From the tasting team

Campbell Mattinson on the 2025 Awards judging

By Campbell Mattinson

4 Apr, 2024

Chief editor Campbell Mattinson takes us behind the scenes of the 2025 Halliday Wine Companion Awards judging and shines a light on the categories to watch.

If you come second in a league of 12 then tough luck, no cigar for you. When you come second or even third in a competition of thousands then hold up, that’s an achievement worth celebrating. Never was this more true than at the annual Halliday Wine Companion Awards judging recently, when the best wines were stellar but the runners-up in many of the categories were often stories in themselves.

Take, for example, the chardonnay class, which a) was once again the strongest class of all classes and b) was arguably therefore the hardest category to win. This class was won by a wine that somehow managed to do so in emphatic fashion (last year it took us three rounds of tasting to whittle the field down to a winner. This year the winner was determined on the first pass).

The wine that won the chardonnay class was (without giving too much away) something of a likely candidate (it’s all judged blind), which is good news because when the award is announced the wine should be fairly widely available. The chardonnay that came in second though was anything but likely, and indeed is grown in a region that is rarely mentioned when talk turns to the ‘best chardonnay regions in Australia’. It’s these left-field results that make the whole judging process so enjoyable, not to mention exciting. You never know from where, or from whom, the best wines will rise.

Campbell MattinsonChief editor Campbell Mattinson.

A similar – though perhaps even more incredible – result took place in the overall White Wine of the Year judging, when a white wine variety from an unheralded white wine region came within a whisker of scooping the overall pool.

When all the judging was done and dusted I sat down and had a half-glass of this almost-overall winner, and the character of this wine, and the impact, within a context of sheer drinkability, is quite something. I said a similar thing last year but the three-word headline from this year’s judging could easily have been: Heralding Unheralded Whites. The class with the least-sexy name – Other Whites and Blends – is often the class that kicks the most goals, for both quality and value. 

Write this little note-to-self on your palm: Don’t leave home without an Other White.

Drinkability. When I look at the results of our two days of judging, I see outstanding wine after outstanding wine, and indeed a host of candidates for the long-term cellar. The Australian wine industry has had its battles over the past year or two, and has copped a bit of a beating. The viability of the Australian wine industry is a major concern for us all, in our day-to-day wine lives. But for the two days of the awards judging, all that is put aside, and all that matters is the joy inside the glass.

Philip Rich tasting chardonnayTasting Team member Philip Rich tasting the chardonnay flight.

In that way, then, our judging becomes a de facto celebration of all the best things Australia is doing with wine, as a nation. All the wines at our annual awards judging have already achieved top scores; they have already been deemed the best of the best. At this judging then we don’t punch down, we punch up. What I noticed in class after class then was a promotion of utter drinkability. There’s clearly – as has been the long-term trend – a gravitation in Australia towards wines with a more elegant flavour profile. Savouriness is given as much heed as pure fruit sweetness. The wines that tended to really be championed at our judging were the wines that swung neither too far one way nor the other; not too savoury, not too sweet, not too funky, not too sterile. They were the bridge wines – between too little and too much – that everyone could both enjoy and admire. 

More is no longer more but, then, less isn’t more either.

I’m tempted to now say, in the above context, that flavour is back in town – except that it never really left home. Flavour and elegance and tension are all now being balanced on a pinhead. I can tell you with certainty: the set of category-winning wines that we’ll unveil in August, when the next Companion is launched, are as impeccable a bunch of Australian wines as you ever could find or, even, imagine.

Indeed, walking away from the tasting, I thought this: the time to be proud of the quality of Australian wine is now.