Berger: Some inexpensive, quality Aussie wines

Starting some 15 years ago, U.S. wine drinkers who love well-priced, tasty wines had a field day with Australian wines.

A flood of Aussie imports, from tasty chardonnays to gutsy shirazes, came into the United States in the late 1990s and the value was so great that at their peak, Australian wine sales in the United States were rising more than 20% per year for nearly a decade.

Some of the reasons for this were the low cost of farming wine grapes in Australia; the rapid growth of vineyard acreage (which produced lots of grapes), and the relatively weak Aussie dollar that was worth roughly 35% less than the U.S. dollar.

But times change. Even though brands like Yellow Tail (at the low end) and Penfolds (with a reasonably priced portfolio that included an excellent high-end sector) remain constants in the U.S. market, it was clear that holding onto U.S. market share for other Australian brands would not be easy.

By 2008, the U.S. economy was so weak that all wine sales slowed, and then the Australian dollar rose in value due to strong iron-ore sales to China.

Before long, with the two currencies at parity, the cost of many Australian wines had to rise just to keep pace with the differences in the exchange rate, and fewer

Aussie wineries could export wines to the U.S. with the same confidence that had existed a decade earlier.

All this time, Franklin Tate was wrestling with financial problems of his own. Founder of the Evans & Tate brand in western Australia, Tate was head of one of the country's largest wineries.

But about nine years ago, that multiple-brand, million-case entity began to face financial difficulties, and by 2005 Tate had left his old company. Move ahead to last week. Tate is back with a scaled-down business, some stellar wines, and prices that are very fair for the high quality of the wines.

He can do this partly because he owns more than 500 acres of land planted to 10 different varietals, and has a staff that is focused on a Western Australian style of wine that's a bit more structured and delicate than some warmer regions of Australia.

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