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)

South African Grand Marque Rust en Vrede Estate Back to Its Best Again…

The history of this great estate reads like a classic novel in the same vein as many great Bordeaux chateaux. Highs and lows, controversy and family disputes and changes in winemakers and house style.

Tasting the latest creations of winemaker Coenie Snyman, it can be confirmed with a fair degree of certainty that this famous old South African grand marque is almost back to its very best again. This can only be good news for consumers and collectors alike.

Rust en Vrede Estate 2015, WO Stellenbosch, 14.5 Abv.

The 2015 Estate red is a blend of 57% Cabernet Sauvignon, 34% Syrah and 9% Merlot. This is the flagship wine of the estate and boasts astute winemaking to match. The bouquet offers up a fine perfume of dried potpourri, violets, cinnamon stick and an alluring melange of mulberry, black currant and savoury damson plum with a complexing top note of black Kalamata olives. Subtle mocha and vanilla pod nuances carry to the palate which is eminently refined and elegantly balanced, showing delicious spicy black currant, graphite, black liquorice, salty cassis and a subtle lick of salted caramel. Beautifully plush and textured, this is a seamless vinous package of fine wine enjoyment that speaks volumes about the very fine 2015 vintage twinned with re-energised, ambitious winemaking. A winery returning to its very best potential once again. Drink now or cellar for 10 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Putting South Africa’s Finest Wine Offerings Into Perspective – Tasting Australia’s Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz 2008….

I had a wonderful time in Cape Town at Cape Wine 2018 and before that at the Nederburg Auction of older South African wines. Of course Cape Wine 2018 will be remembered for Tim Atkin MW’s first personal 100 point SA wine score, an active debate surrounding scoring and score inflation both in South Africa and globally and also the prickly pear issue of where to price South Africa’s premium wines, many made from old vine heritage vineyards around the Western Cape that are super expensive to farm. Serious questions indeed.

Some of these questions were brought into a new perspective when I returned to my office to find a bottle of Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Shiraz from Coonawarra freshly opened on a colleagues desk courtesy of a private client. This is a Wine Advocate 98/100 point wine as scored by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW and retails currently in the UK market for £850 per bottle inc taxes (R16,575 pb). So we are talking serious kit here… and amazingly a wine that makes even the Penfold’s Grange look positively cheap!

Tasting the wine, it is a blend that pays homage to the 1966 Bin 620, a legendary Penfold’s show wine from a great vintage. Crafted from the uniquely Australian Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz blend, this wine is considered to be the personification of the Penfold’s house style and worthy of a Special Bin status. The wine was bottled by Penfold’s Wines at Nuriootpa, South Australia in July 2009. The 2008 vintage was produced from the low yielding Coonawarra Blocks 5, 10 and 20 and is considered to be made in a very similar style to the famous 1966 vintage. The wine was barrel fermented in new French and America oak and is classically structured and considered worthy of extended cellar aging for several decades.

Penfold’s Bin 620 Cabernet Sauvignon – Shiraz 2008, Coonawarra, 14 Abv.

The wine has a wonderfully deep ruby garnet opaque core and is a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon and 49% Shiraz. Rich, lifted and hedonistic, the nose is brimming with earthy black berry, freshly torn mint leaf, camphor leaves, wood spice, dried tree bark, cassis and black cherry kirsch liquor notes with nuances of milk chocolate, bruleed coffee beans and exotic botanical herbal spices. The palate is dense, creamy and unctuous but retains a certain poise and posture supported by gravelly mineral tannins, graphite spice, crème de cassis and a fine vein of palate refreshing acidity. The finish is super long and intense with just the faintest hints of cherry cola, salty liquorice, black berry confit and freshly baked raspberry crumble. The vinous adjectives and descriptives positively drip out of ones mouth with this complex offering. It is a big wine that walks a very neat, classical line and will impress most fine wine connoisseurs.

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

So how does this wine compare to some of South Africa’s finest? In wine terms, however delicious this wine is, it still  has the taste of a lot of sunshine on the fruit and the creamy unctuous glycerol mouthfeel is perhaps not as conducive to matching with food other than perhaps with meaty barbeques. This is a micro-cuvee of only 900 cases so merits attention to detail and probably a big price tag. But I would argue there are many equally impressive South African benchmark reds every bit as alluring and complex and which are much more classically proportioned and suitable for a true gourmands palate. As for the price, well, the mind boggles. R16,000 Rand can buy quite a lot of very fine wine.

As I questioned at the Cape Wine 2018 Old Vine Seminar, the problem with South Africa’s premium wine offering is not their quality and certainly not their styles but more the fact that the wines are more appreciated overseas than they are in the local home market. South Africa’s finest crown jewels are all being exported because the local market, unlike Australia, USA or New Zealand is not comfortable paying the prices that these fine wines inevitably will need to sell for. Locals shy away from buying wines over R250 Rand (£12.99) a bottle let alone R16,000 Rand a bottle. The result is a two speed market where all the best offerings are exported to an appreciative, thirsty European audience while the home market scrapes the barrel like a fishy bottom feeder in a muddy pond trying to find the last undiscovered bargains. This needs to change before we can set about bringing better profitability to the local wine industry. A healthy fine wine market inevitably has to be driven primarily by strong local demand… then the rest will follow… a la Penfold’s top cuvees.

The Wonder of Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie – Tasting a Vertical from 2005 to 1976…

Les Jumelles means “the twins” in French and refers in this case to the special Cote Brune and Cote Blonde twin vineyards on the burnt slopes of Cote Rotie in the Northern Rhône. It is not a wine you see around very often and is far less well known than other Jaboulet icon wines like Hermitage La Chapelle. All the fruit is bought in for Les Jumelles and current production is around 1,500 cases.

Always a bit of an unknown entity quality wise year on year, final bottle results often depend on how much fruit Jaboulet was able to buy from specifically the high quality Cote Brune growers in a particular year. With this age worthy Cote Brune backbone, some of the best examples I’ve tasted previously have been older vintages, none better than the 1972 Les Jumelles enjoyed with Vinous’ Neal Martin at the 2 Star Michelin the Square Restaurant a few years ago (when still owned by Chef Phil Howard and restaurateur extraordinaire, Nigel Platts-Martin).

Nothing quite that old was tasted in this vertical, but never the less, it was a real treat to compare multiple mature vintages side by side. Several bottles were sadly considered ‘out of condition’, so were not scored (N/S).

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 2005

14 months of French oak aging, with only 20% new oak. Bright and fragrant, violets and cherry blossom lift. Very pretty nose. Hints of leather, black berry, bruleed spice, marzipan but also a real core of dark fruit. Still tight and structured with a real presence of power and focus. Touch angular still, very bright acidity and a medium long tart red fruited finish. Touch of bitter tannic grip but seems to hold good potential to cellar for another 10 to 15+ years.

(Wine Safari Score: 92/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1999

Wonderfully classic nose of perfume and bruleed cherry spice, savoury cured meats, coffee beans and bloody, irony salinity. Palate shows hints of saddle leather, gun smoke, sour macerated plums with a bright refreshing red fruit acidity and excellent, crisp mouthwatering length. Tart and vibrant, still youthful and plenty of style.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1997 – Oxidised, out of condition bottle. N/S

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1988

Another classically shaped Cote Rotie with lifted herbal notes amplified by wood spice, saddle leather and wood smoke. Quite spicy and piquant, with cassis leaf, coffee bean and medicinal red fruit spice. The palate follows suit with herbal spice, savoury red and earthy black fruits but with a slightly challenging bitterness with chalky, grippy tannins and a finish laden with bitters and vermouth botanical spice complexity.

(Wine Safari Score: 90/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1985

Darker, deeper broody nose with hints of wet earth, cured meats, diesel rag, black bramble berries and subtle herbal garrigue and pot pourri spices. The palate is denser, broader and altogether fleshier than the 1988, with the herbal nuances more like footnotes than chapter headings. More balanced and harmonious, this still has dry mineral stony tannins but very impressive length. Not tiring, this can still be enjoyed for a decade or more.

(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1983

Complex from the start, the 83 shows alluring herbal complexity, rich notes of kirsch cherry, bramble berry and marzipan spice. Hints of diesel rag and savoury cured meats in a German deli. Plenty of pepper spice, sleek harmonious tannins, vermouth richness and exoticism. Not a massive wine, but it is ageing beautiful, with some leanness and austerity, so perhaps the fruit is starting to dry. I suspect this is a sleeper and won’t change terribly quickly, and will be even better with food. Enjoyable wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1982

Seductive, meaty, smokey wine with notes of gun flint, graphite, pot pourri and ground coffee beans. There is richness, ripeness and spicy brambley fruit but all very measured and classical. Definitely a riper feel, fine density of fruit and a lovely raisined cranberry and caramelised plum finish combining well with chalky tannins on a long finish. Very classy, and would probably be incrementally better if drunk with food. No rush but enjoy bottles now.

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1980

Touch meaty and heading towards oxidation. Bottle considered out of condition. N/S

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1978

One of the noted great vintages of the Northern Rhone, this Cote Rotie shows big depth and breadth with definite tertiary notes of diesel rag, graphite, coffee bean, crushed gravel and pot pourri spices. The palate is plush and fleshy, shows glorious opulence, but fading a little and perhaps just starting to dry out. Piquant and bright, well balanced with a salty black fruited note and a saddle leather finish. Powerful and multi-layered. Delicious!

(Wine Safari Score: 94+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

Paul Jaboulet Aine Les Jumelles Cote Rotie 1976

The palate is perhaps more vital than the nose which shows saline, plastersine, black berry, iodine, bloody, irony, graphite notes. Very chalky and mineral, the palate holds great weight and intensity, balanced with savoury earthy red fruits, raisined cranberry and tart stewed plums. Mature, but grows in gravitas and really starts to outshine the 1978 with time in glass. A real gem.

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

Torbreck The Laird Launch Tasting ~ Pitching the New 2012 Release Head to Head with the Highly Acclaimed 2006…

After attending the launch of Torbreck Winery’s new vintage release of their super premium Shiraz Cuvee The Laird, all I could conclude is that perhaps I don’t drink enough of these great wines. Torbreck especially, has long been regarded as one of Australia’s top wineries producing world class wines from dry grown old vines on the north western fringe of the Barossa Valley.


The Laird Cuvee is certainly top of the tree in quality, coming from an old vine Shiraz single vineyard in Marananga. First produced in 2005 and launched to much acclaim, it soon garnered the perfect 100 points from The Wine Advocate. Aged for 3 years in Dominique Laurent barriques, this perfect southeast facing, dry grown, old vine Shiraz vineyard was planted in 1958 on classic western Barossa soils. The resulting small, concentrated berries produced consistently from this site make The Laird Cuvee a wine capable of long-term cellaring. 



Northern Grounds – Altitude 280-450m 

This includes vineyards in the vicinity of Seppeltsfield, Marananga, Stone Well, Greenock, Gomersal, Ebenezer and Kalimna. The renowned Western Ridge runs from the north of Greenock, through Seppeltsfield and pushes into the Central Grounds near Gomersal.


The soils here are predominately red-yellow brown loams over red clay. Shattered ironstones are found in the soils of the Western Ridge and the soils are shallower here than elsewhere. A small section of yellow and white sands is found in the area of Kalimna. Wines from the Western Ridge are full-bodied, rich and concentrated with a deep purple red colour. The texture is round, velvety and firm with strong expressive tannins and aromas of blueberry, chocolate and cocoa powder. 


Torbreck The Laird Shiraz 2012, Barossa Valley, 15.5 Abv.

The latest release from this Marananga single vineyard is another block buster Shiraz. Rich, opulent and laden with black berry fruits, this wine has a seductive nose of tar, black liquorice, bruleed black fruits, Victoria plum spice, blue berry crumble freshly out the oven and a measured lick of expensive sophisticated oak. The secret of this Vineyard is its ability to produce fruit with great phenolics, excellent pHs and super acid / fruit balance combined with a harmonious structure. Indeed, the concentration of fruit is amazingly intense yet so balanced with complex hints of roasted coffee beans, creme brûlée, espresso, savoury cassis, and blue berry with a most luxuriously opulent, ageless finish. This certainly is a super luxury wine worthy of its premium price. Drink from 2020 to 2045+

(Wine Safari Score: 97+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)


Torbreck The Laird Shiraz 2006, Barossa Valley, 15 Abv.

As if tasting the new release Laird Shiraz 2012 wasn’t special enough, I got to taste it along side the second release 2006 to compare and contrast and to assess this wine’s style 11 years on. The aromatics remain sweetly fruited with an exotic lifted nose of creme brûlée, creme de cassis, blue berries and perfumed black berry spice. There is also an incredibly opulent vein showing tantalising saline cassis, salty liquorice, and a sappy, savoury complexity combined with the most youthful fragrant lift. The palate is soft, supple, opulent and supremely luxurious in feel. The complexity is staggering, the texture and concentration awe inspiring, and the finish impressively long and vibrant. Makes you wonder how much better a wine of this style can get? Whether or not you like Australian wines, or even riper styles of Shiraz, this is a monumental effort. Drink now to 2040+

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)