Page 3, Great Everyday Wines at Great Prices
Australia is a value-wine-lover’s dream. And in the US Yellow Tail’s wines are the most beloved of all. They are currently the No. 1 imported wines as well as the fastest-growing imported wines in US history. While they were just introduced in 2001, 6.6 million cases were exported to the US in 2004! In addition to these fantastic statistics, another amazing thing about Yellow Tail is that it’s family owned and operated in a country where the wine industry is dominated by huge corporations, with 75% of the wine sold by just five companies.
The Casella family have been making wine since 1820, first in Italy and since 1965 in Australia. They started Yellow Tail with Chardonnay and Shiraz, Australia’s signature grape, and have added Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz-Cabernet, Cabernet-Merlot, Shiraz-Grenache (blends like these are common in Australia) and, most recently, Pinot Grigio. Riesling will be next. The wines are fruit flavored, soft and approachable, with low tannins. The world’s most influential wine critic, Robert Parker, praised Yellow Tail in a 2003 Wine Advocate story. “In some wine circles,” he said, “it is fashionable to criticize wines of this genre, but, if the truth be known, these are surprisingly well-made offerings.” He’s since called them “incredible” values; they’re $7 a bottle; $12 for the 1.5L. The newer Reserve line sells for $11 a bottle. Just look for the cute yellow-tailed kangaroo on the label.
Bottom line: A phenomenon, they strive for mass appeal; the Shirazes are especially worthwhile. (www.casellawine.com, www.yellowtailwine.com [blog])
You won’t need a corkscrew when you open any of New Zealand’s Villa Maria wines because in 2004 its wineries became “cork-free zones.” That’s just the beginning of the good news. Today Villa Maria is part of New Zealand’s second-biggest wine company and its leading award winner. George Fistonich, who founded Villa Maria in 1961, got his wine-making start helping his dad, who had an acre of grapes. In his own business, Fistonich has focused on matching the right grapes with the right sites. And that effort has paid off. So accomplished is he that Queen Elizabeth dubbed him a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, the highest honor she can bestow. One competitor has said of his wines, “[Villa Maria doesn’t] make one bad wine, and they make lots of good ones, in every style, from most regions.” Villa Maria markets three tiers of wines in the US. Private Bin, the least expensive, is the pertinent one here. Its varietals include Sauvignon Blanc–New Zealand’s signature grape–Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, which cost $12 to $15.
Bottom line: A great introduction to New Zealand’s wines. (www.villamaria.co.nz)
At Bogle Vineyards in Clarksburg, California, wine is a family affair. The Bogles have been a farming clan since the mid-1800s. Mother Patty manages the winery. Son Warren oversees the vineyards, and daughter Jody handles sales and marketing. To keep costs down, they buy grapes where the land isn’t terribly expensive. And they concentrate on one product range. They’re known for their Old Vine Zinfandels (the vines are 65 to 100 years old!) and Petite Sirahs. Their 2003 Petite Sirah was chosen by Sunset magazine in September 2005 as “Steal of the Year”— the best wine under $15. Bogle also makes Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Phantom (a blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Mourvèdre; the word “bogle” means phantom, and this wine disappears from shelves quickly) and Petite Sirah Port. Most of them are available for $10 to $14 (Phantom and the port cost $18). The Bogles are proud of their “tradition of respect for the land and the vines,” and value-wine lovers in turn respect their products.
Bottom line: An excellent producer of reasonably priced California wines. (www.boglewinery.com)