Tokara 2021 olive oils express a bounty of intense flavours

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FUN fact: When tasting olive oil it’s normal to cough and in fact, premium olive oils are often characterised as one-cough, two-cough or three-cough oil. This can be awkward in the time of the plague.

I’ve already had enough side eyes when I’ve swallowed my spit wrong in public and spluttered into my mask, but I outdid myself at the tasting of Tokara’s new vintage olive oils last week. It was the final oil, and up till that point, the assembled media had indicated no back-of-the-throat tingles or tickles. This is through no fault of the oils, which are in fact premium, but probably more to do with concern about the reaction to such a social impropriety.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid it. Oh, I tried. As I felt it rising, I attempted to suppress it. The world swam in front of my well-lubricated rolling eyeballs, and darkness began to close in. Desperately, I pressed my napkin to my mouth (and nose of course) and barked into it. Tears streamed down my red cheeks. I gulped some water. I wheezed and hacked twice more, as I vaguely heard a ripple of chuckles which turned to distant murmurs of “are you all right?”. Poor Gert van van Dyk, Tokara’s olive oil master and operations manager at the Olive Shed, had to pause his presentation.

It was awful but I managed to give a weepy, gasping thumbs up to the oil. Imagine if I’d actually sucked in air before I swallowed the oil, as one is supposed to do when tasting? I would have had to be carried out on a stretcher. So dramatic.

Photo by Bianca Coleman

Tokara, on the peak of the Helshoogte pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, makes gorgeous wines (the winemaking team is on top of the world with three Wines of the Year and nine wines, starring Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon in the leading role, scoring 91 points or more in Tim Atkin’s South Africa 2021 Special Report), occupies a stunning location, has a deliCATessen, a restaurant and a beautiful elevated tasting room, and produces excellent olive oils from groves planted in good soil on the slopes of Simonsberg. “It’s the best place to grow olives, for me,” said Gert.

The 20 hectares are mainly Italian cultivars Coratina, Frantoio, Mission and Leccino, which find their way into bottles of single cultivars – Frantoio and Mission – and the multi-varietal c0mprising Frantoio, Leccino and Mission. All four go into the Premium flagship oil. “I think we are the only company that sells unfiltered extra virgin olive oil,” said Gert.

Tokara olive oil master Gert van Dyk

During our tasting, done in the squat blue glasses used by professional olive oil judges which we cupped in our hands to warm the oils, Gert entertained and educated us about things like eating olives vs oil olives, how the olives are handpicked and pressed within 24 to 48 hours at 28 degrees Celsius to preserve the oil inside the fruit as close as possible to its natural state, health benefits, and how a good oil will enhance any dish you cook. Even dessert.

We inhaled the aromas of fresh apply, grass (always my go-to), various types of lettuce, nuts, green tomatoes and artichoke. Oils can have delicate, medium or intense fruitiness (so don’t have only one in the pantry; different oils for different applications if you’re serious about this stuff). There are three things to look for when tasting olive oil: fruitiness, bitterness and piquancy. That’s the peppery part that burns the throat, which I had no problem detecting.

Photo Bianca Coleman

There was bread, salt and cheese on the table for us to sample along with the different oils. Once Gert had concluded his address, lunch was served. The starter was artichoke and parmesan gratin, lovely, rich and creamy. It was served with stokbrood wrapped around olive branches Gert himself had picked that morning. Main course was soft and tender lamb ossobuco with saffron risotto and gremolata, knockout colours to behold, and even better to eat.

Photo Bianca Coleman

Sadly, I had to dash before dessert, which was something Gert had talked about, and I’m sorry to have missed the combination of vanilla gelato with crystallised ginger, olive oil and almond cake, and olive oil (drizzled on top I imagine). Yes it sounds crazy but apparently it is delicious, and I believe that.

I’d barely returned home from this tasting when the news arrived that Tokara had won double gold with its new vintages of its top tier blends and recognition for its entire range at this year’s SA Olive Awards. The Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the Estate Blend available exclusively at Woolworths, were both awarded gold medals while the rest of the range earned silver.

Visit the Tokara Delicatessen for complimentary olive oil tastings and purchases. For a more structured, guided olive oil tasting experience, visit the Tasting Lounge. Bookings are advisable by emailing [email protected] or calling 021 808 5900. For online purchases, click here.

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