From the tasting team

Campbell Mattinson on the 2024 Awards judging

By Campbell Mattinson

8 Aug, 2023

Chief editor Campbell Mattinson takes us behind the scenes of the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion Awards judging.

In all my years of judging, I’m not sure that I’ve ever encountered a wine that has announced its quality as emphatically as the one that will be named Wine of the Year at the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion Awards this coming August. The wine in question, the identity of which I obviously can’t reveal here now, was tasted on four or five occasions as it moved through the judging process, its identity kept hidden at all times, and yet every time its turn came again to be judged, its quality bolted straight at me. One sip, bang, that’s the one. It is a mesmerising wine. It’s one for the ages. As soon as the Award is announced, you have to get on it. 

This wine was the perfect exclamation point to what was an electrifying three days of tasting. The great 2021 vintage cut a quality swathe throughout, with category after category taken out by a wine from that year. That said, the follow-up 2022 vintage more than held its own, and trumped it on various occasions. 

What was remarkable though – as an incredible assortment of wines was poured and tasted – was the value that was eventually uncovered. Not only is the identity of each wine kept secret throughout the tasting process; so too, of course, are the prices. So, it was only at the end of the three days, when the wraps were taken off, that we got to see how many of the best-of-the-best wines weighed in at around the $50 per bottle mark (often beating off wines with significantly higher price tags). 

Campbell Mattinson tasting wine at the judgingChief editor Campbell Mattinson.

Halliday Wine Companion is not about to join the race to the bottom – pure quality is our one and only priority – but it certainly doesn’t hurt when both the quality is outstanding, and things are kept sweet with the hip pocket. 

Highlights. Chardonnay, wow, what a category. We tasted hundreds of them in the lead-up, and then put 17 of them into the judging. Personally, I would have been happy for any of about 13 of them to win, such was the vast spread of quality. The winner turned out to be both a complete left-field surprise, and a beauty, which in many ways is the best possible outcome, and the whole point of conducting the tasting 'blind'. Any day that a David beats all the wine Goliaths is a good day for us all. 

Not that the Goliaths didn’t hold their own. Both grenache and shiraz, two other stand-out brackets, were both packed with worthy potential winners, and where various giants of these categories flexed their beautiful muscle. Again, in we’re in the quality-price sweet zone here.

Glasses of chardonnayThe Tasting Team judged over 170 wines across 17 categories over three days.

It was a cabernet sauvignon, many moons ago, that made me fall in love with wine, and so I have to say that the considerable strength of both the cabernet sauvignon class, and the cabernet and blends class, was particularly pleasing. There were wines in these classes of power and emphasis; but then there were also savoury, fragrant contenders built around elegance and length. Often the best-of-the-best wines fell somewhere in the middle. Needless to say, if you’re a cabernet lover like me, you’re going to love the wines that we’ve uncovered here. 

What might surprise many though is that the biggest discussion (between judges), or debate – okay, let’s just call it a fight – broke out over the wines in the class known as Other Whites and Blends. This class included wines made using fiano, vermentino, chenin blanc or viognier, among other less common varieties, and/or blends of similar such varieties. The fight broke out because so many of us became passionate about our favourites and became determined to have our favourite win. Whenever a wine inspires passion it’s never a bad sign.

My take-away from this class of wines was simple: if you haven’t started exploring the best of these 'alternative' whites, then you’ve been missing out. 

Can you feel the energy? It was an exhausting tasting, and yet I came away completely invigorated. All of us on the Tasting Team can’t wait to tell you more.