This year’s annual International Food & Wine Festival event promised to be even more alluring and more popular than last year’s, forcing the Herzog Winery to move the event from their facility in Oxnard to the Century City Hyatt in Los Angeles. This year’s 2012 wine festival featured one hundred and fifty different wines from vineyards all over the world as well as an elaborate gourmet spread catered by the winery’s Tierra Sur restaurant, lead by executive chef Todd Aarons. The event promised to be as intoxicating as last year’s, and I was super excited as the day arrived.
Although I was interested in eating and drinking till my heart’s content, ( I am Jewish) I was more interested in finally learning the art of wine sampling and decided to experience the event with a well versed wine guide whose passion could finally teach me how to choose wine in the supermarket without judging thebottle by how pretty the label looks.
The mission, had I chosen to accept it, was to taste as many wines as I could handle and finally understand the nuances surrounded by this age old craft. I was up for the daunting task of getting wasted if I had to, just to learn this art.
I was lucky enough to have an old friend from childhood to finally teach me the difference between tutti fruity with a dark chocolate finish and big and bold with a full bodied flavor. Jonathan Tabak, a wine enthusiast, found his way to the festival as early as one o’clock in the afternoon to get a head start on experiencing the kosher collection. What was funny about this arrangement was that Jonathan was my best friend’s kid brother growing up. He was that kid that insisted on getting into our play time. To say we frequently ditched poor little Jonathan would have been putting it mildly. I was older, wiser, and more sophisticated, yet here I was in unfamiliar territory relying on Stephanie’s kid brother to show me the ropes into elegance and sophistication. I met Jonathan by the sliced pastrami and liver Pâté, which delicately sat on toasted crostini. While I downed the sweetbread taurine- a heart stopper with carrots, tongue, sweet bread and gelatina (Kosher of course) in one hand and the mergaz with tahini and micro cilantro toppled with pickled peppers in the other, Jonathan smiled revealing purple teeth. My wine guide, who used to insist on roleplaying as the head fireman, now has purple teeth and is going to teach me sophistication? Right!
With an adorable purple grin, Jonathan began our tour. Our first stop was at the Shiloh’s table. The Shiloh Winery is located in the heart of the historic wine region in Israel. I was intrigued to see if I could actually see any difference between their top-shelf blend, 2006 Mosaic, and their newest release, 2009 Secret Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. The tasting began. I wasn’t completely idiotic, I knew to swirl, I knew to sniff, I even knew to how to taste. I was deeply impressed by Jonathan’s understanding of how to sense subtlety in flavor. I downed every drink. And as the night grew older I realized that I was actually seeing the difference between each wine and characterstics of their varietals (grapes). I could actually taste the mint and basil notes in Shiloh’s Mosaic versus the black fruit in their Secret Reserve that Jonathan described as “bold and big”, a wine which I considered one of my favorites. I was even able to detect bubble gum and cotton candy when sipping the Tulip White 2010, an eclectic blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer, an experience that I never thought I would enjoy. I always hated white wine, but suddenly I couldn’t get enough of it. It also helped that there were coconut macaroons and yellow sorbet with candied lamb bacon that resembled a small plate of bacon and eggs to clean my palette with. When asked why Jonathan had decided to become an enthusiast – he even has a blog called “Kosherwino” – he replied, “When I was growing up all we had at our Shabbat table was that sweet Manishewitz syrupy wine that tasted like cough medicine going down…there had to be a better way of experiencing wine, and I decided to buy a different bottle each week to experiment with. I now have a collection of over four hundred kosher wines and I love it!”
Jonathan continued our tour. I was confused for unlike me, he had been drinking all night, all day really and he seemed completely sober and clearheaded. Funny….
Suddenly this chick who couldn’t tell the difference between merlot and cabernet, was tasting the baker’s dark chocolate in the Pacifca’s 2010 Meritage, a merlot cab mix from Washington state. I even asked Jonathan if he noticed the prune finish, to which he replied…”Don’t say prune, that’s offensive, say plum.” But I did taste plum right? “Oh Chava, you are becoming sophisticated! Yes you did!” Yet with all my sophistication I was laughing a little too much and could hardly feel my toes. Funny….
At the end of the evening after tasting, swirling, and sipping, we sauntered over to the final table which had my number one favorite wine of the evening, partly because of the flavor, and partly because of the wine maker who had the best line of the night. Jurgen Wagner, a German native living in Barcelona, handed me the PerajHaabibFlor de Primavera 2008 and I became hooked. Aged in French oak barrels added spicy and toasty flavor to the dark fruit character. At $60 a bottle, I had finally become that snooty wine taster who had clearly attained expensive taste- a fact my husband was not surprised about. When asked why Jurgen, who is not Jewish would choose to sell Kosher wines, a task that is more difficult and more demanding, he said “Kosher is different from other wines, it is wine with a conscience.”
Upon leaving, Jonathan and I spotted a serious wine taster who looked over enthusiastic. “Be careful what you ask him, he’s super serious, you don’t want to sound like an idiot…” Jonathan warned me. David Raccah is a heavyweight wine connoisseur, a wine-ninja of sorts. His blog is called “Wine Musings” and after the evening, I didn’t want to seem lame. So I asked the best question I could which was, “What was your favorite wine featured tonight?”
“I was really impressed with the Shiloh’s 2009 Secret Reserve,” he replied
“Ya it’s pretty bold and hard, isn’t it,” I said.
“Well yes, as a matter of fact, you could say that,” he responded.
Then David swirled, sniffed and put a full taste in his mouth and spit. “Did he just do that…,” I asked Jonathan. Why is he spitting…what’s wrong with him? “Chava, you know you’re not supposed to swallow every sample, right- or you’ll get drunk!”
“No actually, I didn’t know that.” But then again, you don’t become sophisticated all in one night.
Lucky for me I don’t have to wait a whole year to evolve into sophistication. The Herzog Winery in Oxnard has ongoing smaller wine tasting events all year long as well as a wine shop and their stellar restaurant, Tierra Sur, that I plan on making my way to with my new cultivated incredibly brillant and way more sophisticated, Jonathan in the very near future. Kid brother or not, Jonathan Tabak knows his stuff!