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harvey steiman at large

A Hopping New Sparkler

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: May 31, 2007 6:34pm ET

Yellow Tail has a new sparkling wine ready to market in the United States, and it tastes for all the world like prosecco.

I got a preview of the big winery's newest effort the other day. John Casella, the managing partner of the family-owned winery that makes Yellow Tail, brought a sample with him when we had a quick visit in San Francisco.

Yellow Tail, the Australian wine brand, came out of nowhere to become the largest selling label in America in this decade, relying on a soft, sweet, fruity style that connoisseurs love to hate but wine newbies lap up. Having spent some time talking and tasting with Casella, I believe him when he says he's simply making the kinds of wines he likes to drink. I don't sense a single cynical nerve ending in him.

Casella's winery in Griffiths, where big yields in big vineyards are the norm, pumps out millions of cases of the popular beverages, including scads of Shiraz and Chardonnay.

"They're sweet, but balanced," says Casella. "I took the same approach with the sparkling wine. I dislike the heavy acid tartness in a lot of sparkling wine. I don't think novice wine drinkers like that, either."

Maybe snobs will like it, too. Casella told me he took a bottle with him to a cured meat judging in Australia, where several notable palates selected the best sausage. "I opened the bottle and they loved it," he added. "It's really good with salame."

Made of Sémillon and Traminer, the wine shows aromatics that at first reminded me of sparkling Loire wines, which can be made with Chenin Blanc. But the spicy character and bibulous fruit flavors are more reminiscent, in the end, of prosecco, the easygoing fizzy wine of northeastern Italy. The sweetness level is about the same as or less than what I taste in the Yellow Tail Chardonnay. And I've had sweeter prosecco.

The sparkler, which is called simply "Bubbles" in Australia, will be released in September in the U.S. as Yellow Tail Sparkling Wine. On the circular label, the familiar icon of a kangaroo is surrounded by a ring of bubbles.

At about 10 bucks, it will make a fine late-summer quaff.

Claude Pope
Raleigh, NC —  May 31, 2007 11:44pm ET
Harvey, we had a blast in Barossa a month ago. We stayed at a wonderful B&B in Lyndoch. We followed your recommendations and ate the 'roo curry at Vintners' in Angaston. Terrific! Visited dozens of cellar doors, had a nice lunch at Schild and tasted their 2005's. They mentioned your visit a week earler. We were very frustrated in the fact that we could not order more wine to be shipped back to the states at a reasonable price. There were many wines we would have loved to have brought back, especially the local tawny's, but at $250/case shipping cost alone, it just wasn't worth it. So, instead we're left with great memories, new friends and new experiences to share. New Zealand's Marlborough region was just as fun and unique - different in so many ways than Barossa. Harvest was just completed and the vines were turning beautiful reds and yellows. The food was fantastic - we ate at Hertzogs one night and Gibbs another. We thought Gibbs to be a much better value for the quality of food, although Hertzogs had an incredible service staff. Thanks for your recommendations, and thanks for your continued coverage of these great regions.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  June 1, 2007 12:10pm ET
Shipping wine home from overseas is difficult on several counts, and it's especially frustrating in Australia, where DHL and Fedex to U.S. are astronomical anyway. It used to be possible to pack the wines in styrofoam cases and check them as baggage, but now the airlines are charging a mint if you go over their limit by 1 kilo (but still less than $250 a case, I think).

In the end, the only wines worth shipping home are those that are not available commercially in the U.S., and that's a dwindling number. Better to determine where you can buy the wine on our side of the Pacific.
John Wilen
Texas —  June 1, 2007 10:20pm ET
Claude, send an email to my buddy Declan Foreman at declan@wineknows.com.au

Nobody in Australia knows more about shipping wine economically and creatively to the States than he does.

However, the good old days for importing directly from Oz are gone: exchange rates have reversed severely, the September 11th aftermath has brought on international shipping and customs clearance headaches, and, of course, fuel costs have soared. The only advantage that remains is that all wines leaving Australia are subject to tax rebates which equate to approx. 25% off the retail price.

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