The next chapter for the tasting team

By Amelia Ball

28 Sep, 2021

As Halliday Wine Companion evolves, so too does the tasting team. Here, we meet the two new members to join the panel.

Each year, the tasting team collectively reviews more than 9000 wines from around the country. While there was a time when James Halliday worked through all the wines on his own, these days the tasting team assists in this immense year-round process. 
Since James stepped back from some of his vast responsibilities on the Halliday Wine Companion last September, the team has continued to evolve. With Tyson Stelzer as chief editor, the panel now takes a regional approach, with each panellist responsible for specific wine-growing areas around the country. 

As Tyson says, this focus provides stronger links between the team, the regions and their wineries, also offering continuity, connection and specialist expertise. This approach also played a role in the fact that more than 100 new wineries submitted their wines for the 2022 Halliday Wine Companion, representing a wider scope of varieties, styles and producers. 

The team also now comes together at the end of their tastings to collectively judge the standout wines and producers for the Halliday Wine Companion Awards. 

Former tasting team member, Tony Love.
Wine writer and journalist Tony Love has moved on from the tasting team to focus on other projects. 

With the new season of tasting underway, wine writer and journalist Tony Love has moved on from the team to focus on other projects. “After lengthy deliberation, I decided to step down from my role on the panel because I have a major writing project to concentrate on,” he says. “The deep focus required with the tastings doesn’t fit with this new task, but still, it’s a heavy wrench to be leaving the team. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and responsibility of tasting the wines from my designated regions, and I hope I have been able to advocate adequately on their behalf to the greater winemaking and consumer communities.”

And so, the tasting team gains two new members – Dave Brookes, who will focus on the Barossa Valley, and Philip Rich, who now takes on the Yarra Valley. They join Jane Faulkner, Jeni Port, Erin Larkin and Ned Goodwin MW, alongside James and Tyson. 

New tasting team members Dave Brookes and Philip Rich
Dave Brookes (left) and Philip Rich have joined the Halliday tasting team.   

For Dave – a former Len Evans Tutorial Dux who has judged more than 70 wine shows – the appointment is an honour, and he’s thrilled to be further connected to the region he loves so much. “My tasting playground, the Barossa, is dear to my heart, having worked and lived in the Eden Valley for more than a decade,” he says. “I was involved in the inception of the Barossa Grounds initiative back in 2009 and have peered into soil pits, wandered the subregions, chatted with countless growers and winemakers, tasted the Barossa’s spoils from fermenting musts to classic aged wines, and bogged my ute more times than I care to remember. I love the place!”  

Wine judge and writer Philip Rich also comes with extensive experience, having run liquor retail and hospitality venues for decades, including co-founding Melbourne’s renowned Prince Wine Store. Long connected to the Yarra Valley, one of Philip’s first jobs was at St Hubert’s cellar door, and in recent times, he has chaired the Yarra Valley Wine Show and James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge. 

“The Yarra Valley is a region that excels in a number of varieties from a diverse range of microclimates and terroirs,” Philip says. “This is a great time in the region’s history to be tasting and commenting about these wines for the Companion’s readers.” 

James welcomes the new team members and benefits they bring in further cementing the regional focus. “Allocating the responsibility for a given region to a particular taster has worked well, and the arrivals of Philip and Dave are both positive changes that should help bed down a structure that has much to commend it.”

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