Yao Ming helped transform the NBA into a truly global league by giving it a firm link to China during his career with the Houston Rockets. Injuries forced the 7’6” eight-time All-Star to call it quits in 2011. But he has remained quite active in retirement, starting Yao Family Wines in Napa Valley.
And the resulting reds have received high scores from wine critics. We caught up with Yao to discuss wine — which is both his business and pleasure.
[Q] How did you first develop a passion for wine?
When I was playing for the Houston Rockets, I used to go to dinner with my teammate, Dikembe Mutombo. When you live in Houston, you go to a Texas steakhouse. Deke loves to have a nice bottle of red wine with his steak, so we would share a bottle of wine and he began to teach me about it. I learned that the best Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Napa Valley, so that’s what we would often drink. Later I visited Napa Valley and loved the beauty and quiet there.
[Q] What’s one thing you know about wine now that you didn’t know when you got into the business?
I now understand everything that goes into making great wine. Selecting the best grapes, making the right blend of juice, aging in French oak barrels, how long you age, designing the bottle and getting it to market. I can’t just list one thing, because when I got into the business I didn’t know very much.
[Q] What are some of your favorite food and wine pairings?
I drink what I am in the mood for, regardless of what I am eating. I think our wine pairs well with steak, pasta and chicken, really almost anything. Except for breakfast. I don’t think we pair well with pancakes.
[Q] What’s the proper way to taste a glass of wine?
My winemaker Tom Hinde has taught me well. You should swirl the glass to let the wine breathe. After you swirl, hold it up to the light and enjoy the beautiful color. Our wines are a deep and rich purple. I love to look at the color. Then you should lift the glass up to your nose and enjoy the scent of the wine in the glass. Let it fill your nose. Anticipate the flavor before you taste it. Finally, sip it slow and take time to enjoy.
By Matt McCue