The good news about Australian wines is that Americans love them; that sales, if plotted on a growth chart, remain headed in a northeasterly direction, and that demand is even growing in the superpremium sector.

And fortunately, the only bad news is that more and more brands are popping up here as a result of a massive surplus of wine in Australia. This means that greater competition may well hold down retailers’ profits as competition heats up and everyone discounts.

But one fact is obvious: no retail shop can afford to be without a number of lines of Aussie wines. Consumers are demanding them.

Australian wine’s rise to popularity in the United States is based on its price-quality relationship along with its juicy California-esque style. But price is an important part of the attraction.

One factor here is the weakness of the Australian dollar, making all Down Under products more reasonably priced here. Meanwhile, the surplus of wine has the added benefit to American buyers of a strongly motivated Australian industry eager to move a product that has a degree of perishability: not all wine improves over time.

Scenes from (above) Margaret River, Western Australia, and the Barossa Valley, South Australia (below).

One reason for Australia’s surplus of wine is the fact that in a large area known as Sunraysia, three hours north of Melbourne, grapes grow in massive amounts. Australian wine makers, those clever blokes, take this fruit and blend it with high-quality grapes from cooler wine regions such as Padthaway, McLaren Vale, Yarra Valley and Clare Valley to make stellar bargains.

These wines have had a decade of remarkable growth in the United States, mainly with wines in the $5 to $10 price range. So much so that the latest figures show that 8.7 million cases of Australian wine was sold in the United States in 2001, a 24% increase over 2000. And if early 2002 sales figures hold up, the Aussies will sell 10.5 million cases here, yet another 20+% growth rate — a growth rate that started more than a decade ago.

Getting a handle on any group of wines with odd-sounding names (some of the top brands use aboriginal words in their names) isn’t easy, so here is look at some of the better-known brands.


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