It's either the best thing to happen to wine since the invention of thirst or the most revolting development since that abomination known as White Zinfandel.
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The "it," in this case, is Yellow Tail Chardonnay. Produced by Australia's Casella Wines, it was the first of what became known as "critter wines," simple, cheap, accessible quaffs -- usually oaky and sweet -- whose chief selling point was less the liquid in the bottle than the cute, furry animal on the label. (It's not for nothing that the motto of local TV news is, "If you can pet it, get it.")
That the formula was nothing short of brilliant became obvious pretty quickly. Introduced to the U.S. in 2001 at around $6 a bottle, Yellow Tail Chardonnay went from selling a couple of hundred thousand cases that first year to close to 10 million annually a few years later. One report estimates that more than 2 million glasses of the stuff are consumed every day.
Earlier this month, Casella upped the ante, rolling out the Yellow Tail 2008 Reserve Chardonnay in a sleek new package. And while the regular Yellow Tail Chardonnay is not exactly my cup of wine, the new reserve definitely does not suck. It's got all the Chardonnay richness people have come to expect -- lots of ripe peaches, melons, tropical fruit -- but with a balancing citrus acidity and background hints of oak. At $10 to $12, it's a pretty good deal, delivering a combination of elegance and opulence that should appeal to even Chardonnaysayers.
In this case, at least, if you can pet it, drink it.