Decanter book reviews

4 of 12
books, A Life in Wine

A Life in Wine, James Halliday, Hardie Grant Books; A$45

After innumerable wine books, James Halliday, at age 73, has taken to more personal writing. What makes this memoir so surprising is its readability, thanks to very good writing, as well as the humour and colour with which it’s delivered. Let’s face it, stories of the great bottles others have drunk can bore, but Halliday manages to entertain.

The many anecdotes – of dinners, trips, meetings with memorable people, vineyard planting and winery establishment – contain impressive detail. Halliday has a phenomenal memory but this is quite astonishing, even if assisted by fastidious record-keeping. And his great wine tastings are legion: the double-magnum of 1865 Lafite, the 70-vintage vertical of Latour from 1920 to ’99, etc.

It’s an enjoyable read and there is plenty of wit in such tales as the removal of 22 tonnes of wine (his private cellar) from Sydney to Melbourne; the fly-fishing tales (especially Halliday’s great friend the late Australian wine legend Len Evans inadvertently cooking his first trout in washing-up detergent); the confusion of misunderstood French and student antics, and the mischievous pranks of the late Australian restaurateur Anders Ousback and other stories involving Evans.

And – is it an accident? – there are more pictures of the author shirtless than in most swimmers’ memoirs. I counted nine!

Huon Hooke