James Halliday – writer of the legendary Australian Wine Companion – expands on exclusive extracts from the 2016 edition, revealing his picks of the state’s best wines, wineries and winemakers.

In 1995, James received the wine industry’s ultimate accolade, the Maurice O’Shea Award… he has written or contributed to over 70 books on wine.


Respected wine critic and vigneron James Halliday AM has a career that spans 45 years – he is best known, however, for his witty and informative writing on the subject of wine.

As one of the founders of Brokenwood in the lower Hunter Valley (NSW), and thereafter Coldstream Hills in the Yarra Valley (Victoria), James is an unmatched authority on every aspect of the wine industry, from the planting and pruning of vines through to the creation and marketing of the finished product. His winemaking has led him to sojourns in Bordeaux and Burgundy, and he has had a long career as a wine judge in Australia and overseas. In 1995, he received the wine industry’s ultimate accolade – the Maurice O’Shea Award – and was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2010.

James has written or contributed to more than 70 books on wine since he began writing in 1979, with some of them translated into Japanese, French, German, Danish, Icelandic and Polish, and published in the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as Australia. He is the author of Varietal Wines, James Halliday’s Wine Atlas of Australia and The Australian Wine Encyclopedia. Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion, established in 1986, is keenly anticipated each year by winemakers, collectors and wine lovers, and is recognised nationally as the industry benchmark.


97-100 Exceptional
Wines that have won a major trophy or trophies in important wine shows, or
which are of that standard.

95-96 Outstanding
Wines of gold-medal standard, usually with a great pedigree.

94 Wines on the cusp of gold-medal status, virtually indistinguishable from
those wines receiving 95 points.

90-93 Highly Recommended
Wines of silver-medal standard; wines of great quality, style and character, and
that are worthy of a place in any cellar.

89 Recommended
Wines on the cusp of silver-medal standard, the difference purely a judgment call.
86-88 Wines of bronze-medal standard; well-produced, flavoursome wines, usually not requiring cellaring.

Special Value Wines considered to offer special value for money within the context of their glass symbol status.

84-85 Acceptable
Wines of good commercial quality, free from significant fault.

80-83 Over to You
Everyday wines, without much character, and/or somewhat faulty.

Map by Wines of Western Australia, Extraordinary Regions.



Virginia Wilcox of Vasse Felix (Margaret River); Rob Mann of Cape Mentelle
(Margaret River); Janice McDonald of Burch Family Wines (Margaret River); Rob Diletti of Castle Rock Estate (Porongurup); Vanya Cullen of Cullen Wines (Margaret River); and egalitarian Larry Cherubino (all over WA).


Larry’s ability to pick and choose the best, most relevant grapes, along with his attention to detail, makes him an outstanding winemaker. 

Larry Cherubino has had a particularly distinguished winemaking career, first at Hardys Tintara, then Houghton, and thereafter as a consultant/flying winemaker in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States and Italy.

An incredibly gifted winemaker who works incredibly hard during vintage, Larry is forever in his car, driving around the vineyards, because he has a lot of projects all over the place… he makes beautiful riesling from the Great Southern and
also Pemberton, and has big footprints in Margaret River, too. He is almost a freak in terms of what he’s able to produce.

Larry makes most of the wines under his own brand, Larry Cherubino Wines. They are in limited quantity but that’s not surprising, given the number of different wines he makes.

His ability to pick and choose the best and most relevant grapes, along with his attention to detail, makes him an outstanding winemaker. The breadth and quality of his wines are extraordinary, the prices irresistible across all five ranges of his wines. 


The best value wineries of 2016

Once again, Western Australia is strongly represented among the 10 best value wineries this year. Any one of them could receive top billing, and they could stand up well against the best wineries in in the world – wineries that would have prices three to five times higher.

Western Australia

Larry Cherubino is never far from the top, his winery winning Winery of the Year in 2011. It’s not just his spectacular array of high-quality wines, but also their value for money: this year, 20 of 27 wines tasted received the value symbol, while 12 were rated between 95 points and 98 points.

Swan Valley

This wonderful winery is the venture of semi-newcomer Allan Erceg, a successful real estate/shopping centre developer in Perth. From a tourist viewpoint, the cellar door winery is something quite special, with money no limitation for Erceg. Allan has bonded with winemaker Ryan Sudano, and all 11 wines tasted received the value symbol, with seven rated between 95 and 97 points. This is a business that has progressed at lightning speed since its establishment in 2009, its future limitless.

 Domaine Naturaliste Winemaker Bruce Dukes.

Best new wineries of 2016

Three of the 10 best new wineries – those debuting in the Wine Companion with a five-star rating, 95 points or above, and also a value for money rating – are from WA.

Margaret River
Bruce Dukes has his own brand at long last, after having been one of the outstanding contract winemakers in Australia (certainly in the west) for such a long time. His career dates back over 25 years, its foundations built on a master’s degree in viticulture and agronomy from the University of California. Having made Margaret River wines for others, in 2012 he moved to finally set up Domaine Naturaliste, scoring 98 points with his cabernet sauvignon, backed up by four excellent chardonnays and a sauvignon blanc/semillon.

It seems a little unfair that James and Careena Kellie, winemaker-owners of Harewood Estate, can acquire a 20-year-old vineyard, and create a new five-star winery. But they have picked the eyes out of the best blocks to make a small range of single vineyard, single varietal wines. Three of their wines scored 95 points, the fourth 94.

Margaret River
Without question the most interesting new winery, with prices for its six wines between $200 and $250. The wines are made at Woodlands by Will Berliner, under the watchful eye of Stuart Watson. The high-class packaging of the 450 dozen biodynamic chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and malbec garnered three wines with 96 points, another with 95.

Best Value Winery of the Year 2016

Great Southern

Although West Cape Howe didn’t know it, it came perilously close to receiving this award in the 2015 Wine Companion. While the field of contenders this year had many wineries with seriously good portfolios, West Cape Howe was clearly the best. The reason why it was (and doubtless will continue to be) able to street the field lies in the history of very astute acquisitions of an exceptional array of vineyards and a modern 7700-tonne winery. It is owned by four Western Australian families, and headed by viticulturist Rob Quenby (who has played a key role since 1997), and long-term regional winemaker Gavin Berry (who has 27 vintages in the Great Southern region under his belt). The winemaking team of Berry, Andrew Vasey and Caitlin Gazey is matched by the viticultural team of Rob Quenby and Glen Harding. The portfolio covers riesling, sauvignon blanc, sauvignon blanc semillon, chardonnay, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet merlot and tempranillo. The estate vineyards are managed with organic practices. The winery is also able to contract-make wine from external vineyard sources as far afield as Margaret River, Geographe, Pemberton and Manjimup. Thus the grapes being used by West Cape Howe are specifically grown for the end use of the business, the cost of production known before the first grape is crushed.
The prices of the five wines receiving 95 or 96 points ranged between $19 and $30; two wines with 94 points were $22 and $17 respectively. Finally, those who work in the West Cape Howe group do so because they love the business – and the unpolluted environment in which they live.



There are new varieties popping up all over the west and the rest of Australia. The second book I wrote this year, Grape Varieties, lists 130 types of grapes, with close to half represented in WA.

You’ll only find these new varieties at cellar doors, as they are made in such small quantities. These classic and second-tier grape varieties, particularly ones from France, have been around Australia for a long time, with Italian and Spanish varieties late arrivals on our winemaking scene after proving difficult to grow and make well.

France is ancestral home to all the major varieties such as shiraz and chardonnay, which have proved so successful that that scenario is unlikely to change.

A thousand years of trial and error means these varieties have stood the test of time. In the case of pinot, it was first recorded in 1375 in Burgundy. 

WA’s most successful variety, cabernet, is the most noble red grape and the world’s most widely planted variety. Its parents, cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc, were interplanted in Bordeaux in the late Middle Ages.  

Most of the others then derive from pinot, which is one of the great grandparents of shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. Then there are the other forms of pinot – pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris (which everyone loves these days) and pinot meunier, a black wine grape mainly used in sparking wine and Champagne.

Those four pinots are in fact genetically identical, a surprise outcome of all the DNA work of the past 25 years. We now need to find other ways to differentiate varieties that are clearly different to look at (the colour, for one thing).

Second-tier varieties that have thrived recently and stood the test of time include:

• Pinot gris It’s massive. There’s more gris grown than there is sauvignon blanc, semillon and riesling in Australia, which I regard as blasphemous, but anyway, it’s a fact of life.
• Tempranillo Established and definitely not going away. Grown by several WA producers.
• Sangiovese An Italian variety also here to stay. Not as good as those made in Italy, but still okay.
• Nebbiolo Another Italian, but incredibly difficult to grow and make. It’s every bit as temperamental and demanding as pinot noir, in terms of climate and the soil in which its grown.


Yes, chardonnay certainly is back, and again the focus is on the west. Margaret River has been exceptional in the sense that the gloss never went off Margaret River chardonnay, with it still being bought and consumed at a substantial rate. But generically, there’s no question the quality of top-end chardonnay across Australia has really improved in the past 10 years, to a point where these wines stand comfortably against the hideously expensive chardonnays from Burgundy – a judgment experts, wine writers and commentators around the world echo. They all say the same thing – that Australia really is right up there. From single vineyard sites around the Great Southern, to Albany and Margaret River, the quality of chardonnay is very good here.

2013 Deep Woods Estate Reserve 98pts, Margaret River
2013 Singlefile Family Reserve 97pts, Denmark
2013 Cape Mentelle 97pts, Margaret River
2013 Evoi Reserve 97pts, Margaret River
2011 Flowstone Queen of the Earth 97pts, Margaret River
2012 Hamelin Bay Five Ashes Reserve 97pts, Margaret River
2012 Leeuwin Estate Art Series 97pts, Margaret River
2013 Vasse Felix Heytesbury 97pts, Margaret River
2013 Xanadu Reserve 97pts, Margaret River


The following WA wines were awarded the highest points for any of their variety.

2012 Flowstone Sauvignon Blanc 97pts, Margaret River
2012 Cape Mentelle Wallcliffe SBS 97pts, Margaret River
2013 Deep Woods Estate Reserve Chardonnay 98pts, Margaret River
2014 Hay Shed Hill G40 Riesling 96pts, Mt Barker
2014 Bellarmine Riesling Half Dry 96pts, Pemberton
2013 Fraser Gallop Estate Parterre SBS 97pts, Margaret River
2013 Larry Cherubino Cherubino Cabernet 98pts, Frankland River
2012 Cape Mentelle Cabernet 98pts, Margaret River
2014 Bellarmine Riesling Select 96pts, Pemberton
2012 Domaine Naturalist Rebus 98pts, Margaret River
2013 Flying Fish Cove Prize Catch 98pts, Margaret River
2011 Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber 98pts, Margaret River
2012 Xanadu Reserve Cabernet 98pts, Margaret River
2013 Cullen Diana Madeline Cabernet blend 98pts, Margaret River


I have always felt there is a feminine quality to the soft beauty of the Margaret River region. Yet at the same time it is uncompromisingly Australian: stately eucalypts, gnarled banksias and ancient blackboys, their trunks blackened by centuries of bushfires, stand above carpets of flowering kangaroo paws, desert peas and countless other wildflowers.

The doctors-cum-winemakers who, for some strange reason, dominated the early development of viticulture in the region and whose families still have a strong presence, were unusually sensitive to the environment, and the Margaret River wineries tend to merge into the countryside rather than stand superimposed on it. Stone or rammed-earth walls and skilful use of local timber are commonplace, with subtle bush landscaping enhancing their appeal.

Margaret River is the dominant wine region in Western Australia when it comes to chardonnay, semillon sauvignon blanc, cabernet and cabernet blends featuring Bordeaux varieties (malbec, merlot, petit verdot, and cabernet franc, along
with cabernet sauvignon).

In terms of winemaking, these varieties originated in Bordeaux, a region strongly influenced by a maritime climate very similar to Margaret River, in terms of growing season, warmth, rainfall, you name it – the numbers are almost
exact with Bordeaux.

Margaret River has also negotiated the best deal with the weather gods; it has the most reliable and wonderful climate of any wine region in Australia, with really good rainfall (all winter and spring).

It was Dr John Gladstones who first realised this, writing (inter alia) in a 1965 research paper about Margaret River: “Being virtually frost-free, and having a much lower ripening period, cloudiness, rainfall and hail risk than Manjimup
and Mt Barker, it has distinct advantages over both those areas, and indeed over all other Australian vine districts with comparable temperature summations.” His report led Dr Tom Cullity to establish Vasse Felix in 1967, the first vineyard and winery in Margaret River, and he was followed quickly by others.

Cullen Wines

Margaret River has a little-known 19th-century winemaking heritage, in that the grandfather of the late Dr Kevin Cullen (founder of Cullen Wines), Ephraim Clarke, established a vineyard at Bunbury in 1890, where he grew and made wine until his death in 1921. (The vineyard was ultimately swallowed up in Bunbury’s urban
sprawl.) Today, Cullen is recognised as a leader in biodynamic winemaking and was the first vineyard and winery in Australia to be certified carbon neutral. Winemaking falls to Vanya Cullen, daughter of the founders and numbered among the country’s best winemakers, who continues to produce long-lived, highly stylistic wines from mature estate vineyards.

Margaret River Cabernet

In this year’s Companion, Margaret River has 14 of the top 32 cabernets. The Coonawarra region in South Australia, which historically grew the best cabernet in the country, has only two of 32, so Margaret River is now absolutely dominant in the Australian context. While most Margaret River cabernet is termed ‘cabernet sauvignon’ on the label, typically up to 15 per cent of the wine will contain some of those Bordeaux varieties – a bit of merlot, malbec and/or petit verdot.

2012 Cape Mentelle
2011 Devil’s Lair 9th Chamber
2012 Domaine Naturaliste Rebus
2013 Flying Fish Cove Prize Catch
2012 Xanadu Reserve
2013 Deep Woods Estate Reserve
2012 Deep Woods Wilyabrup
2011 Flowstone Queen of the Earth
2009 Heydon Estate W.G. Grace Single Vineyard
2012 Houghton Gladstones
2012 Mandoon Estate Reserve Research Station
2011 Stella Bella Serie Luminosa
2012 Woodlands Thomas
2012 Xanadu Stevens Road

Margaret River Chardonnay

If you look at Margaret River chardonnay within the overall context of Australia, eight out of the top 30 are in the Yarra Valley, and eight are in Margaret River, including the highest ranked (2013 Deep Woods Estate Reserve, the only chardonnay to earn 98 points). So Margaret River is equal top with the Yarra Valley, but I think most people would agree the regions produce very different styles of chardonnay.


2013 Deep Woods Estate Reserve
2013 Cape Mentelle
2013 Evoi Reserve
2011 Flowstone Queen of the Earth
2012 Hamelin Bay Five Ashes Reserve
2012 Leeuwin Estate Art Series
2013 Vasse Felix Heytesbury
2013 Xanadu Reserve

Margaret River SBS

This year, Margaret River has seven out of the top 10 sauvignon blanc/semillon blends. The region is absolutely dominant in the Australian context; no one comes close to Margaret River when it comes to SBS.

2012 Cape Mentelle Wallcliffe
2013 Fraser Gallop Estate Parterre SSB
2013 Juniper Estate Aquitaine
2011 Stella Bella Suckfizzle SBS
2012 Voyager Estate Tom Price SSB
2012 Warner Glen Estate P.B.F. SBS
2014 Windows Estate Single Vineyard SSB

Dukes Vineyard.



An immense wine region in the shape of a large rectangle, the Great Southern spans 150km north to south, and 100km east to west. It offers a massive variety
of top-quality wine, specifically riesling, cabernet (and blends) and chardonnay.

With five wine-producing subregions, the Great Southern embraces climates from strongly maritime-influenced to moderately continental, and an ever-changing topography. There are the immense eucalypts of the south coast near the pretty towns of Denmark and Albany; the striking round boulders and sweeping vistas of Porongurup; the harder blackboy country of Alkoomi (near Frankland River), and the softer rolling hills of Mt Barker.

The region’s wine-making appeal was discovered by distinguished Californian viticulturist Professor Harold Olmo, who was retained by the WA government in 1955 to report on the status of the WA wine industry.

The first vines in the Great Southern were planted in 1859 in Mt Barker, the first wine subregion declared in Australia. Though largely open grazing country, there is a feeling of ‘oneness’ here, similar to a micro-terroir of France (1/100th of the size of Mt Barker).

Two hectares of cabernet sauvignon were planted at the Bolyanup Vineyard in the neighbouring Porongurups in 1974, while the first vineyard in the Frankland River region was planted in 1968. Originally owned by the wealthy Roche family of Perth, it is an important vineyard now owned by Houghton and known as Netley Brook Vineyard, producing ultra-premium grapes. In 1971, Merv and Judy Lange began the highly rated Alkoomi vineyard and winery.

Great Southern Riesling

While historically Clare Valley (in South Australia) has always been regarded as the Australian region for riesling, the Great Southern – headed by the subregions of Porongurup and Mt Barker – is challenging it, with six of the best 17 rieslings compared to three from Clare Valley. With more top-end riesling than Clare and even Eden Valley, the Great Southern is the major player in Australia for this variety. 

2014 Willoughby Park Kalgan Ironrock
2014 Alkoomi Black Label
2014 Frankland Estate Isolation
Ridge Vineyard
2014 Forest Hill Vineyard Block 1
2008 Abbey Creek Vineyard Museum Release
2014 Duke’s Vineyard Magpie Hill Reserve


Winemaking has been intermittent but on a tiny scale in this picturesque region. The first-known winery was built in the 1880s and burnt down in 1945. The longest-established present-day winery (Hainault) dates back to 1980. Perth Hills is a pretty region, with constantly changing vistas. The native plant vegetation

grows in rich profusion, with patches of introduced exotics from Europe and elsewhere adding an unexpected contrast near streams and in home gardens. Moreover, it is only 22km from Perth, easily accessible to daytrippers.

Millbrook Winery.


The European settlement of Peel dates back to 1829 when a visionary Thomas Peel brought three ships of migrants from England for the Peel Settlement Scheme. A vineyard was established near Pinjarra in 1857, and remained in production for more than 40 years. The first commercial shiraz vineyard was started by Will Nairn at Peel Estate in 1974. Shiraz remains the flagship variety of the region, Peel Estate its flagship producer.

Oakover Wines.


English settler Thomas Waters started viticulture here, digging a cellar in 1830 at Olive Farm, the oldest winemaking establishment in Australia, and in use until the start of the new millennium.

Two waves of immigration by Yugoslavs, in the early 20th century and after the Second World War, meant the Swan Valley joined the Barossa Valley (German) and the Riverland (Italian) as significant ethnically driven wine-producing regions. For a time, the Swan Valley had more wineries than either New South Wales or Victoria.

The valley’s completely flat, alluvial river plain provides vineyards with soils that are immensely deep and well drained. The hot, dry summer means grapes ripen easily and quickly, with the climate ideal for table grapes and fortified wines. 

Wovenfield Wines.


Geographe is bisected by the Vasse, Capel, Ferguson, Collie and Brunswick rivers, which descend from the hills in the east to create valleys with distinctive climates.

While there are no official sub-regions of Geographe, there are in truth three quite distinct areas. The first is the true coastal sector, from Busselton to Bunbury, with the lush, peaceful Capel River and the town of Capel at its centre. Wholly maritime-influenced by the warm Indian Ocean, its climate is similar to that of the northern part of the Margaret River, although richer alluvial soils around Capel lead to exceptionally vigorous vine growth.

Next is the Donnybrook area, cut off from the influences of the Indian Ocean by the Darling and Whicher ranges, with considerable diurnal temperature fluctuations. The third area is the Ferguson Valley, where early success with sauvignon blanc, shiraz, merlot and cabernet sauvignon led to rapid expansion in plantings. The largest venture is Willow Bridge, with a 100-hectare vineyard and 2000-tonne capacity winery. 

Clairault Winery.


Every year, as the 10-month gestation of the Wine Companion progresses, with a four-month daily grind of tasting 80 wines, day in, day out, I become totally immersed in the fabric of current Australian wines and winemaking.

Within the context of Australia, WA’s percentage of wine production is very small in terms of volume, but very big in price and quality. If we examine the ratings in the Companion, WA is right up there on a per capita basis.

In fact, in the 2016 Companion, 19 of Australia’s best of the best wineries are from WA. We call them “The Red Reds” – they have five red stars (highest rating) and their name is printed in red. There are only 102 in the Companion and they are recognised for having a long track record of excellence.

The second-highest category is five red-star wineries, of which 46 are from WA. These have had a consistent record of excellence for at least the past three years. In the next category are wineries with five black stars – these have achieved excellence this year and sometimes longer. WA has 35 of these in the Companion.

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