2021 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Nelson Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of my favorite Samuel Louis Smith wines to date is this brilliant 2021 Nelson Vineyard Syrah, it’s a Northern Rhône styled cool climate beauty with gorgeous crushed violets, earthy black fruits, wild spice and mineral tones unfolding from the glass. Winemaker Sam Smith is maestro with Syrah and produces an outstanding set of them, with this one being standout, its complex layering includes Marionberry, damson plum, loamy blueberry compote and kirsch fruits, along with cracked peppercorn, olive tapenade, umami, bacon, camphor, sandalwood and cassis. This wine thrills the palate with retrained tannins, stem inclusion pop and a low alcohol, while still enjoying an expansive generosity of fruit. The growing season commenced with bud break in mid-March after a cold, dry winter. Very windy conditions during flowering led to below-average fruit set. Classically cool Central Coast temperatures continued throughout the growing season, punctuated by brief heat waves that moved ripening along. The 2021s are characterized by low alcohol, bright acidity, and structure making for cellar-worthy wine. Sam continues, that somewhat reminiscent of ’18 and ’19, the 2021 vintage is certainly one of the best so far for these Samuel Louis Smith wines, which after tasting this wine, I tend to agree. The organic Nelson Vineyard, which is located in the Summit district of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, and as Smith notes, was planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah in 1999, up at around 1700 ft of elevation with the vines growing in sandy loam and chunky sandstone soils, and are surrounded by redwoods and firs. The climate here is nicely suited to Syrah, and those in know with see a likeness to Big Basin’s iconic Rattlesnake Rock Syrah bottling, with cold, wet winters and cool to warm summers with deep diurnal shifts, allowing for ripe flavors, dark color and still retaining acidity, as this ’21 Nelson Syrah shows sublimely.

As noted here in my prior reviews, these Samuel Louis Smith wines are small lot handcrafted gems which have now been fully discovered by the critics and wine lovers, especially Syrah enthusiasts that usually go for the coveted Northern Rhône producers that employ lots of whole cluster, like Jamet, Clape and Allemand. Smith, who is the head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, is a huge talent with cool climate varietals, focusing on Pinot, Gamay and Syrah mainly, he has roots in the Santa Barbara wine scene and does a couple of Sta. Rita Hills bottlings that are also very impressive, with his Spear Chardonnay being a stellar wine. For the Syrah, Sam has employed a mostly natural style winemaking approach borrowing some old world traditions including mostly whole cluster fermentation with, as he says, a native fermentation started by a pied de cuve (crushed grapes in a bucket) from the vineyard and a lengthy maceration with hand punch-downs to extract a deep color and savory structural elements. Sam loves to bring out what he calls the wild and rustic, almost meaty, or as the French say sauvage character in his Syrah, as this wine shows, but there’s also an elegance to be found here, making for very compelling and alluring wine. After primary fermentation in vat, Smith presses the Syrah and racks it to wood with an élévage of close to seven months in used oak, with Smith noting he went with about 25% second-fill and 75% neutral French oak barrels. Typically, this bottling sees a tiny bit of sulfur addition, but the 2022 will be completely sans soufre (no sulfur added), like some of the cuvées made by the likes of Franck Balthazar and Thierry Allemand in Cornas, and Jean-Michel Stephan in Côte-Rôtie, which provided a bit of inspiration to Smith. Regardless of vintage, these SLS Syrah wines are well worth searching out, I recommend them all, along with, as mentioned, Smith’s Chardonnay offerings, Pinots and the tasty Escolle Gamay Noir. The best way to secure these wines is to join the mailing list, though they do go quickly, lucky for me a couple of my local wine merchants have secured an allocation of them!
($47 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

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