Stars in the Dark Syrah 2020 From Minimalist Wines Shines Brightly…

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)

Sam Lambson and His Minimalist Wines First Release Syrah Take the London Wine Trade By Storm…

I first met the talented Sam Lambson in early 2018 in a corner of Bertus Basson’s Spec & Bone restaurant while out drinking one evening with a few winemakers. While chatting, he mentioned he was studying winemaking and had made his own first wine that was still in barrel. Roll forward 18 months and Sam is in his final year of a BSc Oenology degree at the University of Stellenbosch – the perfect place to meet, and learn from, many of the region’s most talented winemakers.

On our first meeting, I did not have the good fortune to taste a barrel sample of his wine but was impressed enough to pass on his details and story to fellow Master of Wine and SA wine importer Richard Kelley MW. Richard signed Sam up and imported a small amount of his tiny volume maiden release Syrah, Stars in the Dark 2018, made from fruit located in the extreme terroir of Elim.

Anyone who has been to the area will know how cold and inhospitable the Agulhas coast can be … not an easy spot for vines to grow. There’s little rain, the winds howl and the shallow, layered shales and koffieklip-littered soils of Elim provide little nourishment for vines.

The Elim Ward is located near Cape Agulhas which is the real Southern tip of African and not Cape Point like so many visitors believe.

The ripening season is cool and lengthy yet, with their roots driven deep, the tenacious Syrah vines on this 19-year old parcel bear minute, concentrated berries with electric natural acidity. As Sam says, “some of the best things in life emerge from tough times and dark places.” Coming out the other side of depression himself has certainly taught him that. “It’s a message no other place articulates quite as elegantly as Elim.”

This wine, already sold out in the local South African market, was one of the star attractions at the recent New Wave Tasting 2019 in London in early September. However there is a small amount of stock in the UK so get your hands on a few bottles of this excellent maiden release. It’s a unicorn wine waiting to happen!

Minimalist Wines Stars in the Dark Syrah 2018, WO Elim, 13.5 Abv.

A 100% pure Syrah red with piercing black fruit aromatics that chime with seductive cherry blossom, crushed violets and dried lavender perfume which rises imperiously out the glass before the nose reverts back to more traditional Northern Rhône Syrah notes of black olive tapenade, cured meats, German deli and a saline black currant fruit intensity. The palate shows ample stony mineral tannins that underpin the fresh, cool zippy coastal acids supported by a wonderful background note of kelp and ocean sea breeze. A really super classy maiden release red from this quality obsessive producer. Sam Lambson is definitely a star to watch. Pop some of these in your cellar for a couple of years and drink over the next 5 to 10+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)