Friday, August 11, 2006

Wine Odyssey – a year of wine, food and travel

There are not many individuals who live the vinous existence enjoyed by Australia’s James Halliday. That is why I was pleased to find his Wine Odyssey – a year of wine, food and travel. Written in a diary-like format, the book chronicles Halliday’s experiences in the world of wine for 2002. And when I say world, I mean that Halliday does get about. He is more than just an acknowledged expert on Australian wines, his expertise as a critic, judge and just plain wine expert is sought in the New World and Old World alike.

Halliday describes himself as a workaholic in the first sentence of the Prologue, by the end of the book that is more than believable. I was convinced the first time we learn that it is not uncommon for his wife to meet him at Melbourne airport with fresh clothes so that he can jet off to judge yet another Wine Show, or speak at a wine symposium. All of this is done against the backdrop of consulting for Coldstream Hills Winery (which Halliday and his wife Suzanne sold to Southcorp in 1996), tasting through thousands of Australian wines for his annual Wine Companion and selecting the annual Top 100 wines for the Weekend Australian. And these are just a few of the regular events that occupy his time during the year.

A diary should be a personal account of the life of the writer, even if it is only a slice of that life, as is the case with Halliday’s Odyssey. While this book does document Halliday’s life on an almost daily basis it is not cluttered with the personal detritus that some writers might be tempted to include, and some readers may be expecting! Instead it is well tempered with vinous experiences that the wine aficionado will appreciate. The most telling, at least for me, is a reminiscence of a visit, with his wife Suzanne, to France in the early 1980’s. At La Pyramide (a restaurant) in Vienne he seeks out wines of his birth year. One is a 1938 Romanée-Conti. I’ll let Halliday tell of the experience.

“As Louis, the venerable sommelier, teased the cork out of the bottle with his splayed fingers, a sixth sense warned me that something extraordinary was about to happen. As I smelt the wine he poured for my approval, Suzanne said, ‘Why are you crying?’ My first reaction was to indignantly deny that I was doing any such thing, but then I realized that tears were indeed trickling down my cheeks. It was an entirely involuntary reaction to the sheer perfection of the wine.”

If that little anecdote does not give some insight into the love that Halliday has for the liquid that he has devoted his life to, then I clearly don’t have the measure of the man.

For the less emotional, but still voyeuristic, purists there is the description of the purchase and consumption of a double magnum of 1865 Chateau Lafite, as well as 77 vintages of Chateau Latour from 1920 to 2000. Another highlight are the photographs that add visual detail to many of Halliday's exploits, all snapped by the author. There is much to recommend this excellent little book, I mean diary.

Wine Odyssey: A year of wine, food and travel (Paperback) by James Halliday, 304 pages, HarperCollinsPublishers PTY Limited (May 1, 2004). $20.95USD

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