Earlier this year I took a phone call from James Halliday. I’ve worked for James, both as a reviewer for his best-selling annual guide and as a writer-editor on this very magazine, for over 10 years and have known him both personally and via his vast body of work for as long as I’ve been a lover of wine, which extends to over 30 years now. I’d like to say that when James calls, I jump, but even after all these years I still feel, keenly, the privilege of his company, and that’s enough to make me hesitate. I get nervous.
It turns out, on this occasion, I had reason to be. James was calling to see if I was interested in the role of editor of his beloved Halliday Wine Companion guide.
The role of editor of this guide could be viewed, possibly, as a great opportunity, but to look at it this way is to miss the point. The greater truth is that it’s a responsibility, and an important one.
The Halliday Wine Companion matters.
James Halliday, you don’t need me to tell you, is a giant of Australian wine. He is a one-off combination of a giant intellect, a giant work ethic and a giant heart. There will never be another James Halliday; it’s not the way the world works. What James Halliday has created, via his guide, is a touchstone reference for us all: drinkers, makers, readers, rivals. Everyone benefits; everyone’s considered.
Put simply, the Australian wine landscape needs this guide. From my own perspective, as its now editor, it’s not so much a matter of being humbled to take on this role, as determined to keep its reputation – as the number one guide to Australian wine – both intact, and strong.
To that end, the team of experts working on the upcoming edition has been bolstered. James Halliday himself will be more involved, as a taster, in the upcoming edition than he has been for the previous couple of editions. And then we also have some exciting additions.
I’m tempted to call Mike Bennie, who has joined the team for the first time, a whirlwind, because of the dramatic impact he’s had on the world’s wine media, except that the word whirlwind implies brevity and Mike Bennie’s impact has been anything but. Mike Bennie is across every facet of wine, here and abroad. Given that the Halliday team already includes Jane Faulkner, Ned Goodwin MW, Jeni Port, Dave Brookes and Philip Rich, both depth and breadth of wine knowledge is already incredibly well covered. But Mike Bennie adds another dimension, as well as an edge, and the guide will be all the richer for it.
As it will be for the inclusion of Shanteh Wale, who not only brings her own vast wine knowledge to our table but also the kind of ‘on the floor, up-to-the-minute’ intelligence that is invaluable: she’s worked as a sommelier at Sydney’s famed Quay restaurant for the past decade, and as its head sommelier for the past four years. She also produces an industry-leading podcast. You look at the existing team and then add the names of Mike Bennie and Shanteh Wale, along with increased input from James himself, and it feels as though you’ve been asked to compile the dream dinner party list.
In short, this is a team with clout. We will miss the outgoing Tyson Stelzer and Erin Larkin, who we will always view as part of the wider Halliday family, and wish well. But gee whiz, the team we have assembled here now is stellar. Indeed, if this team can’t produce the best guide to Australian wine, no one can.
Learn more about the Halliday Tasting Team here.