No serious Australian wine lover can ignore the writing of James Halliday. He is Australia's most respected wine critic and writer. His annual Wine Companion belongs on the bookshelf of all serious students of Australian wine. No other wine guide can claim the comprehensiveness, authority and usability of this reference. You need it on your bookshelf to check the thousand little details that come up in wine conversations. You need it to plan your next visit to the bottle shop or wine region. You may even need it to settle friendly arguments about wine trivia. Most of all you need it because it is a bloody good read. The history of the Companion is one of growing and pruning. It started life as a guide to Australian and New Zealand wine but as the industry and number of wineries blossomed the Companion was cut back to include only Australian wines. This year's edition (or is it next year's) has had further changes in format to appease the dictates of space. He had to fit in all those new wineries - 377 in all. As usual the Companion contains the distilled knowledge of one of Australia's foremost authorities on wine. The forty-seven pages of introductory matter includes a map of wine regions, a vintage chart for reds and whites in all regions, and a summary of the highest scoring wines by region. The body of the work consists of profiles of over 1800 wineries, arranged alphabetically. There is a most useful index by region at the end of the book. There are tasting notes for over 3100 wines, and they are rated out of 100. Vinodiversity lovers will probably note that Halliday has a classical palate. Two Rieslings and a Chardonnay top the poll for whites with 97 Points. The best of the alternative whites are two Verdelhos and a Gewurztraminer on 94 points. Not too many reds reach such a high level. The highest ranking red is Maurice O'Shea Shiraz on 97 points. Two Shiraz-viognier blends are among many reds getting 96 points. Format changes in the 2005 edition include dropping some of the information which appeared in previous editions. The practice of listing the best vintages for each wine has been discontinued. As the introduction explains, the Companion now concentrates on currency available wines. The hoarders among us now know we were right not to discard our earlier editions. One loss that will be felt is that of the food suggestions which used to conclude many entries. These served a serious purpose of providing an alternative means of conveying the sensation of taste. Rather than just relying on the description of the wine by analogy with other fruit flavours, the food suggestions provided a more contextual hint of what the wine was like. Halliday also used these suggestions to insert some humour. Along with "drink with roast lamb" and "drink with grilled fish" we had "drink with an ice block" and "drink with nothing or anything". ether is a brief couple of pages on food and wine paring in the introductory pages. What remains is indubitably the finest guide to contemporary wine.