The Greek philosopher Plato once remarked: “Nothing more excellent or valuable than wine has even been granted by the gods to man.” And the Jonkershoek Valley in Stellenbosch has clearly been kissed by the gods! Located in a deep valley is Stark-Condé. Stark-Condé is a beautiful picturesque farm with a total production of about 10,000 cases, 80.00% of which are red wines. Stark-Condé is a family-run farm in operation since 1998. It is placed on approximately 618 scenic acres (250 hectares), with around 87 acres (35 hectares) under vine. Driving through the entrance you immediately see a bevy of purple lilac flowers on the left with a beautiful lake and gazebo beyond, all surrounded by a high mountain range.
The vineyard’s elevations range between 490 feet (150 meters) and 1,959 feet (600 meters) above sea level. The Jonkershoek Valley has a high winter rainfall. Historically, the average rainfall in the valley is nearly double that of the rest of Stellenbosch. The soil consists of decomposed granite over clay.
My bride, the beautiful and talented Laurel, determined that we sample Stark-Condé’s red wines, after having been introduced to its 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon (Platter’s Guide ★★★★★) by our bartender, Gerald, on our first night in Cape Town. Stark-Condé is renowned for its Syrahs, and we wanted them all!
Stark-Condé’s winemaker, José Condé, is an international mélange. Originally from Independence, Missouri, his father was Cuban, and his mother is Irish-American. He is married to a South African, and his sister is married to a Spaniard. So, it is inevitable that his wines will be a blend of different vineyards and varietals.
First up was the Stark-Condé’s 2015 estate blend Syrah (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆, 14.50% alcohol) from what the farm refers to as “Block 1.” The Syrah is a blend of three different vineyards located at different elevations of the Jonkershoek Valley farm. It has 97.00% Syrah, with 2.00% co-fermented Viognier and Roussanne and 1.00% Petite Sirah grapes. Block 1 has very rocky, fist-sized stones in the soil, which even the winery marvels that it can yield anything. The Syrah is aged in small French oak for 20 months, 20.00% of which is new.
The 2015 Syrah is inky-purple in color, with smooth tannins. The nose is pungent with dark fruit, particularly cherries. The palate is a mouth-watering explosion of cherries, blackberries, and raspberries, with a hint of white pepper and a smooth finish. The 2015 Syrah is an elegant start to a coterie of wines that will delight us.
The Stark-Condé 2015 Three Pines Syrah (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆, 14.50% alcohol) is vastly different from the Syrah we had just tried. The grapes are hand-harvested and hand-sorted in small batches and fermented in open tanks. It is held in 70.00% new French oak for 20 months. It is blended with 89.00% Syrah and filled out with 7.00% Petit Verdot, and 4.00% Cab Franc. The nose carries aromas of blackberries dusted with cocoa. On the palate, the 2015 Three Pines is fuller, deeper, and more structured than prior Syrah. The wine has a lengthy finish, with medium acidity and delightful tannins.
Next, we tried something that was unlike the prior two wines: The 2015 Stark-Condé Petite Sirah (not tasted by Platter’s). The Petite Sirah, also known as Durif, is a very different grape from Syrah/Shiraz. A Petite Sirah is typically big, bold, colorful and loaded with fruit, and the 2015 Stark-Condé Petite Sirah is no exception.
This wine is a blend of 85.00% Petite Sirah, 8.00% Syrah, and 7.00% Cabernet Franc, with 14.50% alcohol. An intense deep, inky, purple in color, this wine has a nose of rich, juicy dark fruits, black olive tapenade, and white pepper flavors. Mostly barreled in French oak, 25.00% of which is new, it also uses about 10.00% American oak.
On the palate, there are intense flavors of blueberries and blackberries. It has a powerful, kick in the teeth tannins and a very smooth finish. There is nothing petite about this Petite Sirah!
The last of the Starke-Condé wines we tried was their flagship 2015 Oude Nektar Syrah (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆, 14.50% alcohol). This wine is one of the most expensive wines from Stellenbosch. We truly saved the best for last! This wine is a Bordeaux-style blend, consisting of 73.00% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14.00% Petit Verdot, and 13.00% Merlot grapes. The wine spent 20 months in oak, of which 70.00% is new French. A deep, rich, dark purple color, its nose is a pungent burst of ripe, dark fruits – cassis and dark cherries – with a hint of vanilla and spices reminiscent some age long ago. This is a mature wine that approaches in an elegant manner. The flavors roll gently over the tongue. This is truly a wine to be savored.
On the tongue you will find a sensual sophistication, incorporating herbaceous notes with jammy dark fruits, rounded out by the Merlot grapes blended in. The vineyard was destroyed by fire in 2009, following the first run of the Oude Nektar. I think that it would be trite to say that the wine’s smokiness was due to the fire, but….
The Starke-Condé 2015 Oude Nektar Syrah demanded to be paired with food, and suddenly my beloved and I were hungry. However, our intrepid guide, Ann-Marie Breen, had other ideas. Ann-Marie had made reservations for us at a restaurant at another farm. She assured us we would be well-pleased.
An approximate 30-minute drive from Starke-Condé through the Franschhoek valley was our destination. The Franschhoek valley was first settled over 300-years ago by the French Huguenots. Franschhoek has many guesthouses, street side cafes and award-winning restaurants which truly demonstrate a French flair, even though the Dutch and English left their marks in South Africa.
Driving up a hill we finally arrive at Tokara Olive Oil & Wine. Tokara, located in the Hottentot-Holland mountains, affords a spectacularly unbelievable view of the Banhoek Valley below. The vineyards are terraced down the hillside at elevations between 1,148 feet (350 meters) and 1,804 feet (550 meters). There are also grapevines with signs describing the grape varieties planted between the parking lot and the main building. The varietals include Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. However, it was the sign in front of the vines that proved the most disconcerting. It read: “Leopards in the Fynbos.” Well, we said we wanted an adventure!
The short walk from the parking lot to the main building, which houses the restaurant as well as the wine tanks, is an edifice that is architecturally beautiful in design. A cascading water feature is adjacent to a spreading stainless steel tree. Tokara’s website quotes Robert Mondavi, saying, “[M]aking good wine is a skill, but making great wine is an art.” The true meaning of this statement is explained the moment we stepped inside. Tokara is a winery, curated art gallery and sculpture garden, together with a restaurant overlooking the valley. Laurel and I were prepared for what would be a decadent feast for the body and soul. Tokara is a restaurant that features Chef Richard Carstens’ inspired view of modern South African cuisine.
We began our meal with Tokara’s 2011 Méthode Cap Classique Blanc de Blanc (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆, 12.00% alcohol) to cleanse our palates. Made from 100.00% Chardonnay grapes and straw in color, the nose is green apples, brioche, and lemon curd. The bubbles caress the tongue, bursting forth with a mineral-rich, long finish. This Blanc de Blanc is the sensorial pleasure all sparkling wines should be. Laurel decided to use the Blanc de Blanc to pair with her entrée of line fish, tomatoes, on a bed of ponzu pommes purée with Klein River Gruberg cheese and truffle oil, coupled with sautéed seasonal vegetables. Laurel closed her eyes as she took her first bite, and the sublime look on her face spoke volumes!
Springbok is a medium-sized antelope, that also happens to be South Africa’s national animal. Springbok was on the menu. I had never had springbok, and it felt odd ordering a country’s national animal. Laurel demurred. Well, why not! I chose peppered springbok with heerenboon purée, beetroot, blueberry, and sauce veneur. I paired the springbok with
Tokara’s 2014 Director’s Reserve Red (Platter’s Guide ★★★★☆, 14.50% alcohol). The Director’s Reserve is a Bordeaux blend of 67.00% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16.00% Merlot, 7.00% Petit Verdot, 5.00% Cabernet Franc and 5.00% Malbec grapes.
Aged 22 months in 57.00% new French oak, with the rest in older oak, the wine is a rich, deep dark color, with a sweet-scented floral nose, showing an intermingling of cassis and cherries, with a hint of dried herbs. The palate is very smooth, with suggestions of cassis, dark fruits, and chocolate. The wine rolls tenderly over the tongue before erupting in a long finish complimented by firm tannins and medium acidity.
The meal was so remarkable we were not capable of eating dessert. Instead, we enjoyed the stunning gardens and the art collection. Ann-Marie, we were indeed well-pleased!