The wonderful thing about shooting my online wine series ‘The Grape Press’ is the privilege of brushing shoulders with the crème de la crème (pun intended), of the oenological and gastronomic world. Tokara wine estate is South African vineyard royalty, and I literally got to taste a little piece of this paradise with winemaker Stuart Botha and multi award-winning chef Richard Carstens.
Situated right in the heart of the Cape Winelands, Tokara offers dramatic views of Stellenbosch and False Bay. With consistently award-winning wines from the sunny southern slopes of the Simonsberg mountain and innovative, terroir focused contemporary cuisine, Tokara continues to shape the wine and dine landscape of South Africa.
I had the incredible opportunity to do the wine tasting at Tokara with the winemaker himself, Stuart Botha. Stuart doesn’t come from a winemaking family but was drawn to the vocation from the tender age of 16 years old. "Wine making appeals to my sense of creativity and is challenging from a technical perspective. It is incredibly stimulating as a job and takes me around the world", says Stuart.
Stuart developed a formidable reputation at Eagle’s Nest in Constantia before taking over from Mile Mossop who founded the wine and vineyard project at Tokara. His meticulous approach to winemaking has made Tokara the jewel in the crown of South African wine.
The quality of Tokara wines is purely terroir driven. The shade of the mountains in the late afternoon gives the vineyards a slightly cooler aspect and the unique 450 million year old decomposed granite soils of the estate produce wines of immense richness. The beautiful red soil of Tokara is a powerful element that really comes through in both the red and white wines with a potent and distinct minerality.
Director’s Reserve White 2015
This is a wine that combines power and freshness all in one package. It’s a Bordeaux style white blend dominated by 70% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Semillon. These grapes are all from the highest vineyard sites on the Tokara property, which tend to be generally cooler and facing in a direction that gets more afternoon sun. This Directors Reserve is barrel fermented creating a beautifully rich wine. The Semillon is fermented in 225 litres barrels whereas the Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in 400 litres barrels to respect the fruit purity of Sauvignon Blanc. As this is quite a delicate variety it is important to preserve the aromatics of this grape and not give it too much wood. Stuart was keen to impress upon me that this is a purely vintage specific wine and that ‘after fermentation in the barrel it is matured for between 7-9 months and at this stage, only best barrels are chosen and complimented to make up the blend between Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. It then goes back into the barrel for a further two months to integrate and mesh together before bringing the wine to bottle”.
The wine has a beautiful golden hue, which is a testament to its time in the barrel and a very complex structure. Aromatically it is very intense bringing the character of the Sauvignon Blanc to the fore. Green notes really come through from the Semillon and the wine is really quite steely on both the nose and pallet. It is a wonderfully creamy wine with an acidity that strikes through, to give it great poise and focus. The manner in which the wine is made, with the barrel fermentation and aging, gives this wine incredible longevity and it ages beautifully. Approximately 15,000 bottles of this vintage specific Directors Reserve are produced which can be enjoyed for 5-10 years.
Director’s Reserve Red 2103
This is a beautifully sophisticated wine with an intense garnet centre and rich ruby rim. With stunning fynbos and dark chocolate hints on the nose, this wine enters the palate with amazing clarity. Due to the soils at Tokara, there is a fantastic savoury minerality to the wine with no sweet high notes, making it the perfect food accompaniment. With 67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Malbec, this is a very serious wine and classical in style. Kept in French oak barrels for 22 months (50% new 1st fill French oak and the remainder 2nd and 3rd fill), the Director’s Reserve red is fabulously full bodied with dark, ripe cherries, plums and baking spices on the palate. There are also has some delicious smoked and cured meat notes with a silky smooth finish. Only the very best hand-picked grapes from the best sites on the vineyard go in to making this incredible wine which is exported to the United States, Netherlands, UK, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates.
The Director’s Reserve White 2015 - is shooting for the stars as far as awards go. It achieved a 93 point score with Robert Parker and 95 point score with the highly acclaimed award winning British wine writer Tim Atkin.
It has also won the Old Mutual Trophy for ‘best white wine in the show’, which is an amazing accolade in addition to acquiring a 5 stars rating from the John Platter wine guide.
The Director’s Reserve Red 2013 - This wine has been awarded 95 points by Tim Atkin, 96 points with Robert Parker and again given 5 stars by the John Platter guide. It also received a top score in the South African Bordeaux blend category.
Through the subjective evaluation by one or more wine critics, typically a numerical value is assigned to a wine tasted. Various factors are taken in to account including composition, quality of production and how much the traits of a particular wine ‘typify’ the style and region it’s from. This is a fairly new phenomenon developed in the mid 20th century and a number of different scales for wine ratings are in place. The 50-100 point scale introduced by Robert M. Parker Jr. has become the most commonly used as illustrated in the table below.
Other publications or critics may use 0-20 or 0-5 scale usually with numbers or stars such as the ‘John Platter Wine Guide’ www.wineonaplatter.com
The Food & Wine Pairing
The award winning restaurant is an architectural icon of glass, wood, and stone boasting incredible views of the vineyards of Stellenbosch and False Bay. Set at 400 metres above sea level, the food and wine pairing experience at Tokara is equally as lofty. The restaurant team, headed by award-winning chef Richard Carstens who is a former ‘EatOut SA Chef of the Year’ has produced a menu inspired by natural flavours and tantalizing textures.
It was an honour to have lunch with Richard and for him to take me personally through a couple of his signature dishes that beautifully compliment the wines of the estate.
The first pairing with the Directors Reserve white 2015 was a very light dish with a myriad of flavours consisting of potato starched hake with braised ikon, lemon koji ginger sauce and rice crisp. The wonderful thing about Richard’s menu is that he uses very few ingredients, but manages to create cuisine that is layered with complexity and supremely textured. This food philosophy is perfectly reflected in the wines of Tokara, which are multi-layered and beautifully textured.
The Directors Reserve white 2105 is the ideal accompaniment for this culinary masterpiece with its perfect blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. As Tokara’s head sommelier Jaap-Henk Koelewijn explains, “the Sauvignon Blanc provides just the right acidity whilst the Semillon gives it the richness. Although the wine is steely and rich it, still has a great cleanliness which works wonderfully with this dish”. The pairing produces a dichotomy of big umami flavours in the mouth but with a cleanliness that doesn’t’ overpower the delicateness of the hake. There is also a grassiness in the wine that really starts to come through and the aromatics of the ginger and Koji play on the oakiness of the wood that lifts the almond nuttiness in the wine.
It’s not often you get to have lunch with the creator of such innovative cuisine and rarer still to be privy to the thought process behind just what inspired a dish that perfectly embraces Tokara’s flagship genius. For Richard it’s simple “food has to extremely textural, but also have a very clean taste. Therefore, this dish has a Japanese atheistic to it, but there is also a lot of lightness, freshness and crispness to it that perfectly compliments the wine without overpowering it. The food acts as a vehicle for the wine”.
For the food paring with the 2013 Directors Reserve red, I was presented with a work of art that looked like it should be framed instead of eaten, consisting of lightly peppered springbok loin with heerenboon (South African Lima bean) purèe from the west coast, honeyed carrots and new season apricots all sumptuously covered with Tokara’s Simonsberg botanical extract sauce. The flavours of Richard’s creation remains true to the Western Cape with springbok at the core, which South African’s refer to as ‘the prince of meats’. SPRINGBOK has a fantastic gaminess and a slight aromatic sweetness accentuated in the dish with the addition of apricots and honey-roasted carrots. The Director’s red itself is sensationally savoury. Therefore this is a brilliantly symbiotic pairing, adding savoury components to the food with the wine whilst adding sweetness to the wine with the culinary vision of the dish. The Simonsberg botanical extract sauce is essentially a red wine sauce flavoured with indigenous botanicals of the Tokara garden. It contains many local Cape herbs such as orange buchu, wild rosemary, lemon, thyme, and confetti bush, which are all local bitter aromatic herbs, which were used for making vermouth in South Africa back in the day. It is these special ingredients that sommelier Jaap-Henk Koelewijn boasts, “gives the wine its beautiful pencil shaving, cigar box character. The Cabernet Sauvignon still dominates the wine, but you have the herbaceous quality from the Petit Verdot coming out beautifully in this dish. The little bit of pepperiness on the springbok just breaks the last of the tannins in the wine and lifts the fruit once again.”
Fine Wine Art
Tokara gives new meaning to wine as an art form. On the walls in the private tasting room is a wonder to behold, for Tokara has Sponsored an initiative at a local art school in Stellenboisch over the last 7 years encouraging creative experimentation with the wines of Tokara. This has produced spectacular results and art that is a real testament to the power of wine. All the paintings have been made using the wine of Tokara. Shiraz is boiled and reduced and then stabilized with agar to produce incredible works of art.
Cape gastronaut Richard Carstens and winemaker Stuart Botha ensure that Tokara remains a fine dining landmark in South Africa. The food and wine paring is a sensational showcase of natural taste and texture with incredible complexity and depth not to be missed.
Tokara wine is imported to the UK by ABS wine that recently received the accolade of ‘best independent wine importer to the UK’ at the IWSE (international Wine and spirits) competition for the 6th year in a row. It is available at bespoke bottle stores and specialist restaurants such as Heston Blumenthal’s 3 Michelin stars temple of innovation, ‘The Fat Duck’ in Bray-on-Thames which has won the prestigious titles of ‘best restaurant in the world’, and ‘restaurant of the year’. You’ll also find the Director’s reserve on the wine list at High Timber in central London and also 67 Pall Mall where ‘fine wine is at the heart of everything’.