Yellow Tail: An Australian-Sicilian-American Success Story

Yellow Tail is a family winery (Casella Wines) in New South Wales that is one of the wine world’s most phenomenal success stories. It recently relaunched its Reserve line to offer its customers a step up in quality. A brand especially created for the American market in 2001, Yellow Tail is today the largest selling brand of imported wine in the US. In 2008 some 8.4 million cases of Yellow Tail were sold in the U.S. alone.

What makes Yellow Tail so popular is its upfront fresh, ripe fruit in a wine sold at an extremely reasonable price. It’s the kind of flavor, and value, that can make wine drinkers out of teetotalers. But it’s not necessarily the kind of wine that one seeks out for a special occasion, or one finds on a good restaurant’s wine list, for that matter. Hence, the rationale for Yellow Tail Reserve, a more expensive line of wines that retains upfront fruit but with added complexity from better grapes and aging in oak. Yellow Tail recently re-launched its reserve wine line with a classy label and heavier bottle to better convey an image consistent with an up-scale wine. Their US importer, WJ Deutsch and Sons, sent them to us for review.

The tale of Yellow Tail is an Australian success story made possible in part by American marketing. The Casella family, owners of Yellow Tail, immigrated to Australia from Sicily in the late 1950s and started their winery in 1969, with a focus on exports. In 2001, they entered in partnership with the well-known US importer WJ Deutsch and Sons and began exporting to the US. WJ Deutsch’s marketing prowess combined with Yellow Tails formulaic wine led to the most successful wine brand ever—and in a very short period of time.

The phenomenal success of Yellow Tail means the fortunes of the Australian wine industry to some extent now lie tied to those of Yellow Tail. So the big question is, can Yellow Tail convert novice wine drinkers into more sophisticated wine consumers by moving them upscale to its Reserve Special Selection bottlings? And that, of course, depends in part on the quality of the wines.

Our review of these wines follows. In general, we find they are true to the upfront fruit style of Yellow Tail but with added complexity. Our favorites are the Pinot Grigio with its true-to-varietal character and the very well made Merlot, which manages to combine upfront fruit with a velvet smooth, fully flavored palate. It’s not the biggest of the Yellow Tail reds, but it’s the most balanced and elegant. Fans of Yellow Tail will be keen to taste these new upscale wines whereas others may need more convincing. Hopefully, our reviews will help convince.

Yellow Tail 2008 Chardonnay Reserve South East Australia ($12) 88+
This is an easy to drink, nicely integrated Chardonnay quite unlike some of the sweet, cloying wines one finds in this price range. The nose is lightly fragrant of pear and melon with a hint of tropical fruit. These same fruits appear on the palate along with notes of honey and toast and a moderately crisp finish.

Yellow Tail 2008 Pinot Grigio Reserve South East Australia ($12) 89
The Casella Family shows its Italian origins with this quite delicious Pinot Grigio. True to its varietal character, the nose is floral with ripe pear and citrus notes. Light citrus flavors and crisp acidity show in the mouth, along with a chalky note on the finish. Drink well chilled, and enjoy!

Yellow Tail 2008 Shiraz Reserve Special Selection South East Australia ($12) 87+
The Yellow Tail Shiraz has the kind of fruit forward style we’ve come to expect from Australia. With its dark ruby hue, there are fragrant black cherry scents on the nose and a soft fruit and spice attack and a modestly flavored palate with dry tannins. Spends a year in new oak.

Yellow Tail 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Special Selection South East Australia ($12) 88

Brilliant dark ruby red in color, the nose is of smoky oak and rich, ripe dark red fruit. Quite soft on the attack with rich plum and cassis fruit on the attack and light fruit on the mid-palate, it has a lingering fruity finish with soft tannins. Sees 12 months in new oak.

Yellow Tail 2008 Merlot Reserve Special Selection South East Australia ($12) 89

This is a delicious wine, especially for the price. As with the other Yellow Tail Reserves, it is fruit forward in style with soft tannins. A fruity nose of plum and blackberry gives way to a rich, balanced, and deliciously flavored and velvet smooth palate with chocolate spice notes. Finishes long with crisp acidity. As with the other Special Selection reds, it spends 12 months in oak. Excellent!

Don Winkler

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