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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

In college, we used to have formals with all the exchange students from England who had come for the year. It was called a "formal" and half the people had British accents and we were all drinking wine, so it was clearly one of the more posh events on the social calendar. 

Our friends from England even brought with them a quaint little game that we played throughout dinner. Basically it involves Person A putting a penny into Person B's glass of wine, forcing Person B to down the glass quickly to save the "Queen" (apparently their pennies had her face on them) from drowning. While saving the Abraham Lincoln doesn't quite have the same ring to it,  I'm 'merican, and was happy to drink in the name of patriotism. Needless to say there was a lot of wine consumed, and funding such efforts on a college budget usually meant one thing: Two Buck Chuck.

Having now completed the third and final chapter of the entire Yellow Tail lineup (here's the scoop on the white wines and the bubblies), I must say, I wish that back then we had splurged the extra few dollars and traded up to the 'tail.

This week, we tasted all of Yellow Tail's red wine offerings and the rosé, a total of 11 bottles:

  • "Regular" varietal wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Rose*, Shiraz
  • "Regular" blends: Cabernet-Merlot, Pinot Noir-Shiraz and Shiraz-Cabernet
  • Reserve varietal wines: Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz

*I should note that the grape(s) on this one weren't actually indicated on the label.

How did it go? Well, with some bottles of the lineup, it was hard to even try a second sip, but there were a couple of winners that were relatively easy-drinking.

Light and Lively Winner: Cabernet Sauvignon

I know what you're thinking: "A light Cabernet? Whaaaaat?!". While we were all surprised by the light body and juiciness of this wine—it's far from a classic Cab—that didn't detract from the fact that this was an easy drinking wine. The interesting soy sauce and beef jerky scents translated to a savoriness on the palate. And it got better as the glass got a little air. This wine did not have very strong tannins (which is part of why it seemed 'juicy'), but it wasn't too sweet either. No need to have a lot of food with this wine, and the balance of flavors would probably make the Yellow Tail Cabernet a great base for a pitcher of Sangria.

Favorite Full Bodied Red: Shiraz

More in line with our expectations for a Shiraz, this bottle smelled of butterscotch, vanilla, and ripe cherry, which we also tasted with each sip. This wine had decent structure from bright acidity and stronger tannins than the Cab, but was still smooth, especially after a few minutes of airing out. While this wine was also sweeter than the Cab and is definitely not for those who shy away from oak, the juice wasn't too cloying or fake-tasting and was a good match for the hint of smokiness that came through.

At 80% Shiraz and 20% Cabernet, the Shiraz-Cabernet Blend wasn't that much different from the straight Shiraz. With a little more ripe blueberry sweetness balanced by savory dill flavors, this bottle was our favorite of the blended options. If you like the Shiraz on its own, this would be a good alternative, especially served with a tomato-and-meat-sauced pasta dish.

Some to Skip: Malbec, Pinot Noir, Pinot-Shiraz Blend

Though we didn't mind the Cab or Shiraz, there were a few Yellow Tail reds we just can't recommend. The Malbec was sweet and kind of watery, but still pretty acidic—not exciting and not a particularly good representation of what this grape tastes like. The Pinot Noir was also on the weak side, and although there were a few herbal flavors, the alcohol made it too hot to enjoy. On a related note, I would also stay away from the Pinot-Shiraz blend. It smelled like fake cherry and plum and was pretty astringent once we tasted it. If you're buying a Yellow Tail red wine, pass these bottles by.

Favorite Reserve Bottle: Cabernet Sauvignon

When compared with the standard Yellow Tail Cab, the Reserve Cabernet was much closer to what you would normally expect from this grape. The wine had a pronounced piney, slightly animal scent that turned into an earthy herbaceous flavors in the glass. This wine had more weight and a fuller body than the regular version, with stronger tannins and more heat from the alcohol (around 14% ABV). If you buy it, be sure to serve some food with this guy—try short ribs or a meaty stew.

In terms of quality, the Reserve reds didn't seem to be a huge step up from the standard bottles. (The whites we tried earlier this month showed much more contrast between the two price levels.) So if you're buying for a big group, I'd recommend that you save the extra few dollars and stick with the regular version.

Have you tried any of the red wines from Yellow Tail? Do you have a favorite bottle? Let us know in the comments section!

About the author: Seema Gunda is an avid wine traveler, collector, and student with a background in chemistry and a day job in consulting.

Disclosure: All bottles were received as press samples for review.

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