Holy cow, it has a cork!”

These were the exact words I exclaimed to a friend when I went to open a bottle of Australian Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($17.90) several weeks ago.

If you’re a wine drinker, you’re probably familiar with Yellow Tail. It’s the most successful wine story of the last decade, and a huge hit in both North America and the UK.

The Casella family, wine producers in Italy since the 1820s, emigrated to Australia in 1951 and began growing grapes in the Yenda area of New South Wales.

The family produced its first Australian vintage twenty years later and, in the late ’90s, introduced its now-famous Yellow Tail wines.

In my view, the success of Yellow Tail is the result of very good marketing.

The Yellow Tail folks recognized that many people had an interest in buying better quality wines, but were intimidated by the “wine connoisseur” image much of the wine industry has cultivated.

By packaging and marketing its lineup in a cheerful and approachable way, and ensuring that the taste was consistent from year to year, regardless of vintage (the year the grapes were grown), Yellow Tail launched internationally just as people were ready for this approach.

In 2001, the Casellas partnered with W.J. Deutsch & Sons to introduce their wines to the US. Their goal the first year was to sell 25,000 cases. Instead, they sold 112,000.

A subsequent distribution agreement with Costco saw that number climb to 7.5 million cases by 2005!

Yellow Tail has focused on producing value-priced wines that offer reds, whites, rosés, and now sparkling wines that deliver a good tasting experience that appeals to wine drinkers.

With heavy investment in wine-making technology, the company can now produce 36,000 bottles per hour!

I give them great credit for creating products that have attracted a decade of new wine drinkers who might otherwise have stayed mired in the world of “pop” wines and Mateus.

In 2003, Yellow Tail added its “Reserve” line of wines. These are aged in oak barrels for six to 12 months, and priced at only about $5.00 more than the regular Yellow Tails.

Aside from the cork (albeit a plastic one) instead of the regular twist-off tops, the interesting thing I noticed was that the Reserve wines did not appear to have a particular vintage, indicating that the grapes in the bottle likely came from more than one year.

Given that Australia grows its grapes during our winter, perhaps this makes sense, as the grapes might be planted in their Spring (our Fall) of, say 2007, and harvested in their Fall (our Spring) of 2008.

The grapes are sourced from various Australian wine-growing regions, so these wines are not of a particular region, and thus won’t have the terroiror special taste and smell characteristics the geography, geology and climate of a certain place can impart to reserve wines made from grapes of one distinct region.

Interestingly, though, the Yellow Tail website takes pains to point out that the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve contains grapes from the McLaren Vale, one of Australia’s pre-eminent wine regions.

I tasted two Reserve Yellow Tails over the course of a week. The first, Yellow Tail Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve had a noticeable and good bouquet, and big mouthfuls of dark cherry flavours in the taste.

For an Australian wine, there wasn’t too much oak in it, and the tannins (what makes your mouth pucker in some red wines) weren’t too pronounced.

This made it a nice sipping wine, not necessarily needing food with it to be enjoyed – though I’d love to taste it with roast beef.

The Yellow Tail Shiraz Reserve ($19.50) was also pretty tasty, with more bright red cherry (not as black cherry or plum-like as the Cab), with some black pepper and also eucalyptus in the taste, as well as the finish (the taste in your mouth after you swallow the wine).

It would be great with a steak on the grill!

Both these wines are worth a taste. You might even want to get a bottle of Yellow Tail’s regular Cab ($15.35) or Shiraz ($15.30) and open it with the corresponding Reserve version to explore the differences.

Cheers!