The departure of Keith Lambert as chief executive of Southcorp has given analysts an opportunity to push for the company, the largest independent wine maker in Australia, to be bought by a rival.

Merrill Lynch, a stern critic of Southcorp for many months, said: "Questions need to be asked of the capabilities of the current Southcorp board. We consider Southcorp is now rudderless, with no effective strategy in place. The future of Southcorp as a stand-alone company looks dim. There is only one out for Southcorp: to do what BRL Hardy did and find a strategic partner and/or acquirer."

Most analysts seem to favour a bid by Fosters, although the company has refused to comment. In the past, however, Fosters has said it is not looking for any more Australian wine products. Merrill Lynch noted that Fosters could extract A$50m in savings from a merger with Southcorp.

Salomon Smith Barney reported that Lambert's departure, "may give any potential acquirer the motivation to dust off the books to have another look at Southcorp. These could be any of the global alcoholic beverage firms: Diageo, Allied Domecq or Fosters."

Macquarie Equities agreed that Lambert's departure made an acquisition more likely.