A typical visit to Stellenbosch is usually spent skipping from one wine farm to the next, sampling each one’s repertoire and indulging in a meal, a bottle, and/or a pairing of wine and food. Whatever the itinerary, it’s a full day packed with several wine farms and (probable) inebriation, all enjoyed against the dramatically beautiful backdrop of the Cape Winelands. However, should you find yourself headed for Tokara, and you absolutely should, shelve the plans to take in any other wine estate because, with olive oil tastings, a sumptuous deli and farm store, a walk though the olive groves, a spectacular restaurant, and gorgeous wines, a visit to this special place deserves an entire day all on its own.
Sprawled across the lofty Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, Tokara is not only an award-winning wine estate with jaw-dropping views and a selection of seriously heavy-weight champion wines, it’s also home to an extensive olive grove, the fruits of which are lovingly harvested by hand and cold pressed to produce Tokara’s range of extra virgin olive oils. These oils are widely acclaimed for their quality but this wasn’t something that meant very much to me on the morning of my visit. From an organic chemistry perspective, isn’t olive oil just olive oil?
Boy, was I about to be educated!
An education in olive oil tasting, flavour and fragrance characteristics, and harvesting
On the tasting tables were five oils that had been derived from the three different olive cultivars that are grown in Tokara’s grove: mission, leccino, and fantoio. The fourth and fifth, Tokara’s premium olive oil, were blends. The methodology behind olive oil tasting is somewhat similar to that of wine: you carefully sip the oil, allow it to flow over your tongue and coat your palate, suck in air to get the full bouquet of flavours, and then swallow. This lesson was provided courtesy of Gert van Dyk, Tokara’s resident olive oil maestro, who also talked about the qualities of flavour, fragrance, and textures we should be aware of. I listened intently as I drenched slices of homemade bread in the golden elixirs provided and washed them down with a fresh and fruity glass of Tokara’s Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2017, which cut through the oil and cleansed the palate quite nicely.
All done in the pursuit of education, of course.
Creamy, zesty, and like a freshly mowed lawn in Summer
I found the olive oils to be luscious and creamy, with quite a pungent aroma of fresh cut grass and other leafy greens, although I must admit that, being a first timer, some of the more subtle aromas of artichoke and tomato leaf were lost on me. Nevertheless, I found the dimensions of flavour, pungency, and fragrances that composed the five oils we sampled, as well as the degree of difference between them all, to be fascinating and I now fear that I have added olive oil snobbery to my extensive list of idiosyncrasies.
After our tasting, Gert van Dyk took us on a perfunctory tour of the press – the machinery behind the magic – and explained that, aside from crafting truly beautiful extra virgin olive oils, it’s the goal of Tokara to educate the public on the health benefits and the incredible number and variety of uses for olive oil. Unfortunately, the really good stuff is often dismissed for its pungency and bitterness, which are, in fact, considered highly desirable traits by connoisseurs. It’s only through the kind of education provided by Tokara’s olive oil tastings that people are going to learn how to enjoy, appreciate, and even covet the more complex personalities of these exceptional oils.
A wholly unique experience
The educational component of the day was only one facet of a really incredible and unique experience, which included a walk through the olive groves and a three-course gourmet meal cooked by celebrated executive chef Richard Carstens and featuring, of course, the olive oils we had just tasted. Also, I could not in good conscience write this article without a mention of Tokara’s 2013 Director’s Reserve; an utter masterpiece of a red blend.
As someone who greatly appreciates good wine and food, and who can happily eat an entire loaf of bread with little other than extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to accompany it, I found Tokara’s olive oil tasting experience to be fun, interactive, and really educational. There is so much to learn about this widely used ingredient, which we tend to take for granted and certainly know very little about. So, the next time you plan a visit to the winelands, take a detour off the well-trampled path and spend a day at Tokara wine and olive farm.
All in the pursuit of education, of course.
Visit their website www.tokara.co.za or give them a call to plan your day.
Wine: 021 808 5900
Olive oil: 021 808 5900
Delicatessen: 021 808 5950
Restaurant: 021 885 2550