I was recently asked why no one had reviewed the 2020 Stars in the Dark Syrah from the dynamic young talent Sam Lambson. I replied that the wine had arrived in the UK basically all pre-sold and there was none “to be had” for general drinking. And then, as if by magic, a friend joined me for lunch and brought along a bottle of the 2020, the third vintage release from Minimalist Wines.
This fabulous red comes from Cape Agulhas, one of the coldest and most inhospitable wine regions in the Western Cape … so certainly not an easy spot to grow vines. There is very little rain, the winds howl incessantly and the shallow, layered shales and koffieklip-littered soils of Elim provide little nourishment for the vines. The ripening season is cool and lengthy yet, with their roots driven deep, the tenacious Syrah vines on this 21-year old parcel yields minute, concentrated berries with electric natural acidity. As Sam Lambson often points out, “some of the best things in life emerge from tough times and dark places.”
The 2020 growing season began with a balmy spring which ensured both a successful budburst and flowering. A moderate summer then settled in bringing fine winds through the vineyards, which helped keep the vines fresh and disease-free while the steady heat helped concentrate the grapes. Although temperatures were definitely warm, they seldom spiked, which helped keep drought conditions in check. Towards the harvest, some welcome rain fell providing a respite from what had been a period of intense drought, although the humid conditions did then see a surge of rot and disease, which producers had to work hard to mitigate.
Minimalist Wines Stars in the Dark Syrah 2020, WO Cape Agulhas, 13.5% Abv.
A 100% pure Syrah red, the 2020 once again reveals a piercing black berry fruit aromatic profile that shares so much with the greatest Syrah examples from the Northern Rhone and Cote Rotie in particular. With the complex melange of black berry fruits come nuances of dried violets, potpourri and lavender together with dried herbs, garrigue, peppercorns and pithy cherry spice. The palate shows wonderful poise and precision, real intensity of fruit together with purity, minerality and telltale coastal salinity expressed with a kelpy, oyster shell reductive hint. Still tightly coiled and full of tension, this will be a fine Syrah to bury in the cellar for 5+ years but can be coaxed to display some of its finery with an hour or so in a decanter. A truly splendid wine that builds on the successes of the previous two drought affected vintages.
(Wine Safari Score: 96/100 Greg Sherwood MW)