Expect to see wines from Down Under to make more news in the next year:

• New Zealand, which has taught the world a thing or two about $15 sauvignon blanc, is going to do the same thing with $15 pinot noir. Or so says Kim Crawford, one of that country’s leading winemakers, who notes that substantially more pinot is being planted by wineries and growers as part of that effort.

“I think we are now with pinot in quality about where we were with sauvignon blanc about 10 years ago,” says Crawford, who heads Kim Crawford Wines, part of the multi-national Vincor empire. “And I think the market for pinot is wide open right now, just like it was for sauvignon blanc.”

He has a point, in both cases. Despite a couple of wines that have acquired a cult following, most New Zealand pinot noir is quite ordinary. This is in contrast to its sauvignon blanc, which may be the best in the world (and especially for the price). Plus, it’s difficult to find well-made pinot noir for less than $20, no matter where it’s produced.

• Yellow Tail, the Australian brand that taught the world how to drink $7 wine that has a cute animal on the label, is taking a step up in class. Its newest venture is Yellow Tail Reserve, a line of $11 wines designed to compete with $15 wines.

The goal, says John Casella, the managing director of the company that produces Yellow Tail, is not to sell the new wine to current Yellow Tail drinkers. Rather, it’s to convert wine drinkers who spend $15 a bottle on something from California or France, in the same way the original label stole business from $10 wines from those regions.

The reserve wines are a touch more interesting than their less expensive cousins, and the pinot grigio, with good fruit and some crispness, can hold its own with more expensive wines from elsewhere in the world.

But can this line duplicate the success of the original Yellow Tail? That’s going to be difficult, regardless of their quality. The $7 Yellow Tail has sold more than 21 million cases throughout the world, an almost unprecedented success in the wine business.


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