Yao Family Wines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Yao Ming 2016

Deep ruby color; black cherry, blackcurrant, cedar, spice, violets on the nose; black cherry, blackcurrant, blackberry, blueberry, plum, cocoa, toasted oak, tobacco, nutmeg on the palate.

Yao Family Wines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Yao Ming 2016

Dry; approachable tannin on the pop-and-pour, balanced by oak and acidity (3.62 pH). This is big, bold, powerful, generous, lush with ripe and delicious fruit. Hints of rusticity linger in the background, adding intrigue and interest rather than being obnoxious or asking to play a major role in the drama of this wine; 14.6 % ABV.

First glass out of the bottle was excellent, but this became much more layered and sophisticated after my usual decant. Very impressive depth flows into long and fulfilling finish. Medium-full body, voluptuous. Blend of 93% cabernet sauvignon, 2% merlot, 2% cabernet franc, 2% petit verdot.

The website notes on winemaking: “Fruit was rigorously hand-sorted and fully destemmed to small stainless steel tanks with light crushing. Cold soaks (5-7 days), warm fermentations between 29– 32°C (85-90°F), and moderate pumpovers twice each day. Total skin contact ranged from 19-34 days with all fermentations being carefully basket pressed and put to barrel on full fermentation lees for malolactic fermentation (ML). Racking was twice per year with only one assemblage being done to allow the blend to “marry” in barrel. Barrels for final blend were hand selected by taste. Native yeast and ML used with only small lots conducted using cultured Bordeaux isolates. Bottled without filtration.”

Yao Ming harvest

Wine spent 18 months in French oak, 65% new. This influences the wine, but does not belly up to oak monster status. Yao Family Wines produces championship pours, befitting a Hall of Fame basketball star.

The website gives the back story: “In November 2011, global humanitarian, recently retired NBA star and future Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Yao Ming announced the establishment of his new Napa Valley winery: Yao Family Wines. His dream of creating a classic Napa Valley winery that would become a legacy for future generations of his family became a reality. Industry veteran Tom Hinde joined him in the effort and is the director of winemaking today.

Yao Ming and Tom Hinde

“But the story really begins in 2004, when Yao Ming was still in the early stages of his NBA career. Yao’s Houston Rockets teammate Dikembe Mutombo taught him about a true Houston treasure: the Texas steakhouse. Over countless Texas-sized steak dinners, Dikembe introduced Yao to the magic of a great steak and wine pairing, and Yao became an aspiring wine aficionado.

“As Yao puts it: ‘A shared bottle of wine reminds me of Chinese meals at home, which are served on what Americans call a “Lazy Susan”. The food is placed in the middle of the table and shared. In the US, each person chooses their own meal, so the wine is what brings people together. It is shared and brings a common element to the meal.’”

Robert Parker wrote: “I am aware of all the arguments that major celebrities lending their names to wines is generally a formula for mediocrity, but that is not the case with Yao Ming. These are high class wines. The two Cabernets are actually brilliant, and the Reserve bottling ranks alongside just about anything made in Napa.”

I concur. Yao Ming is first-class person in addition to being a 7-foot, six-inch basketball star. On the court and in the real world, he was an inspirational example. His wine reflects those qualities.

Yao Family Wines Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Yao Ming 2016 is bold, vibrant, toweringly delicious. This is major wine, with concomitant price. Everything you want and expect from a premier Napa cab. Big, tasty fruit. Thankfully somewhat restrained alcohol and oak in an excellent, complex, impressive pour. This is plenty good enough to enjoy as cocktail wine with charcuterie, cheeses, neutral crackers. Pair with almost any meat. This is so delicious it is marvelously versatile. $85-100

Yao Family Wines website, nice videos

Yao Ming in fermentation room