Tokara – impressive new and older wines

Perhaps it’s that old story about the usefulness about standing on the shoulders of giants if you want to be tall. Miles Mossop had not only the probably immeasurable advantage of being the son of a serious winelover, the late journalist and judge Tony Mossop (especially a lover of cabernet, Miles told us), but also having the acute Gyles Webb of Thelema as his tutor and boss (effectively) in the early years of his tenure as winemaker at Tokara.

Miles Mossop - Winemaker

Miles Mossop – a (youngish) giant

As Miles said yesterday at a function (an unprecedented and welcome one) to release the latest Tokara vintages, he arived there as a very young man – in 2000 and is no longer exactly young (14 years on!). But my word, he’s learnt a lot, and all of it, insofar as I can judge, immensely useful. There are few winemakers in Stellenbosch, making the traditional Stellenbosch styles, that are as ruthlessly excellent at doing their job as Miles is.

(I don’t really know Miles’s own label, but that seems an immensely proficient extension of his activities at Tokara – and,  a propos, I had a most interesting discussion over lunch with Tokara manager Gerrie Wagenaar about the question of a winemakes at major producers having his own label; but that’s another story.)

Certainly Tokara has nothing to complain of in the wines that Miles has been delivering in recent years to build the Tokara brand.

On the information side, incidentally, I followed up the non-offering of sauvignon and chardonnay from Tokara’s farm in the Hemel-en-Aarde region, and found that the property is in fact for sale. It seems to have been a “business” decision as much as anything – and in fact sometimes those wines were excellent, sometimes not. Clearly they were expensive to produce, and, actually, it’s surely preferable to have a shorter rather than a longer list of wines in an estate portfolio.

tokaraSo. In brief. I would summarise by saying that most of the wines presented in exemplary style by Miles yesterday are, in fact, underpriced  in terms of their quality:price ratio.

The basic, area-blended Sauvignon Blanc 2014 offers rare class, interest and quality for R65. The Reserve Elgin  Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (R105) is more complex, “very poised, with green notes on long finish. Tangy bite. Definitely cool character” (as I noted then).  Pity they’re releasing it so young – sends the wrong signal.

More transcribed notes:

Directors Reserve White 2013 (R215):  “Lovely broad nose, still showing some nutty oak. Rich, citric, a little dried fruit, with big acidity not quite harmonious yet, but plenty of concentration, so time to develop.| R215

Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2013 (R140):  “Quietly elegant nose. Elegant, forceful, lemony, dry.  Very suave. Well integrated oak. Some richness, but very dry and elegant. Some nutty, mealy fragrance.”

If the whites are all unreservedly excellent, the reds follow the Cape rule by being less uniformly fine. I was a touch disappointed with the Pinotage 2012, which seemed more pedestrian, more oaky and sweet-fruited this year (2012) than the exuberantly perfumed and interesting excessiveness it usually is. The Reserve Syrah 2011 (R270) had some pleasing red-fruited perfume, notably spicy. “Serious nose, hints of the oaking. Fresh, lovely red fruit. Lightish feel to it and certainly some finesse and elegance.” But there was an unease about it which prompted me to ask Miles about the naturalness of the acidity of his reds, and he said that in fact there was acid added to the Syrah.

There’s a Limited Release Grenache 2012, only ex-farm (R250). “Some nice perfume, but elegant, not too opulently ripe. Restrained, with a touch of leanness to the sweet fruit. Dry tannins. On severe side, with little in way of power, though some concentration and length. Opens up in glass, stressing the restrained, sweet fruited perfume.” That’s a guarded sort of note, I realise; I like the wine, but was a bit unsure. Actually, let it be said, that I think Miles does best with the Bordeaux grapes (and chardonnay).

TOKARA Directors Reserve RedNo uncertainty about the Directors Reserve Red  2011 (R315): “Complex nose, gorgeous fruit with tobacco, spicy hints, even some florality. Ripe, but elegant and refined. Precise, clean. Finesse, but some concentration.” I think this vintage is a good example of one of the best local Bordeaux style blends, in its brilliant balance between classicism and warmer-country opulence, between early appeal and ability to develop. I hope I get a chance to taste Miles’s recent top Reserve Reds in a decade or so, and hope that I’m right that they develop well.

The Noble Late Harvest, from Elgin sauvignon, is lovely, graceful. Perhaps I’d had just enough by this stage of the tasting, and didn’t feel inspired to write anything. Nor about the brandy.

More mature stuff

Over lunch (a lunch that had its culinary ups and downs, I thought, emanating from Richard Carstens’ kitchen) we had some older Tokara  vintages. Unquestionably the highlight of these was the Stellenbosch Chardonnay 2005: immaculate, poised, fresh, and probably at its peak. A brilliant advertisement  for the longevity and excellence of the Cape’s best chardonnays, which I really think can stand alongside the better chardonnays of anywhere in the world, although not the very, very best of Burgundy.

There was also a 2004 Directors Reserve White  – still very vital, firm and full of flavour. But enjoyment of this would depend on whether you like to flavours and pungency of mature sauvignon blanc. My response to this wine had, I confess, more respect in it than enjoyment.

We we given two mature vintages of the Directors Reserve Red, from highly reputed vintages. Both were entirely valid, full of life and even with time to go. But I preferred the 2005, which to me was more elegant and refined. The 2003 was more savoury as well as more fruity, altogether more assertive and bold; succulent and savoury; “some sweet fruit and a note of sweetness on finish. Very nice tannic structure. A bit rustic, heavy & sweet” were among my notes at the time. Interestingly to me, Jaap-Henk Koelewijn, Tokara’s sommelier, told me that he’d recently lived with these wines over a few days, and (while at the start he shared my preference for the 2005), the 2003 had lasted better.

Either way, I reckon the future of Tokara is even better than its past.

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