It may seem trite to some big name bloggers to feature a “celebrity” winemaker. And, indeed, there are those celebrities with so much cash to spend that they’ll simply slap their name on a label of pretty much any product. So, it would stand to reason that a celebrity-named wine would taste as artificial as Hollywood looks. Well, Yao Ming isn’t from Hollywood and if you know anything about him, you know that he’s actually a gentle-spoken, if not shy, individual. The Yao Family Wines 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon speaks, not of Yao’s social status — but of a young wine-personality on the brink of great ideas.
About the Wine: If there’s one other thing I know about Yao Ming is that he fell in love with big bold Napa Cabs while he was eating big bold, Texas meals. So it’s no surprise that he would station his winery and tasting room in the heart of Napa Valley and source his grapes from the region best known for the rustic red wine.
No, Yao Ming is not the winemaker, Director of Winemaking, Tom Hinde, is responsible for blending the Bordeaux varietals used in the Yao Ming Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. And, no, Yao Ming is not a grape grower or vineyard owner, instead Yao Family Wines sources its fruit from various vineyards across the valley, including Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard (Vaca Mountains) Tourmaline Vineyard (Coombsville), Circle S Vineyard (Atlas Peak, Broken Rock Vineyard (Soda Canyon), Silverado Hill Vineyard (Yountville), and Wollack Vineyard (St. Helena). An eclectic mix of some of the most popular and the up-and-coming regions of Napa Valley.
The 2014 Yao Ming Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc and 2% Petite Verdot. Fruit is hand picked, hand sorted, and de-stemmed prior to cold soaking in stainless steel for 5 to 7 days. Skin contact is maintained anywhere between 19 and 34 days before gentle basket pressing and primary malolactic fermentation in barrels. The wine then aged 18 months in French oak (65% new).
Flavor Profile: Pop open the bottle and take a whiff — some call this scent skunk, to me it smells like opening a cardboard box. Either way, what you have here is a bit of reduction (your first clue to my conclusion of this wine), so you’ll want to keep that bottle open to air for at least 30 minutes and pour your glass at least 5 minutes before enjoying. (No real need to decant unless you’re super excited about drinking the whole lot.)
The wine is unfiltered and unfined, so don’t be surprised if it looks a little rusty and dusty in the glass. And even with the aforementioned “airing,” you’ll want to swirly-twirly that glass before sticking your nose it and definitely before taking that first sip. Once past these initial steps, I found the nose to be abundant with dried fruit — like a dried fruit salad. The second layer is that of dried herbs — akin to those you’d find in your pantry. The third layer (really get some air in here and stick your nose at the top of the glass with room between schnoz and wine) is almost a bit perfumey, but more like dried flowers — like the faintest whisper of potpourri.
The initial palate is simultaneously juicy, yet dry. It’s as if all those dried fruits sensed on the nose sat in a water bath for a couple of hours, plumping back up — yet, when you chew them, they are still what they are, dried fruit. The tannins are strong — this is a teeth-stainer for sure — and lend to an almost chalky-tacky mid to final palate. The aftertaste circles back to that dried fruit, this time it is distinctly raisin. If you play with your breath post-swallow (exhaling as you keep your mouth shut, sans-wine), you’ll get the most minute essence of chocolate.
My conclusion is this — almost all the components are there: The potential for strong fruit flavors — check; Herbaceous earthiness — check; Tannins — double check. The wine is fine as it is — I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. But I would just love for those fruits to open up a bit more, meld with the secondary earth components, let those tannins mellow just a bit, and find a bit of acid. I think the wine, like Yao’s wine-producing career, is quite young and full of potential. I’m curious what his inaugural 2010 vintage tastes like because I think the wine only needs a few more years on it to really round out the palate.
Food Pairing: Like I said, I did enjoy my Yao Ming Cabernet. (Honestly, I mostly had fun sussing it out — the compilation of flavors and textures just tickled the wine-sleuth in me.) So, as customary I did my best to pair my wine with a meal and, knowing Yao’s passion for Texas grub, I paired my 2014 Yao Ming Cabernet Sauvignon with barbecue chicken (complete with BBQ sauce), grilled baked potato, and a blend of broccoli and sautéed onion topped with blue cheese on the side.
If you’re going to drink Yao Ming’s wine now, this is the way to do it. The blue cheese with it’s creamy texture and funky aromas calmed the tannins and opened up the berries — I could actually taste blueberry, blackberry, a bit of plum. The spices in the sauce brought forth a bit of needed heat on the palate, but it also got that buried acidity in the wine to come out and play as well. And because everything from the chicken to the potato was cooked on the grill over wood chips, I was able to even find some of that oak aging mentioned in the winemaking.
This is a food wine for sure.
More Info: I received the 2014 Yao Ming Cabernet Sauvignon as a sample for review. (Many thanks!) For more information about Yao Ming (as a wine producer) and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Yao Family Wines website.
You can follow Stacy Briscoe at www.briscoebites.com. Twitter: @SLBriscoe.