The Big Game

"Big Games" are about long-standing rivals on the same playing field where the outcome is bigger than the individual participants.  In wine, the rivalry of Rhône and Bordeaux regions is timeless. Our wine, The Big Game, is where Bordeaux meets Rhône and everyone wins.  The stars are Cabernet Sauvignon & Petit Verdot on one side and Syrah on the other. 

Ultimately, the character of the wine is closer to the complexity and size of Bordeaux than Rhône, but the spirit of the wine is a tie.  The Big Game is layered, complex, and mouth-filling.  There is something in there for everybody.  The red fruits, the black fruits, the freshness, the earthiness. It’s a classic.

Vintage 2018 winemaker's notes

208 cases produced.  66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah, 5% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot.

The Big Game is truly the melting pot.  But not accidentally so.  If it’s there, it’s there for a reason.  So much so, that this year we pulled out a big chunk of Petit Verdot to make another wine.  To keep The Big Game true to its core, its identity, its ideal.

I’ve said this before, so bear with me: If Bordeaux blends are polished like a man in a suit, The Big Game is like a guy in a suit with a tattoo on his neck.  And maybe an ear piercing.  A wilder side, given by Syrah.  The Big Game is a wine of complexity and intensity.  A wine of balance, but a bit edgy.  A bit wild.  A challenge!

The nose is alluring, mesmerizing.  So much there!  It goes on and on, changing as your breath takes it in.  You don’t want to stop that breath!  Nose is fruit and rocks and herbs.  Freshness from herbs and fruits going towards blue and black rather than red.  The Big Game grabs on to your palate and doesn’t let go.  Vibrant, tense, demanding.  The palate shares the complexity and the intensity of the nose.  And adds the firmness of tannin and the savory/mineral/savory again component that balances the fruit.  The invitation back to the glass is compelling. You want to see more of what’s there.

Vintage 2018 reviews

Polished yet juicy aromas of pure blackberry, cocoa, licorice and wood show on the nose of this blend of 66% Cabernet Sauvignon, 27% Syrah, 5% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. Firm tannins introduce the palate, where red fruit emerges from behind the wooden veil, given enough patience.
93 points; Wine Enthusiast  October 2022

The Big Game, also sourced from the limestone soils of the Adelaida District, is pure and vibrant.  It reveals exceptional purity in the bouquet, the palate, and the finish.  The Big Game is also complex with dark red fruit accented by herbal and briar like notes.  Firmly structured but with round tannins that make this wine approachable early on.
93 points; International Wine Review  July 2022

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Vintage 2017 winemaker's notes

138 cases produced.  73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Syrah, 6% Petit Verdot.

Every year The Big Game changes.  In 2016, Syrah was bigger than Cab.  2017 is a majority Cab year, and the wine changed to accept that.  It is as complex as it ever was, but the personality is tamer.  Cab is the civilizer.  Syrah is the wild shot.  Petit Verdot is the third in the menage trois, trying to bring everybody down to earth.

The nose is deep, penetrating, bright.  It rounds up at the end, when the lungs are full, and only then loses its menace and becomes amenable.  It is a torrent of ever-mixing details.  Fascinating in its complexity.

The palate is as bright as the nose promised.  Red fruits dominate in vibrant freshness.  Spice weaves a nerve system of youth and renewal.  Fine tannin is a perfect nanny, keeping everything in an invisible corset but not imposing excessive discipline.

Food pairing?  Everything!  Roasts, barbecue, burgers, pasta…… Complexity such as this deals with most dishes without breaking a sweat……

Vintage 2017 review

Inky violet.  A complex, deeply perfumed bouquet evokes ripe dark berries, pipe tobacco, incense and vanilla, along with a suave floral overtone.  Sweet, seamless and penetrating on the palate, offering intense black currant and cherry-vanilla flavors that are given spine by a core of juicy acidity.  Rich yet energetic in style, showing firm closing thrust and slowly building, polished tannins.  Drink 2023 through 2032.
94 points;  Vinous  December 2020

Vintage 2016 winemaker's notes

165 cases produced.  43% Syrah, 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Petit Verdot.

I always think of The Big Game as the Big-Lung-Wine.  Because when I smell it, I wish my lungs went on forever.  As I inhale, The Big Game nose shows me different facets of its aromas.  Bright notes, warm leather, blueness, complexity, complexity, complexity!  How I love this….. I could hold my nose in there forever.

The Big Game is NOT Bordeaux. It is not a tame, civilized blend.  It is unquiet.  It moves, it demands.  It challenges.  Layers of flavors dance in my mouth, demanding.  Vibrating.  Creating tension, requiring attention.  Centered on freshness and vivacity, never a moment of boredom or repose. It’s an unconventional blend.  I’ve always said: a guy in suit, but with a ponytail and a tattoo.  This year it shows more minerality, a saline note that helps to meld and merge fruit and tannin into a vibrant shout of joy.

Vintage 2016 reviews

The nose is a dark plum, oily tapenade and peppercorn with traces of mint and crushed stone.  The palate entry is bright and sleek red fruit with a cool core of balanced spice, herb and sandalwood finishing with dried plum and blackberry.  Drink 2020 through 2033.
95 points;  purely domestic wine report  Volume 9.2 Summer 2020

Dark purple.  Powerful black and blue fruit, exotic spice and floral scents pick up olive and cracked pepper nuances as the wine opens up.  This is definitely showing the Syrah.  In a  weighty, broad-shouldered style, offering bitter cherry, blueberry preserve and chewing tobacco flavors along with suggestions of spicecake and smoky bacon.  Finished very long and supple, with fine-grained tannins and resonating blue fruit and floral notes.  Drink 2024 through 2034.
93 points;  Vinous  February 2020

This is a high-toned, rich red with lots of sweet, ripe-fruit character, as well as new-wood and toffee undertones. Some may find it a little too much, but I find it in balance and decadent with show-me character. Full and flavorful. A blend of syrah, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot. Drink or hold.
93 points;  James Suckling  March 2020

Vintage 2015 winemaker's notes

114 cases produced. 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Syrah, 45% Petit Verdot.

The Big Game is the most complex of our blends. For those of you with long memories, you will notice I said the same thing last vintage!  But repetition is sometimes just the description of a constancy of character.  Incredible aroma that stops you in your tracks.  Should I taste or keep smelling?  Complexity, fruits and savory notes and nuances of char. Intriguing!

This year we had very little Cab because of the spring rains, wind and cold.  So the higher percentage of Petit Verdot resulted in a wine with more darkness, a sizable root system, more firmness.  But such is the magic of the combo of Cab-Syrah-PV, that what shows up in the palate is supple, velvety.  Bigness of structure tempered by superb quality of tannin and by moderate alcohol.  I like to say that all our wines are food wines, but in this case I would hate to have any food interrupt my contemplation……. It pairs well with many dishes, but why be distracted?  This is a long evening and I need all of it to develop this beautiful relationship with The Big Game.

Vintage 2015 review

Compact and well-structured, with smoky dark plum, stony mineral and dusty sage flavors that finish with big but refined tannins.  Petit Verdot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Best from 2020 through 2026.
91 points;  Wine Spectator  March 2019

Vintage 2014 winemaker's notes

263 cases produced.  39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Syrah, 15% Petit Verdot, 9% Malbec
(for those of you who are either number or sports freaks, that’s 63% Bordeaux, 37% Rhone).
It is the highest percentage of Bordeaux varieties within The Big Game ever.  And as every year, The Big Game is the most complex of our blends.  The Big Game is not about oomph! or about intensity.  It is about the layering of aromas and flavors.  It is about going back to the glass again and again and again.  And about finding new aromas and flavors every time.  It is about hues and details.  It is about a fruit salad in the nose!  Such a medley of aromas!  They gain intensity and depth in the second half of the inhalation.  Even better, in the second and third thirds! (I can’t explain why some wines show different aromatics as you take more air into your lungs).  A little note of smoke and charred meats adds a savory component that keeps it interesting.  In the palate, the fruit medley is revealed as promised by the aromas.  Reality in line with the hints of the nose.  There’s freshness and vibrancy plus the savory also promised by the nose.  It stays all together and harmonious throughout a very, very, very long finish.  

Vintage 2014 reviews

There's an impressive density to the aromas of this blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Syrah, 15% Petit Verdot and 9% Malbec, with ample amounts of black plum, lilac and damp forest wood. The palate's hearty structure carries ample purple fruit as well as dark chocolate, thyme marjoram and rainbow peppercorn flavors. Quite thick with tannins.
93 points; Wine Enthusiast  March 2018

The 2014 Big Game is a delicious blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Syrah, 13% Petit Verdot and 9% Malbec.  It exhibits ripe black currant and cassis aromas and flavors with hints of blue fruit.  It is rich and full-bodied  with a silky texture and is beautifully balanced and persistent on the finish and has a surprisingly low alcohol level.  Alc 13.8
92 points; International Wine Review  December 2017

Vintage 2013 winemaker's notes

229 cases produced.  46% Syrah, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot
I’m allowed to have favorites.  After all, something has to accrue after all this tasting!  I love complex wines.  And The Big Game is the most complex of all.  Maybe because there are three varieties building up a total that’s greater than the sum of the parts.  Maybe because when Rhone meets Bordeaux, magic happens, and suddenly the civilized “guy in a suit” (a Bordeaux blend) turns into a “guy in suit, but with a ponytail and a tattoo his neck.”  Syrah adds a wild edge to Bordeaux’s savoir faire.

The nose is immense.  Huge.  Limitless.  Each return to the glass adds more nuances.  Clearly there’s a majority presence of that blue note of Syrah.  But surrounded.  Helped.  Held up by all the harmonic notes that vibrate with it.  Cab adds depth.  Petit Verdot adds a black note, a root system.  The palate is true to the glimpse that the nose provides.  But so much more.  It’s the nose’s promise amplified.  A medley of fruits.  Sequential but simultaneous.  Almost overpowering but with enough restraint to wait until my perception finds harmony.  This is a job, so I have to go on, and taste other wines.  But I don’t want to.  I want to stay with The Big Game, and hold it close until finally we understand each other.

Vintage 2013 reviews

Deep garnet-purple colored, the 2013 The Big Game, a blend of 46% Syrah, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon and 16% Petit Verdot, reveals a lovely perfume of star anise, potpourri and dried roses over a core of blackberry preserves, cassis and mulberries, plus hints of forest floor, cloves and dried herbs. Full-bodied and densely laden with gregarious fruit and spice layers, it has a great structure of ripe, rounded tannins and plenty of vitality in the long finish.   Drink  2017 - 2033.
95 points; Wine Advocate  September 2017

The 2013 Big Game offers terrific notes of black raspberries, blackberries, peppery spice and leafy herbs. Deep, rich and beautifully textured on the palate, with plenty of structure, it will continue drinking well through 2023.
94 points;  August 2017

Not a hunting reference exactly even though The Big Game does have something to do with making bears feel bad, this wine, from Stanford grads whose memories of The Farm live happily on, cuts a fine line between inside humor and out and out Petit Verdot potency, and if those disparate elements seem to be lacking something on the sequitur front, the wine is not.  It follows from front to back with deep, ripe, reasonably fruit-driven notes.  It is far more supple in texture than so many of its admirable concentration, and yet it does sport plenty of tannin for its sins.  With balance and even a hint of polish, it could be a wine from the near- to mid-term, but our inclination is to let is sit quietly in a cool, dark place for at least a half a decade and we will not be surprised to see it last longer.
93 points; Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine   March 2017

Opaque ruby. Ripe dark fruit and floral scents pick up pipe tobacco, vanilla and succulent herb nuances as the wine opens up. Sappy, concentrated and energetic on the palate, offering intense blackberry, bitter cherry and dark chocolate flavors that turn sweeter on the back half. Youthfully taut on the sharply focused and impressively persistent finish, which features dusty tannins and lingering mint and mocha nuances. 
Drinking window:  2021 - 2028
93 points; Vinous   November 2017

Vintage 2012 winemaker's notes

245 cases produced.
Bordeaux meet Rhone.  Opposites attract.  The whole is bigger than the sum of the parts.  Cabernet Sauvignon 34%, Petit Verdot 11% for a 45% Bordeaux participation.  Syrah is the only Rhone player, but weighs in at 55% almost as over-compensation for its solitude.  This wine is all about complexity and balance.  About power barely restrained by good manners!  About depth, intensity and specific weight.

The nose is enormously attractive. It calls for a deeper breath to get more information.  It pre-announces the multiplicity of flavors coming soon into the mouth.  Red fresh fruit, black ripe fruit.  Notes of undergrowth and the slightly dark character of the Petit Verdot.  A note of oak so well integrated that it has to be tweezed up from below the fruit to identify it!  If not, it would remain incognito.  Bolder alcohol levels than we’re accustomed to, but in balance with the fruit, the acidity and the structure.  Smooth, fine grain tannin, lots of it!  But so harmonious, so rounded that no aggressive sensations result from it. Only a mouth-cleansing effect that invites the next bite of rare New York steak.  Of baby-back ribs.  Wine writing makes me hungry!

Vintage 2012 reviews

Pretty, bright and deep chocolate, florals, supple and dense thickness to the dark berries.  The palate is intense and powerfully built, concentrated black fruits, fig and currant.  Beautifully polished.    Drink 2016 - 2023.
94 points; purely domestic wine report  December 2015

The Big Game is a delicious opaque-colored blend of 55% Syrah, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Petit Verdot.  It is nicely concentrated revealing hints of cassia graphite, black cherry, black currant and herbs.  It is nicely balanced with firm round silky tannins and a long finish.  A beautiful polished wine!!
93 points; International Wine Review  January 2016

Inky ruby. Smoky blueberry and cherry liqueur aromas pick up a peppery nuance with air, along with a suave floral quality. Fleshy and seamless on the palate, offering concentrated black and blue fruit flavors and hints of violet pastille and cracked pepper. Spreads out and becomes spicier on the juicy, impressively persistent finish, which is framed by supple, slow-building tannins.  Drinking window:  2018 - 2024
93 points; Vinous   September 2016

Earthy and aged notes of cigar, leather, beef char and blackberry paste show on the nose of this wine, but so do fresh purple flowers, rosemary and dried mint. The blend of 55% Syrah, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 11% Petit Verdot is creamy on the palate, with a dank herbal quality. It blends oregano and dill with black currant, licorice, fudge and a menthol-laced finish.
93 points; Wine Enthusiast   May 2016

Vintage 2011 winemaker's notes

There is no indication in the color of the wine that it is ten years old.  Its dark, purplish, opaque hue is unchanged from the day of bottling.  I seldom comment on wine colors, but this time I’m doing so because I think this is a predictor of great longevity ahead.  I think 2011 The Big Game can easily go another 15 years.  But I don’t know if I can!  So, my advice is drink and enjoy.

The nose is stupendously integrated, smooth, nuanced.  Both intriguing and satisfying.  The wild notes of the young The Big Game are now tamed down, yet still intense.  It opens up with air and becomes even more complex.
The mouth is smooth, velvety and fresh.  Still youthful.  Fruit and a spice note woven in a velvet container firmed up by fine-grained tannin structure.  A full midpalate that just keeps on going and going and going.  A memory in empty mouth that begs to not be overlayered by the next sip, but which inevitably is…. Because who could resist taking another sip of this wine?  So ready to drink!  This vinatge of The Big Game is one more validation of the pleasures that come to those who know to wait. - re-reviewed Summer 2021, Santiago Achaval

Original notes:  2011 has roughly the same percentage of Syrah as 2010.  We’ve increased Petit Verdot to 17%, so a big jump over the 12% of previous year.  The decrease of Cabernet is a natural reflection of a long and cool harvest.  But right now, the dominant note is from the Syrah. That edge of wildness, of spice and pepper of a Côte-Rôtie!  Very complex aromas leading into tightly knit textures of fruit and tannin.  Cab gives it backbone and darker fruit notes.  A keeper!
We’re finding that our intuition on delaying the release of The Big Game to give it more bottle aging is paying big time in terms of smoothness of structures and integration of varieties.  Will it stay this way?  No! Nor it should!  The Big Game is all about the merging and melding and melting of different angles and points of view.  I look forward to the awakening of the Petit Verdot which for now is a bit of a sleeper in the bottle.  But we tasted those grapes and that fermentation!  I have no doubt that you will find joy in the change of this wine along the years.

Vintage 2011 reviews

The 2011 Big Game is a delicious blend of 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, 37% Syrah and 17% Petit Verdot.  It offers ripe and concentrated blackberry and cassis fruit with a rich and luscious mouth feel.  Aged 27 months in new and used oak, it is perfectly balanced with beautifully integrated sweet oak, soft round tannins and a long finish.   The grapes are from two outstanding vineyards:  Terra Bella at 1800 ft, one of the highest Westside Paso Syrah vineyards,  planted in 2001, and Adelaida Springs Ranch, planted in 2002.  Only 265 cases made.
93+ points; International Wine Review  January 2015

The nose is nicely focused and fresh, beautifully layered black fruit, graphite and menthol.  The palate is firm and well focused with deeply flavored black fruit, lavender and camphor.    Drink 2016 - 2023.
92 points; purely domestic wine report  April 2015

Vintage 2010 reviews

Rated four times 92 or 93 (Wine Advocate, International Wine Review, Wine Enthusiast, pdwr - purely domestic wine report)

It is much more evolved, offering aromas of ripe blackberry, blackcurrant fruit and graphite. Aged in barrel for 27 months in new and one-year old oak, it displays an elegant palate, good structure and balance, firm but polished tannins and a long finish. A lovely wine that is also food friendly and elegant with alcohol held in check (14.3%).   93+ points; International Wine Review  September 2013

Solid aromatics of black fruits, carbon, currant and violet. The palate offers some densely packed flavors with well- balanced structure. Luxurious blackberry, spice box and oak coupled with solid acidity suggest lots to enjoy down the road. Drink 2014 – 2020.  
93 points; purely domestic wine report  September 2013

Offering up good Cabernet Sauvignon aromas and flavors. Rich, pure and fresh, with black currant, lead pencil, mint, licorice and hints of tar all emerging from the glass, it flows onto the palate with a medium to full-bodied, elegant texture, integrated acidity and finely polished tannin framing the finish. Impressive all around and beautifully balanced and fresh, it should evolve gracefully for 12-15 years. Drink now-2025.  
92+ points; WA August 2013

This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petit Verdot is a good example of the kind of wine propelling Paso Robles to the forefront.  It feels higher in alcohol than the official reading of 14.3%, but the warm mouthfeel is an integral part of the experience.  The flavors are absolutely delicious, suggesting ripe cherries, plums, mocha and sweet, salty beef jerky.  
92 points; Wine Enthusiast December 2013

Vintage 2009 reviews

A blend of 52% Syrah, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 6% Cabernet Franc, The Big Game displays an opaque ruby color and aromas of violets, plum and black raspberry on the nose. Aged in 100% new French oak for 24 months, it is full-bodied and lush on the palate with ripe and layered flavors of black raspberry extract and a hint of chocolate. It has a velvet texture, is rich in alcohol (15 alc), and has a ripe, lengthy and flavorful finish. 
93 points; International Wine Review  4Q12

"Big" is indeed the operable word here, yet the wine is quite well-balanced for the considerable mouthful that it is and shows a sense of polish uncommon in wines of such ripeness. It delivers a fascinating and very rich mix of ripe blackberries, cranberries, sweet toast and hardwoods with touches of caramelized meats, pepper and bay leaf just off to the side, and it is underpinned by plenty of integral tannin. Its ongoing richness affords it lots of early appeal, but it clearly has good places to go and will grow for another half-dozen years.
92 points; Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine  July 2014

As delicious and succulent as anything out there, with black currant, blueberry and chocolate flavors that are vastly deep and long on the finish. Fortunately, there's brisk acidity and fine tannins, and despite the luscious fruit and oak, it's dry on the finish. This blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc is fully drinkable now.
92 points; Wine Enthusiast July 2013