Wednesday, December 14, 2016

An overnight visit to Asara Wine Estate and Hotel, Stellenbosch

Some invitations are worth waiting for. We were invited to stay at Asara a few months ago but, as we were both travelling and working, our dates and GM Pete Gottgens’ didn't collide and he so wanted to be there when we came, as we are old acquaintances. We had a great overnight stay there with dinner in their top restaurant, Mise en Place, at the beginning of December. We have to admit that we hadn't visited Asara for many years and we are so impressed at the many changes that have been made since then. When we last visited, they were a boutique hotel with just a few rooms; now they have a 41 roomed five star hotel, with three places to dine, a gin bar and ,of course, their wine. The views are pretty special too
Our room with large bathroom en suite
with its own outside terrace and views of the lake from the windows
A large tub to soak in, if there weren't water restrictions
and a walk in shower
Some lovely welcoming gifts left for us. A platter of delicious fresh fruit, some macarons and some handmade chocolates. And a bottle of Asara wine on ice
Safe, mini bar and tea and coffee station
The superb views across the lake
Looking back at the hotel you see the Sansibar Bistro with its wood-fired oven and its terrace, should you wish to dine outside. On the right hand corner, the breakfast room terrace. Around the corner is the terrace of the restaurant Mise en Place
Our room is the one on the ground floor with the open door and the large private terrace
The swimming pool
They have an ecologically sound green water system in place and all the water on the farm is filtered through reed beds into the bottom lake. They use this water to irrigate
The courtyard and deli
The comfortable lounge
The Reception area at one end of the lounge. The staff were excellent, all could engage well with you, were well informed and helpful without being too stiff and formal, which we like very much
Time to taste some wine in the cellar with their very experienced new winemaker Danielle le Roux, who joined them last year. She was extremely generous with her time. We began with these three wines, the 2015 Chenin Blanc which she blended - rich golden and crisp - the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc, made in the tropical style with grapes from Bot Rivier. It has a little Semillon added and is complex and sherbety.  The Pinotage rosé is full of fresh strawberries with crisp acidity and minerality
Then we tasted from the barrels; always a treat to taste the wine this way in its natural state. A rich spicy Merlot with fennel seed, no green notes, warm with 14.5% alcohol and still chewy with tannin, needs time. Then a Cabernet Sauvignon with a classic cassis nose with cedar and sandalwood and rich round fruit, juicy luscious cassis and milk chocolate, chalky tannins supporting, no bitterness and not too heavy. One to watch when released. Then Malbec - wildness, with violets, blackberries, dark choc wood, super savouriness with great dark fruit, soft tannins and dark 85% chocolate! Again, one to watch
On to another of our favourite grapes, Petit Verdot and indeed found the violets and roses on the nose with dark liquorice and chocolate wood. Sweet and complex fruit and perfume on the palate; pomegranate, mulberry and chocolate on the end from the wood. The Pinotage with pinched bunches to concentrate flavours, was picked ripe and then partially dried on shelves, an Amarone style wine. It has a herbal nose with some mint, wood and cotton notes. The wine has sweet fruit, concentrated, in the oxidative style, elegant and puzzling, with tight chalky tannins. Interesting to see how that develops. And finally the Shiraz, fermentation is on the lees. Spicy black pepper, oaky wood on the nose. Still fizzy with fermentation, it has rich sweet fruit and savoury meatiness. We predict that it is going to be great
Lovely chandeliers in the barrel cellar make the place sparkle. Thank you Danielle for a terrific tasting. We can't wait to come back and taste these wines in bottle in a year or so
Oh, the evening light on those lovely Stellenbosch mountains
And a hill of graceful grapes. We managed a short rest before meeting Pete Gottgens in the Mise en Place restaurant at 7 pm
Oh wow, on offer that evening, a special we were encouraged to have. Pete had brought back a black Perigord truffle from from his recent trip to Sweden. The freshly made bread was special too. We had a nice long chat with him before he had to rush off home. He commutes every day between Asara and Agulhas!
The view from the restaurant terrace at sunset when the mountains take on the pink and violet colours made famous by South African painters
The vine motif in the restaurant
The menu. We think the prices are very reasonable for a 5 star hotel
Our very helpful waiter Stephen Taylor taking the order from the next table
A cobra like decanter
He was an expert at decanting the wine and pouring from this was no easy feat.
We both ordered the starter of Hope on Hopkins gin-infused raw salmon, topped with lemon and orange slices, crème fraiche and two types of caviar - black and red salmon. It was served on cucumber and avocado. Not much sign of the gin and the salmon was very soft. The caviar and lemon added a lot of flavour. Lynne had a glass of the rich and golden Asara Chardonnay, suitable for both her courses
John chose the oven baked quail main course, which came with fine green beans, a naartjie (tangerine) marmalade glaze and toasted almonds. Tender and delicious, with a good jus. He drank the Asara Bell Tower Bordeaux blend with it
Lynne asked for a starter portion of the tagliatelle with the black truffle shavings. It was served plain with olive oil and parsley to highlight the beautiful truffle. The pasta was a little too al dente and broad for Lynne's taste. With this delicate dish, a little more salty and slippery would have been great
John could not resist dessert, so he opted for the chocolate soufflé, which was more like a rather cakey chocolate fondant. The white chocolate ice cream with the dark chocolate sauce was delectable 
He enjoyed a small glass of the Carillon Noble Late harvest dessert wine with dessert
And followed with a double espresso; good coffee, good crema, and extremely tempting friandise. Pete told us they have no named chefs in the kitchen, just a good team who work together
Restaurants closing as we went our way to our comfortable bed
The courtyard with fountain and the lit reception and lounge
Next morning we were up early for breakfast, as we had to go to lunch in Elgin
The breakfast room was busy at 8 am
The very tempting breakfast buffet had everything one could desire
The juice station
The other side of the breakfast buffet. We managed yogurt, muesli and fruit
A terrace for sunny breakfasts overlooking the dam and the valley
They have a short order menu of interesting and predictable cooked breakfast items and Lynne found her favourite: Pancakes, bacon and maple syrup with good black coffee. The bacon could have been crisper
John had a cheese omelette with bacon
What a lovely breakfast and such a good stay at Asara, we slept like babies
Jacarandas in bloom at the entrance as we left
© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2016

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