13 Oct 2010
Yellow Tail makes a reserve wine? This was my thought and the question I heard several times over when I told people I was reviewing Yellow Tail wine. According to the print material, “The fruit used is taken from Australia’s premium cool climate regions to maintain elegance, finesse and length of flavor. Great wine begins with the best grapes for [ yellow tail ] Reserve. You can taste the difference.” This is what I wanted to determine, could you taste the difference?
Over the last 30 years the Casella family has taken Yellow Tail from small production to over 11 million cases, making them one of the largest wine exporters in the world. In 2001 the little yellow wallaby was introduced to the US in an agreement with W.J. Deutsch. Americans fell in love to the sip of 8.5 million cases making Yellow Tail one of the most recognized wine brands in the US.
At prices between $12-$15 the five Yellow Tail Reserve wines (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon) are about twice the price of the non-reserve line. I’ll admit I had my share of Yellow Tail magnum bottles of Shiraz from Costco. The fruity and slightly disjointed wine used to work as a standby from time to time (especially in my early wine exploration days). Now, however, I’ve discovered that a step up in price is well worth the drinking experience. I’m pretty curious to see what twice the price gets the consumer.
The reserve packaging is a picture of great branding. The use of a black label and silver foil wallaby convey quality while maintaining a tie to the core brand elements. The bottles seem to be slightly weightier as well. After receiving the wine, my step-son walked in the room and said, “oooh, these must be expensive.” He’s a pretty astute and observant 13 year old and has a keen eye for design and marketing. After noting the name, he said, “Oh, they’re only Yellow Tail.” Interesting…
2008 Yellow Tail Reserve Merlot – The 100% Merlot is from six regions in Australia, mostly King and Alpine Valley. The various fruit spent between 6-12 months in a range of new and used American and French oak barrels. With a soft burgundy rust color in the glass, the wine was fairly translucent. The nose on the wine was fairly woody like water logged wine soaked piece of cedar. Some underpinnings of sour red fruit graced the nose to. In the mouth the wine is soft and slightly unassuming with presentations of sour cherry on the mid palate. Hints of vanilla poke through the light tannin finish. At $12-$15 this is a drinkable wine but in comparison to the Velvet Devil on the Under $10 Team, I’ll pass on this one 3-/5.
2008 Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz – The 100% Shiraz is from the Langhorne, McLaren Vale, Padthaway, Barossa and Wrattonbully areas in South Eastern Australia. The fruit spent varying amounts of time (6-12 months) in new and used American and French oak. In the glass the wine is similar in tone to the Merlot but with a darker center. Slightly less translucent but could be the same wine to the untrained eye. A traditional aroma profile for what I’ve experienced in Yellow Tail Shiraz offering off scents of dark fruit and pepper. In the mouth the wine is fairly large and squishy with well balanced play of blackberry, blueberry and pepper spice. The oak components are more subtle and offer more layered flavor to the profile. While still on the simple side, the bold and rich flavor will appeal to a large audience. Having had my fair share of non-reserve Shiraz, at $12-$15 this is definitely a step up in flavor and quality. 3/5
2008 Yellow Tail Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – A multi-regional blend of 100% Cabernet from various sources in South Eastern Australia. As in the other two reserves, this fruit in this wine spent 6-12 months in new and used French and American oak. The Cabernet is thick in the glass with hints of ruby and rust color around the edge of the glass. The aroma profile suggests a well thought out combination of dark fruit, oak and hints of mint. I really enjoyed the nose of this wine. In the mouth the wine is big on fruit and big on oak. The superstar in this wine is the presentation of mint. The finish is average with moderate tannin. In comparison to other $12-15 price point Cabernet Sauvignon, this certainly can stand with them. The subtle differences in like/dislike could be a matter of preference and not quality. 3/5
*NOTE – In the video the graphic rating is mistakenly listed as a 3+/5
In summary, the reserve line of Yellow Tail provided a decent step up in quality and flavor from the regular line. These wines could be a natural next step in people’s evolution of expanding their palate without breaking the bank. The brand familiarity certainly helps in moving people up. Each of the wines, in retrospect, seemed to offer a similar mouth feel and flavor component with the subtle difference being the finish. On each bottle there is a two word description of the wine, i.e. “Dark and Spicy” “Bold and Thick,” my brief description of the reserve line is, “Better not Stunning.” If you see these wines at or around $10, give them a try for a comparison to what you know of the non-reserve line.
*Wines were provided as an industry sample with the intention to review
Each month I review between 17-20 wines on camera. The total has climbed above 200. However, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t always wait until the film is rolling to drink wine. Several wines are enjoyed at trade tasting events or even in the casual company of friends over dinner or just for fun. Some of these wines, while embedded in my memory for their amazing quality, just don’t receive the time and attention that is needed for a quality review.
Below are six wines that I tasted during the month that didn’t see the bright lights of the video room but did receive the attention for a review. The best phrase I can use to describe these are ‘beauty and beast.’ These wines left indelible impressions on my palate and not always in a good way. Below are some of the best AND worst wines I’ve tasted this year.
Former Chateau St. Michelle wine maker Michael Januik continues his quality tradition at Januik Winery. During our visit to Woodinville in September 2009, sister properties Januik and Novelty Hill were a favorite stop. The ultra modern facility provided one of the more unique tasting room visits we have experienced. The Klipsun Vineyard Merlot was bold in flavor but soft in presentation. The multiple layers of fruit included raspberry and red currants along with thick milk chocolate layers. The wine leaned toward a medium full body and offered an extremely well balanced and soft finish that whispered hints of vanilla and candied cherries. At $30, this Merlot was perfect for a night cap sip, with desert, or along-side chicken parmesan, lamb or roasted duck. 4/5
I am a fan of Zinfandel. I’ve been on a search for the quintessential Washington State Zin, and hoped I had found it at Hard Row to Hoe. This big full bodied fruit attack is from Milbrandt Vineyards and is a blast of jammy strawberry and blackberry in the mouth accompanied by a pinch of pepper on the finish. Sadly, I learned that Milbrandt removed their Zinfandel vines after the 2006 vintage leaving me on the continued quest for a sinful Washington Zin. The wine is big and slightly hot and best enjoyed on its own. The $35 price tag may seem hefty when comparing to quality Seghesio from California, but the Hard Row stands tall as a big and dynamic wine. 4/5
Rated 90pts by Wine Enthusiast
Maison Bleue has burst on to the scene with quality Rhone varietal wines from Horse Heaven Hills and around Prosser, WA. As I tasted through the line-up of wine, the Roussanne stood out among the others for its unique flavors of honey, apples and sweet peaches. Beautiful floral notes permeate the nose. Even with a 4.7% residual sugar, the sweetness of the wine is perfectly balanced with the acidity. A refreshingly “low” alcohol of 12.7%ABV is hardly noticeable in this dangerous summer delight. A bright crisp finish surprises at the end. The Alder Ridge and Six Prong Vineyards provide great fruit for this stainless steel fermented wine. At only $20, this is easily one of the more memorable wines I’ve experienced for the month. 4+/5
Rated 91pts by Wine Enthusiast
A glass of sweet elegant gold is a good way to describe this opulent desert wine. The 2007 R.A. Harrison Nobility is an addiction waiting to happen. I’m not a lover of syrupy sweet wines. I tend to avoid dessert wine tastings. I kept waiting for the opportunity to get the Nobility on camera. Just sitting in its 375ml bottle, it boasted super star qualities. The casting call never came and the 78% Napa Sauv Blanc and 22% Sonoma Semillon ended up stealing the supporting role for the month. The 12.2% residual sugar may make you think simple sweet Taylor Swift but this wine has a dangerously sexy and seductive quality of the mature Heidi Klum. Amazing flavors of honey, almonds, peach syrup and gardenias fully envelop the entire palate. While I know to enjoy this wine in small quantities, the bottle kept beckoning me back for more. $75; 4+/5
The Osborne Seven non-vintage red blend is available in the Octavin Home Wine Bar packaging. The premise is a four bottle package that utilizes a non-oxygen permeable bladder and spigot that keeps wine fresh for up to six weeks. If you could stomach this wine for six weeks, then this would be a value. At only $22 ($5.50 per bottle) the blend of 25% Cab Sauv, 25% Merlot, 18% Syrah, 8% Petit Verdot, 8% Tempranillo, 8% Grenache, and 8% Graciano makes for a less than desirable combination. The juice is thin, tepid and extremely disjointed. The berry flavors seem tart and under ripe and while the tannin is smooth on the finish the blast of alcohol and bitterness ruin any hope this wine has. This wine is not a value at any price. It was given several chances to perform over a three week period and ended up down the drain. 1/5 – There are better ways to spend your money.
The eclectic mix of 51% Malvasia Bianca, 14% Muscat Canelli, 13% Viognier, 10% Gruner Veltliner, 5% Pinot Gris, 4% White Riesling offer a unique tasting experience. Flavors of melons and sweet tropical fruits are gentle on the palate. An unfortunate steely bitterness pervades the finish causing a very disjointed tasting experience. At $22 for the four bottle Octavin packaging, some may consider this a good value. Personally, I prefer the Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc or the Monthaven Chardonnay for wine bar value whites. Combining this wine with spicy chicken and serving extra chilled helped considerably. 2/5
11 Aug 2010
If school were like this, I’d have gotten my doctorates degree! L’Ecole 41, French for “The School” district 41 is more appropriately named, “Je t’aime” for the love that it induces upon first sip. Situated in a schoolhouse built in 1915, L’Ecole teaches a master class in Washington wine class, style and marketing. Until the recent changes to Highway 12 in Walla Walla, every visitor entering Walla Wall from the West drove past the distinct schoolhouse tasting room which beckoned all inside for an enological education.
Operated by Megan and Marty Clubb, L’Ecole offers a 27 year lesson plan on Washington Wine. In previous reviews the L’Ecole Columbia Valley Cab finished 2nd in a 5 wine Cabernet shootout (4/5) and the 2007 Perigee was my June wine of the month (4/5). I recently enjoyed their 2007 Syrah, but sadly the bottle was gone before it could make its way to a review.
Visitors to their tasting room can enjoy a 1.3 acre working vineyard and tasting in two restored school rooms. Don’t worry; the Vice Principle is not around to slap your hands if you taste incorrectly. Have fun and write on their unique chalkboard counters while you’re there. Exploring the schoolhouse is half the fun while visiting L’Ecole.
As a side note, I’m experimenting with a new video format. Not sure why the video didn’t render across the full frame. If anyone knows Adobe Premiere Elements, let me know.
2008 L’Ecole 41 Luminesce
- The Stuff: 70% Semillon, 30% Sauvignon Blanc from Seven Hills Vineyards, aged 4 months in neutral French oak barrels. 30% malolactic fermentation; 14.2%ABV
- The Swirl: A pale yellow honey in the glass that strikes a chord of gold
- The Sniff: Tropics and pear on the nose. Not an over the top presentation but can definitely pick out the Sauvignon Blanc characteristics added to this blend.
- The Sip: Nice gentle approaching soft fruit on the front of the tongue that opens up to a full embrace on the mid palate. An amazingly bright acidity finishes off this wine. The flavors are not overwhelming but the presentation is well balanced and thoughtful.
- The Score: At only $20 (and often less on sale or in the store), this is a super wine. I love the mix if characteristics from the Semillon and Sauv Blanc. This wine easily scores a 4/5. Find it under $15 and you’ve got a 4+/5
91 Pts Wine Enthusiast; 89 Pts Steven Tanzer
2007 L’Ecole 41 Seven Hills Merlot
- The Stuff: 81% Merlot, 11% Cab Sauv, 8% Cab Franc from Seven Hills vineyard. Aged 18 months in 40% new oak, 14.5%ABV; 1326 cases produced
- The Swirl: Good thick color presentation of plum and dark cherry but has about 60% opacity. Nice strong color to the edges.
- The Sniff: Dominate musty earth and grassy herbs that give way to dried cherry and black berry fruit. A moderate amount of cinnamon and cloves are present as well. From the video to further in the night the wine opened up into a more robust aroma of cherry (which I would expect) and vanilla.
- The Sip: A muscular merlot with good dried fruit, earthy terroir, dark fruit and mild tannin. Those that enjoy a subtle elegant merlot may find this more intriguing.
- The Score: At $37 it is more than most people would drop for a Merlot they haven’t tasted. If you’re looking for a bright cherry vanilla Merlot, you may want to pass, but if you’re after a warm earthy muscle Merlot, give it a go. Decanting this wine is recommended. 3+/5
92 pts Wine Enthusiast (Paul Gregutt); 91 pts Wine Advocate
2007 L’Ecole 41 Apogee
- The Stuff: 60% Cab Sauv, 30% Merlot 6% Malbec, 4% Cab Franc; 22 months in 50% new oak. 1630 cases produced, 14.5% ABV
- The Swirl: Thicker and slightly cloudy in color with dark purple tones. No jewelry here.
- The Sniff: A medium brightness of black berry and black cherry fruits along with subtle hints of cocoa and earthiness.
- The Sip: Big boy wine with a good firm structure of dark fruits and strong chalky tannin. If you’re looking to sip now, decant for several hours. Would recommend this wine as a special cellar project to pull out in 2013 when it would be more smooth and elegant. Great layers of fruit and firmness.
- The Score: At $50 a good percentage of people will not risk their money without a sample or a strong recommendation. The Apogee is not quite the pinnacle of what it is shooting for but it will be there in 3-5 more years. I score this a 4/5 based on potential.
*Wine was provided as an industry sample with the intention to review
19 Jul 2010
Store shelves seem to be lined with large selections of wine at and around $10. The challenge at that price point is getting a wine that provides more interest than grape flavored alcohol, thin fruit taste, poor aroma, or big woody oak to hide inferior quality juice. With beer, it’s pretty safe to assume that most light beers have certain flavors. The majority of main line beer has distinct tastes that register in our memory. With so many wine labels on the shelves, selecting one can be pretty hit and miss.
I believe the $10 price point is pretty status quo for the daily drinking wino on a budget and the occasional wine sipper. Therefore it is important to have a list of trustworthy labels that can be counted on to deliver.
The Under $10 Wine Team
In early 2010 I began the mission of fielding a team of wine players that could score at parties, hit it out of the park for value, and be trusted to step to the plate in most any situation. The rules were that each wine had to be purchased for $10 or less (sales, club discounts, bulk discounts were considered). Wines showed up to spring training and specially scheduled tryouts to show their stuff for the coaches. Each was vying for a coveted spot on the 12 man roster of 9 starters and 3 reserves. While legal issues (state distribution) kept us from trying out every player referred to us, we made every effort to select players who are widely available. After reviewing the scouting reports and film, I am pleased to reveal the 2010 “Under $10 Wine Team.” I’ve included the coach’s summary, roster position, and stats for each player. Links to the full scouting report are included for your reference. Many of these players’ tryouts were filmed. Enjoy the footage and make a note of the jersey (label) so you can get an autograph next time you are in the store.
|2008 Chateau St. Michelle Riesling (WA)
|2008 J.Lohr Syrah (CA)
|2008 Caterina Chardonnay ($10-$12)
|2008 Dancing Bull Zinfandel (CA)
|2008 Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc (Chile) $10-13
|2007 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon (WA)
|NV Segura Viudas Cava Brut (Spain)
|2007 Velvet Devil Merlot (WA)
|2006 Kiona Lemberger (WA)
|The Bench Players and Reserves2008 Gozzo Malbec (Argentina)
2007 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir (CA) **$11
2007 Bogle Petite Sirah (CA)
23 Jun 2010
Need a custom label for a wedding, non-profit event, business gift or product launch? Kirkland based, Northwest Cellars provides award winning wine with personalized labels! Founder Bob Delf spent 30 years in the software industry and worked as a CEO at three different companies. Bob’s passion for wine, keen business sense, and unique business model came together with wine makers Dave Moore and Robert Smasne to form Northwest Cellars in 2004. Bob and his wife Kathleen do all the blending work to bring their creation to market.
I was introduced to Northwest Cellars initially on Twitter. Bob participated in our two online tastings, WAMerlot and WAWine. Recently a good friend of mine, Rebecca Templeton became their wine rep in Spokane through her company Blends of Vino. I’m excited to help Rebecca get the word out about the personalized labels and have even been to a few events lately that featured Northwest Cellars wine.
But…How is the wine?
Rebecca knows that I’m honest in my reviews. I’ve reviewed another of her clients, Anelare Cellars, and didn’t care much for one wine, but really enjoyed their Saint Helena Syrah. So before I get to the review, if you’re in need of a custom label and you live in Inland Northwest, contact Rebecca Templeton at BlendsofVino.com and she’ll walk you through the process.
Now, on with the review:
- The Stuff: 61% Sauvignon Blanc and 39% Chardonnay from Columbia Valley, 13.5%ABV, 448 cases produced
- The Swirl: Extremely pale yellow in color with only a hint of tint
- The Sniff: I would bet $50 that the Chardonnay in this wine saw some oak. I couldn’t find anything in the literature, but the wine comes across with good lemon zest and a hint of vanilla and pears.
- The Sip: While adagio may be a musical term for at ease, this wine doesn’t strike the relaxing chord with me. It feels like it has a dual personality where the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc are fighting for position in your mouth. In one instance you can taste the strong grapefruit and citrus play and then a smooth oaky apple tries to come through.
- The Score: At $15, I could certainly encourage you to give it a try to see if it fits your tastes, but for me I can only score it 3 out of 5. Nothing off about it, but feels disjointed and unbalanced.
- The Stuff: 75% Merlot, 13% Syrah, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon from Olson Estate, Roza Ridge and 3 Rocks Vineyards; 13.8%ABV, 3000 cases produced
- The Swirl: An interesting brownish rust colored purple hue that is showing some good signs of aging. Reminds me of cola.
- The Sniff: I love the nose of this wine. Strong dark fruits with leather, stewed plums, and just a hint of sweet milk chocolate. Fragrant and engaging!
- The Sip: Not your traditional Columbia Valley Merlot. Really loving the black tea, coffee and gamey meat components to this wine. Very complex in the mouth. The fruit is slightly thin on the front but the dynamic presence of the other flavors quickly engages your palate.
- The Score: At only $17 this wine surprised and mesmerized me. I loved the different interpretation of Merlot and enjoyed the soft, yet captivating flavors. I score this wine 4 out of 5. Be warned that if you love bright fruity cherry Merlot, this might not be for you.
Links you need
*Wine was provided as a sample with the intention to review