossa Hampshire pork and ‘incendiary’ ingredients
    Sugarcane prawns
    Hanoi spring rolls with fresh herbs and classic Vietnamese dipping sauce
    Grilled South Australian prawns with citrus salad
    Barossa Hampshire pork belly with ginger and orange sauce
    Cha Ca: Charcoal-grilled snapper fillets with turmeric and dill
    Lime brûlée

    What might at first sight seem to be the least exciting dish was in fact utterly sublime, the sweet-sour marinade providing a range of flavours for the grilled prawns that sang in total harmony with the four Wehlener Sonnenuhr rieslings. If fermentAsian by some miracle arrived in the Yarra Valley (and I know it won’t), I would simply have to have at least one meal at it every day of the week until I had explored all of the dishes. If this were not enough, it has a quite extraordinary cellar of great wines from around the world.

    Posted by James Halliday

  • Thursday, November 2, 2017


    This Challenge was originally set up off the back of the Tri Nations Rugby Union series between Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Wines from each country were entered in varietal classes, and the judging panel included a judge from each of the countries involved. Australia and New Zealand dominated the events, and it was clear something had to be done to keep the competition going. The solution was to invite yet more countries and now, in its 15th year, wines are entered by Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, Canada and Chile. New Zealand emerged with six trophies, the US with four, Australia and South Africa with two each, and Canada one. How the mighty are fallen. The judging took place under the Chairmanship of Huon Hooke, who has been a judge since the first event.

    Posted by James Halliday

Subscribe to Wine Companion today

Become a member

Let's Socialise Stay Connected

Get two bonus bottles of wine when you become a member*

Join today

For the full winecompanion.com.au experience, please update your web browser. to something less antiquated

Special Value

Wines considered to offer special value for money.