People often wonder how Cabernet Sauvignon became the quintessential varietal of California wine grapes. I’ll give you a little bit of history that should help explain the mystery.
Cabernet Sauvignon is actually a bit of a love child, with a purple parent and a white parent. It is the cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc, hence Cabernet Sauvignon. Legend has it that Cabernet Sauvignon was created when French vintners set out to create a new varietal. Whether by design or by chance, this combination of opposite parents created a timeless, rich, hearty and robust varietal perfect for winemaking that has established itself as the king of red wine varietals not only here in Napa Valley, but all over the world.
Cabernet Sauvignon is what we call a Vitis Vinifera. All Vitis Vinifera varieties, including the grapes we grow in Napa Valley, originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Western Asia. These grapes are endemic to the Mediterreanean region, and they eventually made their way along man’s migratory paths from Western Asia to Western Europe.
Over the centuries, winemakers in the colder northern climates of Chablis, Burgundy and Champagne realized that varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay did well. In the south of France, Rhone varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Sensoux and Morvedre did best. In the maritime climates of Bordeaux, the Cabernet family of grapes thrived. Cabernet franc, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Merlot grow very well there as well. It was in France during the 17th Century, that Cabernet Sauvignon was created, and became the king of Bordeaux.
When it came time for Napa to hang its hat on a global, noble variety (varietals that work well in the vineyard, are of a profile favorable to consumers and age well in the bottle-Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay), Napa looked to follow in the footsteps of Bordeaux. We had the climate, the terrain and our amazingly fertile volcanic soil- perfect conditions to grow vinus vinifera. During the post-prohibition years, Napa as a community said “We want to be Cabernet. Cabernet is our variety.” It can be argued that as far as growing Cabernet Sauvignon is concerned, Napa Valley is not only as good as, but perhaps even better than Bordeaux. There, I said it because I’ve spent decades walking these vineyards, picking these grapes and tasting these wines. I know it is true! And of course the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976 proved to the world that Napa Valley wines stand up to the very best in the world.
We make wines here in Napa Valley just like they do in Bordeaux, France. Cabernet is our base grape, but we blend in other Bordeaux varietals depending upon each year’s unique harvest, as well as our own personal style and taste. In Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon does it all. It thrives in the vineyard, it ages extremely well in the tanks and barrels, and it blends brilliantly with other varietals.
Known for hints of green bell pepper, blendability and compatibility with oak barrels, it’s no fluke that Cabernet Sauvignon is the most popular red varietal. In a blend or on its own, Cabernet Sauvignon provides truly unmatched structure and balance. It has a very rich fruit flavor as well as supple tannins that provide depth and body. It also happens to do more on the palette than other varietals do. Asking why Americans love Cabernet Sauvignon so much is much like asking why we prefer beef to mutton or venison. We gravitated towards beef because our flavor profiles are more in tune with its texture and rich flavor. And what goes better with a juicy steak than a big, bold glass of Cabernet Sauvignon?
Cabernet Sauvignon is the primary grape varietal of all Yao Family Wines red wine offerings, and most great wines coming out of Napa Valley. From our Napa Crest Napa Valley Red Blend to our signature YAO MING Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and our very limited YAO MING Family Reserve, all Yao Family Wines red wines are Cabernet based wines, but they vary in their percentages. Napa Crest, our softer and more approachable blend, is 65-68% Cabernet, depending on the year. YAO MING Napa Valley Cab is always 87-91% Cabernet, and our Family Reserve is always around 97% Cabernet. We can add Merlot for cherry tones, Cabernet Franc for aromatics and hints of tea leaves and forest floor and Petit Verdot for deep color and tannin structure in the middle, but in each of these wines, Cabernet is king.
Why is Cab my personal favorite varietal? I love growing it, making it and drinking it. It’s a rewarding grape. If you pay attention to farming and treat it well, it will reward you back. During the winemaking process, Cabernet Sauvignon responds to fermentation techniques and creates incredibly haunting layers. It is not one-dimensional. You can smell, see and taste the layers: fruit flavors on top, florals in the middle and a finish of complexity and depth. There is no richer wine drinking experience. It’s got character and integrity. It ages incredibly well. It can be temperamental, unpredictable and surly when it is young, And as it ages, it becomes mature and wise. It’s like your most loyal pet. You love it and it loves you back.
I was first introduced to drinking great wine when I was living in Houston, Texas and playing for the Houston Rockets. Houston loves its steakhouses, and so I discovered big Cabs from Napa Valley when I was eating those famed Texan-sized steaks.
Some of my favorites?
Opus One — The wines are so smooth and polished. I visited the winery and tasted with Winemaker Michael Silacci. I was very impressed with their detailed attention to elegant and gracious hospitality.
Cardinale — I really love Winemaker Chris Carpenter’s mountain wines for their finesse and complexity. The winery in Oakville provides beautiful views along with a nice experience and food pairings that really highlight the wines.
Hall Winery and Flora Springs Winery – Neighbors of ours along the St. Helena Highway, both venues offer impressive, quality wines.
Donum Estate – As I continue to study wine and sample more varieties, I've become very fond of the Pinot Noirs from Donum Estate. They have a unique visitor experience with sculptures and private tastings at their tucked away Carneros estate.
–Yao Ming, January 2017
Click here for a link to the full article, with driving directions to each location.
Your friend pops open a magnificent bottle of 94 point 2013 YAO MING Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, pours herself a glass, and starts swirling it around. She's not tasting it. She's not even looking at it yet. Just swirling it around and around her glass. Is this the ultimate in pretense or does she know something you don't?
The truth is, she may know 5 things you should know about swirling wine...
1. Wine is primarily "tasted" with the nose. Believe it or not, the complexity of a wine's taste is created through our nose and not our mouth. Our taste buds can distinguish sour, bitter, salty, sweet and savory. The wide array of fruit, earthy, floral, herbal, mineral and woodsy flavors present in wine are derived from aroma notes sensed by the olfactory bulb. When a wine is swirled, literally hundreds of different aromas are released, the subtlety of which can only be detected with the nose. By swirling, a wine's aromas attach themselves to oxygen (and are thus less masked by alcohol) and are easier to smell. If you want to test the power of the nose, try plugging your nostrils and tasting the wine at the same time.
2. Swirling actually eliminates foul-smelling compounds. Oxygen at work again! Swirling the wine in the glass enables some evaporation to take place, which means more of the volatile compounds will dissipate. Some of these compounds include sulfides (matchsticks) and sulfites, (rotten eggs).
3. Swirling in a wide glass is more effective than a narrow glass. Have you seen those huge Reidel glasses that look like they could hold half a bottle of wine, and wondered what was the point of an enormous wine glass like that? More space in the wine glass means the wine gets more surface area, and thus more exposure to oxygen. This is especially helpful with older wines. This is also the reason why your Sommelier pours only a small amount in your glass when you first taste the bottle: She wants the wine to have optimum exposure to oxygen when you swirl, smell and taste.
4. Swirling exposes the "legs" of a wine, revealing its viscosity. The way the wine swirls gives you a first indication of the wine' "texture:" its thickness or viscosity. A dense wine, full of tannins or sugar will tend to spin more slowly around the glass, sticking to the sides.
5. Yes, as a matter of fact, it does look cool. But here's a little trick so you look like a pro and covered in wine from your swirling practice: don't lift the glass when you swirl. Set the glass on the table or counter, hold the base down with your index and middle finger, then start moving the glass around in circles. You simply won't spill wine this way.
And here's a bonus! What's the difference between aroma and bouquet? A wine's aroma typically refers to the pleasant smells in a wine that give it specific character (varietal character). We say that Merlot has aromas of cherry and Chardonnay has aromas of tropical fruit. A wine's bouquet comes from the smells created by the winemaking process or the wine's aging. When we smell oak, for example, that's considered to be part of a wine's bouquet.
So, swirl that wine! It's all part of the pleasure...and the fun!
Summer’s in full swing, which means it’s time for beach trips, camping, pool parties, or just lounging away in the backyard, enjoying the longest days of the year. Of course, summer also means light, crisp refreshing white wines to pair with all that lounging and partying.
At Yao Family Wines, we make a Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc in the classic Bordeaux style, with a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. This blend creates a delicate yet complex wine, with an acidity that makes it perfect with seasonal, summertime dishes. But what if you want to try something a little bit different; something to expand the pallet without deflating the wallet? We asked a handful of Napa Valley insiders for their suggestions on new, exciting and different white wines to try.
“I recently tasted the 2016 Swanson Vineyards Pinot Grigio. At $21 bucks a bottle, it’s an affordable, fun, fresh and food-friendly wine. Pair this white wine with the recent heat wave and you’ve got yourself a pairing perfect for porch pounding!” ~ Monique Soltani, Host, WineOH.tv
“Chateu Yvonne Saumur Blanc (Chenin Blanc). Killing it! I had this in New York at Rebel, and then less than a month later I got to meet Matthieu, the winemaker, in the Loire Valley. I think his Chenin is all the things a Chenin should be: refreshing and crisp for a hot day, bit also minerality, stone, pear, and a silky texture that has richness without being too weighty. ~ Terra Jane Albee, Whiterock Vineyards.
“The 2016 Ancien Pinot Gris. Great acidity and tropical notes.” ~ Jimmy Kawalek, President, Coombsville Vintners & Growers Association.
"If you're looking for the true Chardonnay alternative, get a bottle of Aligote, the 'Other White Wine of Burgundy.' A great choice is the 2015 Maison Chanzy Bouzeron Clos de la Fortune Monopole, which is pretty widely available at about twenty bucks. Aligote's flavor profile lives somewhere between SB and Chardonnay, but with a unique acidity and minerality. It's amazing." ~ Allen Desuaniers, Marketing Manager, The DAR Label Group.
And I'll go ahead and throw my choice into the fray as well: The 2016 Kale Napa Valley Somerston Vineyards Grenache Blanc. Grenache Blanc is one of the souther Rhone's lesser-known and utilized varietals, but as a stand-alone wine, it has exquisite character. If made in the old world style, it has a lower alcohol content which makes it go down easy on a hot day.
Enjoy the summer, and comment below to let us know what alternative white wine you've been drinking!
Spring is one of our all-time favorite seasons here in Napa Valley. It's the official start of the growing season, with bud break happening all over the valley. The weather is just how we like it up here: Clear, warm days, crisp, cool nights. A perfect time for the Roses and Sauvignon Blancs we release this time of year. We sincerely hope that if your travel plans bring you to Napa, you'll come and visit us and see for yourself how special this time of year is.
We are also immensely proud of our founder, Yao Ming, who was recently named to head up the Chinese Basketball Association. He will be responsible for all aspects of professional and Olympic basketball in China, and we think they couldn't have chosen a better person for the job!
~Tom Hinde, President & Winemaker
To order the 2016 Napa Crest Rose, Click Here.
Working in the tasting room at Yao Family Wines in St. Helena, perhaps the second most common question we receive from both beginners and experts alike is, “what's the difference between tannin and acid?” (the first most common is, “How tall is Yao Ming?”). This is a critical question, as the two can be quite easily confused. Let’s shed a little more light on the subject.
First, let’s take a closer look at tannin. Tannin is a naturally-occurring phenolic compound, found in the skins, seeds and stems of a grape. It can also be added to a wine through aging in an oak barrel. Phenols typically add a flavor of astringency and bitterness to a wine, which may sound awful, but that same quality is what gives a wine balance, structure and complexity, allowing it to age longer. Best of all, tannins provide the antioxidants in wine that have all the health benefits. Although these phenolic compounds are found in all wines in various amounts, we usually associate tannins with red wines, as the juice has extended contact with the phenol-rich skins, stems and seeds during fermentation.
Tannin is often confused with "dryness" because tannin imparts a dry feeling in your mouth. Dry, however, is a wine term used to denote the level of sweetness in the wine. Again, it's the astringency that creates the feeling of your cheeks being sucked in and themoisture evaporating from your mouth. This is one of the most primary characteristics of tannin.
Acid, on the other hand, is what gives wine it’s refreshing, flavorful sensation. Acidity is apparent in all fruit, be it grapes, lemons or tomatoes (yes, tomatoes are a fruit). Grapes start out as being entirely acidic, and as they develop the acid turns into sugar. Harvesting grapes at a key balance point between sugar and acid is critical, as is allowing the sugar to convert to alcohol in the fermentation process so the acid is lively and predominant. Too little acid and the wine can seem flabby and lifeless. Too much acid and the wine will be harsh and undrinkable. Acid is also determined by the climate in which the grapes were grown as well as the soil type and physiology of the grape itself. Higher acidity denotes a wine from a cooler region, such as Northern France. Lower acid wines come from countries with warmer weather, such as parts of Australia.
The primary types of acid that are key to winemaking are tartaric, malic and citric. Perhaps the most important element of acid management in winemaking is Malolactic Fermentation. Also called malo, this is a secondary fermentation that converts the tangy and harsh malic acids into creamier and softer lactic acids. When you think of the buttery characteristics of a Chardonnay, for example, this is because the wine has undergone malo to create a rounder mouth feel.
Tasting the Difference Between Tannin and Acid:
Tannins taste bitter on the front-inside of your mouth and along the side of your tongue; Acid tastes tart and zesty on the front of your tongue and along the sides.
Acid makes your mouth feel wet; Tannin makes your tongue feel dry.
With tannins, you feel a lingering bitter/dry feeling in your mouth after you swallow; With acid, your tongue feels gravelly against the roof of your mouth. Acid can also activate the saliva glands underneath your tongue.
Here's a fun way to explore the difference between tannin and acid. Get yourself two bottles of red wine. The first should be a big, bold Napa Cabernet, and the second should be an Italian red like a Valpolicella or Chianti (avoid hearty italians like Super Tuscans and Sangiovese). Taste them side-by-side, trying the Italian wine first. You'll notice with the Chianti a certain kind of effervescence in the wine. This is the lively acid inherent in Chiantis. The Napa Cab, on the other hand, will probably suck all the moisture from your mouth. This is the tannin in action.
So what did you think, tasting those side-by-side? Leave us a comment below and let us know!
Wasington State has become home to some of the finest wine country in the United States. Recently, it was revealed that "Cab is King" in Washington just as it is here in Napa: Cabernet is now the number one selling varietal in the state.
So, we were thrilled recently when the noted Washington Wine Blog reviewd two of our Napa Valley Cabernets and added them to their noted, 90+ Point wines. Here's the review in its entirety:
Growing up I was a huge Seattle Supersonics fan I would go to nearly every home game during the glory years of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. The Houston Rockets, one of their main rivals, drafted a relatively untested center named Yao Ming in 2002 with the first pick in the NBA draft. Yao became an instant sensation and one of the best players in the league, until retiring after a series of injuries in 2011. That was the year that he launched Yao Family Wines.
Yao Family Wines sources from a host of great Napa Valley vineyards. The grapes are fermented and then aged up to 18 months in 100% French oak barrels. Only the best lots were used in the final blend. I was very impressed with their new release wines. Their flagship wine in particular, the 2014 Yao Family Wines Cabernet (WWB, 92) was dense and muscular, showing wonderful and generally intoxicating dark fruit flavors. This massive wine will cellar marvelously for 15 years or more. Here are the great new release wines by Yao Family Wines:
2014 Yao Family Wines Cabernet - The 2014 Yao Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc and 2% Petite Verdot. It is a wonderful showing from this estate which brilliantly showcases this hot vintage. This excellent Cabernet wine opens with black olive aromas with creme de cassis, mocha, tar and hints of black plum. There are rich flavors of creme de cassis, anise, black cherry cough syrup, black raspberry and coffee grounds. This has a wonderful plush mouthfeel and shows gorgeous range of flavors and aromatics. Drink 2018-2030- 92
2014 Yao Family WInes 'Napa Crest' Red Wine - The 2014 Yao Family Wines 'Napa Crest' Red Wine, is a Cabernet dominant blend (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 12% Petit Verdot) that shows beautifully without a decant. This wine begins with aromatics of red currant, red cherry, anise, dill and rose petals. There are flavors of anise, mocha, creme de cassis, black cherry and black raspberry. Drink 2017-2027- 90
Like many wineries around the Napa Valley, every spring, Yao Family Wines releases a Sauvignon Blanc. This year's release, the 2016 Napa Crest Sauvignon Blanc, has many of the distinct characteristics found in classic Napa SBs. It's crisp, with a vibrant acidity in the mid-pallet. There are aromas of melon and fig with ripe pear. Floral notes are haunting with citrus blossom and gardenias, wile the finish begs for another sip.
So how did we create this marvel of a wine? And why is Sauv Blanc such a popular varietal in Napa? It all starts in the vineyard.
First, we must remember that Napa is somewhat modeled after the great vineyards of Bordeaux: The climate, the soil, the terroir is quite the same as its French counterpart. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the primary white varietals of the Bordeaux region, so it's only natural that we'd farm it here in the valley.
Farming Sauvignon Blanc requires diligence. It is literally considered a "savage" vine, spreading vigorously during the growing season. Like other Bordeaux varietals, SB can have an abundance of pyrazines, the compound that creates the "bell pepper" smell. Since we strive for a layered fruit profile, we farm out pyrazine flavors by controlling the leafy quality of the vines. We grow our SB on a split canopy. This allows the vigor, shoots and leaves more room to spread in the trellis. Early in the season we begin shoot thinning, which allows the plant to form with room for grape development without cluster crowding and potential for late season disease pressure. Then, just before the final stages of ripening, we remove any clusters that are behind in development. Tis is known as "green-dropping," which ensures balanced crop ripeness.
Our vineyard is perfectly situated in the Oakville appellation, right on the Oakville Cross Road, in the heart of Napa Valley. We also grow a small amount of Semillon in St. Helena at the base of Spring Mountain. Semillon is also a white Bordeaux varietal, which blends elegantly with the Sauvignon Blanc.
At harvest, the SB is delivered to the winery cold in the morning and is placed in the press for whole cluster pressing of the fresh juice. The smells are exotic. The Semillon is lightly crushed to press for a little skin contact. We settle the fresh juice in tank, then inoculate with natural yeast that will produce a long, cold fermentation for maximum freshness. The SB is 100% stainless steel tank fermented, while the Semillon is fermented in neutral puncheons (large French oak barrels). The new wines are not malolactic fermented, in order to preserve all of the natural acidity. The Semillon is stirred in barrel to add a nice, rich texture for mid-pallet lift and mouth feel.
The final blend for 2016 is 92% Sauvignon Blanc and 8% Semillon.
Our 2016 Napa Crest Sauvignon Blanc will be available at our St. Helena tasting room and online beginning April 3rd. We hope you'll come by and enjoy a glass with us soon!
The 2014 Yao Family Wines 'Napa Crest' Red Wine, is a Cabernet dominant blend composed of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 12% Petit Verdot that shows beautifully from the second it is open. This wine begins with aromatics of red currants and red cherries woven together with anise, dill and rose petals. There are flavors of anise, mocha and crème de cassis wrapped in ripe black cherries and black raspberry. While this is appealing now, it should continue to evolve into the next decade. (Best 2017-2028) - March, 2017 (OB)
The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Yao Family Wines is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc and 2% Petite Verdot. It is an excellent showing from this estate, which brilliantly showcases the ripeness of the warm vintage. This instantly opens with aromas of crème de cassis, black plums, black olive, mocha and tar. This is full-bodied with a plush texture yeilding a wonderful range of flavors including crème de cassiss, anise, black cherry syrup, black raspberry and coffee grounds lingering on the finsh. While this is delicious now, it should continue to evolve over the course of the next decade. (Best 2017-2030) - March, 2017 (OB)