Once a year, a man named James Halliday (the Australian version of Robert Parker) publish an annual overview of the “best” wines of Australia. This list then goes on to drive Australian consumers to madness. Like Robert Parker, James Halliday works with a 100-point system, where in reality the highest point is 99. After publication, the wines that receive 99 points are sold out overnight, while the wines that receive 98 and 97 points sell out during the subsequent days. Which makes it, of course, oh so important for wine producers to score high on this list.
But who is James Halliday and what gives him the right to act as judge, jury, and executioner for the Australian wine industry?
James Halliday was originally a lawyer, turned winery owner, turned wine critic and wine writer all within a decade. Looking at his resume, the only thing entitling him to his role, is an interest in wine and the general skill to write. That is it. And now he is the be all end all of the Australian wine industry. And maybe, he might have had a good palate in his prime, but now as an 82-year-old, unless he is unlike any other retiree, his palate will most likely have changed drastically (one of the big burdens of growing old).
But still, the Australian public values his word over their own palates. And even now, when he is utilising a lot of assistants (since he cannot possibly taste all the wines himself) every wine connoisseur in Australia awaits his latest verdict with awe.
For me, a still humble wine geek and student. I find this concept absolutely ridiculous. Yes, one can somewhat judge the general quality of a wine, but it is! In my mind, it is absolutely impossible to create a point system that will judge all wines equally. And when it comes to wine, what is most important and always should be, is the individual enjoyment. Not the overall quality judge by someone who’s palate is completely different from yours.
Why I am currently studying towards, is to learn how to judge the quality of a wine independent of myself and my own preference. But for the general consumer, all that matters is their own preference. To have someone, by such a simplification as a point system, tell them what in theory should be “good”, is the wrong way to go about it. Especially since the motivation behind the points will vary widely between the judges and their mood.
So rather than picking up the latest James Halliday Wine Companion or wasting your money trying to outbid your neighbour for the last bottle of 99-point wine. Trust your own palate, and drink what you enjoy, no matter its rating.