From the tasting team

Campbell Mattinson on the 2024 Companion

By Campbell Mattinson

10 Aug, 2023

Chief editor Campbell Mattinson introduces the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion. And he takes us behind the scenes of the 2024 Halliday Awards judging – where all the winners were crowned.

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Cometh the moment, cometh the book. It wasn’t stage-managed in any way – all the wines were tasted blind – but when the wraps were taken off the winning wines at our annual Halliday Wine Companion Awards judging this year, we were all struck by the value we had revealed. Our Wine of the Year (and Red Wine of the Year) has a recommended retail price of under $50. Our Chardonnay of the Year is under $40. Our Shiraz Cabernet winner is $32. Our Shiraz of the Year (which retails at $48) was pitted unwittingly against wines with retail prices five, 10 and over 20 times its price, and it won. Our Riesling of the Year is under $50, while the winner of (our new category) Pinot Gris of the Year is under $35. 

It’s an impossible call to make definitively but at a time when there’s a great deal of emphasis on the cost of living, we may well have produced one of, if not the, best-value Halliday guides ever.

Campbell Mattinson tasting a white wineChief editor Campbell Mattinson.

There are 2770 wines in this guide that are marked as Special Value for their price and quality. Langhorne Creek, Padthaway, McLaren Vale and the Yarra Valley provided the value high points in terms of Award winners, but the regions that really drove these value numbers might surprise you; those with the most Special Value wines were Margaret River (277), Yarra Valley (212) and McLaren Vale (195).

Value never hurts but, unswervingly, our whole process is designed to find the best of the best, regardless of price. For this edition the team tasted through 8468 wines, up 3.3 per cent on last year. It’s almost de rigueur to say, at this point, something along the lines of now is a great time to buy Australian wine. The greater truth is that it’s always a great time to buy Australian wine. We’re a big country. Our wine regions are far flung. There’s always a bunch of delicious grapes hanging out there somewhere, a fretful winemaker nearby, waiting for the perfect moment to pick and nurture it into wine.

It’s our job to find this wine, to identify it, and to share it. We’re confident that we’ve done just that; in this edition, we’ve unearthed some beauties.

The Tasting TeamThe Halliday Tasting Team.

One of the things I’ve always admired about our friend, mentor and founder, James Halliday, is his steadfast refusal to shirk the hard yakka. He rose to the top of his profession as a lawyer, and to the top as a vigneron, and to the top as a wine writer, publisher and communicator. But never once throughout has he shown any desire to step away from the coalface. In this edition he rolled up his sleeves and added the Hunter Valley to his scope of regions covered, though his influence extends far beyond the list of regions to which he’s assigned. I don’t work in the same office as James, but I’m pretty certain that he has sat and frowned at every single page and made sure, to the best of his abilities, that what it says is correct.

The Halliday Wine Companion is what it is because of James, and his input on a day-to-day level remains immense.

This of course is not to diminish the work of the tasting panel, every member of which has invested themselves greatly in the production of this book. I look at this edition, for instance, and see what great value the addition of Dave Brookes has been for this guide. Dave no longer lives in the Barossa or Eden valleys but he did for a long time, and his knowledge of these regions and its people in particular has really borne fruit this year. In short, he knows where to look and who to ask, and as a result he’s brought home the bacon. The Barossa now has more 5-star wineries than any other Australian region.

Campbell and JamesCampbell Mattinson and James Halliday at the 2024 Awards judging.

Of course Jane Faulkner, Mike Bennie, Jeni Port, Philip Rich, Shanteh Wale and Ned Goodwin MW have done exactly the same for their own respective regions, and uncovered their own gems.

Something I noticed, as the panel (double) blind-tasted its way through wine after gorgeous wine at the annual judging, was the deep pool of love everyone on the Tasting Team has for wine. This might sound like the bleeding obvious, but this team has vast experience behind them. At no point does it ever seem to have become just a job. Every class of wines at the judging was strong, as you’d expect, but if you’d been an onlooker as the chardonnay, shiraz and grenache classes – all of which were shimmeringly beautiful – were judged, you would have called the waiter over and said, ‘I’ll have what they’re having.’

The one thing you never want to receive is a wine recommendation from someone who is a bit jaded and over it. No one on the Halliday team falls into that category. We love Australian wine, deep down and true. That’s why we’re so keen to share the best of them with you.

With that, it’s over to the real heroes: the wines.

Campbell Mattinson