Max Allen, a wine and drinks writer for The Australian Financial Review and Jancis Robinson’s website, is also a prolific author and an honorary fellow in history at the University of Melbourne. Put simply: this man knows good booze. 

Max is set to join us at Tasting Australia for drinks masterclasses, Crazy for Sangiovese and How to Wine, as well as Tasting Table Apple of My Eye. Before the festival, hear about his thoughts on changing Australian tastes, his love for cider (that he swears is a better match for cheese than wine!) and a wine producer flying under the radar.

You’ve been writing about drinks for more than three decades. What’s one way Australian tastes have changed in that time? 

Nobody drinks one thing any more. Back in the day, you were a beer drinker, or a wine drinker, or a spirits drinker, and you never – or hardly ever – strayed from your lane. Back in the really old days, people also stuck to one brand of the one drink, too – they were Penfolds drinkers, or Coopers drinkers, or St Agnes drinkers. Today’s generation of booze-lovers, by contrast, are happy to try anything, as long as it’s good and interesting: the latest craft gin in a cocktail one night, pet-nats at a picnic the next day, a non-alc hazy IPA on Monday.  

It’s Friday night and you have friends over for dinner. What’s the first drink you offer them? 

Whatever they feel like! One of the best things about being a booze hack – especially since I branched out of just writing about wine a few years ago and started writing more about cider and spirits and beer and you-name-it – is that I’ve usually got a whole heap of bottles open (for tasting purposes, you understand). I  am very keen to share - I can’t drink it all myself!

You’re hosting a Tasting Table in celebration of cider and also make your own. Why is this tipple such a standout? 

I love introducing people to the richness and depth and deliciousness of cider culture: I think there’s as much variety and diversity to be found in all the different apple varieties and cider styles as there is in different wine varieties and styles. I love demonstrating to people that with some food – particularly cheese – cider is a far more delicious match than wine. And yes, winemakers, that is a hill I’m prepared to die on.

What’s next for Australian wine?  

Some very tough times. Sorry to get all heavy for a moment, but Australian wine in 2024 is a tale of two cities ('best of times, worst of times', and all that). On one hand wine consumers have never had it so good:  unprecedented diversity of choice and amazing quality and constant flood of new labels and dynamic young producers. On the other hand, for many grape growers and business owners in the wine industry, things have never been harder: oversupply, changing tastes and drinking patterns (less but better), export difficulties, rising costs, dwindling returns, the whole damned 'cozzie livs' situation. There’s going to be some shake-outs and hardship before this imbalance corrects itself.

Can you share a producer flying under the radar who deserves wider attention? 

Noon in McLaren  Vale. The wines are exceptional – and exceptional value if you’re lucky enough to be on the mailing list. Although they’re not exactly unknown, they’re hard to get: the Noon family only open cellar door for a few days each year; if you do come across a bottle in a retailer or a restaurant it’s usually been marked up by some ridiculous margin. The High Noon rosé is arguably Australia’s best (big call, I know), and the Eclipse grenache blend, while powerful and heady when young, ages incredibly well in the cellar.

Which of your many books was most enjoyable to write? 

Intoxicating: ten drinks that shaped Australia. Not the actual writing, so much (putting the words down on the page is exquisite agony – just ask my impossibly patient editors, but definitely the research: travelling round the country, visiting defunct distilleries, tasting 100-year-old tinctures in dusty cellars, tramping through the Tasmanian highlands to visit endangered cider gum trees – they were unforgettable experiences.