This past week saw me hanging out with Benyo at his house for his yearly Carlebach Shabbaton. For some 15 or more years Benyamin Cantz has very kindly offered his home and space to some 40 or so souls who wish to spend time with each other and Rabbi Naftali Citron (who is currently the Rabbi of the Carlebach Shul in NY). Starting in the mid nineties, Benyamin kindly agreed to host a group of Rabbi Citron’s follower’s for a shabbaton – Carlebach Style.
This year many of the old timers were there, along with many new faces, like my own. This was a spiritual experience for me personally. Many of you who know me, know I am a religious person, but still this rustic setting, surrounded by 40 Jews who just want to get closer to God, friends, and the Rabbi, made it that much more special.
It all started on Friday day when I arrived at the winery to help prepare for the upcoming shabbos. Normally a shabbos meal is a breeze for me and /or my wife. However, 40 guests descending upon the hilltop in the middle of nowhere is not quite a normal shabbos. Along with the fact that the housing surrounding the winery and Benyamin’s house made Yosemite’s outback look like small. For as far as your eye could see around the winery there were tents upon tents. As we were preparing folks started showing up looking for a good place to drop their wares and tent. The old timers knew the best nooks, while the newbies, well they were left to fare with the second run spots. Still a hilltop surrounded by a winery, vineyard, friends, and an awesome Jewish experience is hard to call a second run spot. People would kill to be able to just park themselves down and relax among the picture perfect nature that surrounds you. The soaring Redwoods provide shade, the sounds of nature abound around you, the farm life walks about you, including horses (that show up like clockwork during the prayer service), goats, and chickens, along with the wild life as well. The feeling permeates you, no matter what you are doing. Whether I was chopping vegetables, slaving over my vegetarian lasagna, cleaning up whatever was not physically moving, implementing traffic control within the house, managing to catch a glimpse of the whitesox losing to the Orioles, it did not matter. No matter what – it was a ball and there was this palpable level of suspense and awe around the shabbos that was fast approaching. It held so much promise, mystery, and lore, that it was sure to be a grand time.
Of course Benyamin did not just wake up on Friday and start getting ready for the event. As usual, Benyamin is the cog that runs the event, but it was nice to see many step up and pitch in. As night fall quickly approached the window that overlooked the land around the winery was filled with the hustle and bustle of classic Jewish life on a Friday evening. Except here it held itself to an almost different rhythm and cadence, one filled with unbridled enthusiasm of what the wonderful shabbos held in store for them all. Ladies helped check and clean the vegetables of bugs, my most hated task in the entire world. Others made the fish or the myriads of salads that later graced the tables that evening and the following lunch and sholesh seudot.
Finally, shabbos arrived and everyone’s pulse calmed to a stillness that is reticent of a person lying on a beach in the evening watching a meteor shower. True calm and relaxation coupled with awe and excitement, waiting for the next starburst or streak of light in the sky. Things started a bit later as people arranged their lives outside. Soon we prayed the afternoon prayers and started the Kaballat Shabbat. It was at this time that I had my first real glimpse of Rabbi Citron. Until this moment I was either working, getting dressed, or leading the prayers. However, as the shabbos came into fold Rabbi Citron lit up the sky with his relaxed pace and delivery, glistening eyes, and calm and soothing voice laying out how the evening prayers would progress, culminating with a single file walk in the pitch black darkness to the overlook of the vineyard and Santa Cruz below from the peak of the hilltop, to shepherd in the Shabbos Queen, during the completion of Sholom Alechem.
The davening was led by Rabbi Citron using many Carlebach famous melodies, while also masterly weaving in some current ones as well. Once evening prayers were completed, the room transformed into what can only be explained as a version of musical chairs, except utilizing chairs, tables, partitions, and humans, all moving in a wonderful fluid dance, choreographed and masterfully managed by Benyamin and a few very nice old timers.
The meal was quickly laid out on the tables, a bounty of food, wine, and beverages. The meal started with Kiddush over a yet to be released Four Gates red wine blend. It was followed by blessing over challah. Soon, we were served an almond/carrot bisque, seasoned with a unique set of spices and flavors, including fennel/anise. This was paired with a never released 2002 Chardonnay, which is screaming with characteristics easily associated with the Meyrieux barrels the wine was aged in. The main course consisted of caper roasted salmon (awesome recipe), with the capers infusing the very flesh of the salmon, fantastic. This was accompanied by a myriad of salads and side dishes that I have honestly forgotten, there were so many! The main course was paired with a wine that I had not tasted up to that point called the 1-2 punch, a 50/50 GS mix of Grenache and Syrah. The wine was so fun, original in styling, flavor, and structure. I do not remember ever tasting a 50/50 kosher GS, so that was cool. The wine was made by Shimon & Gavriel Weiss, who started a garage winery in 2008, and have since moved a couple of times but have expanded their wines and bottle count. I hope to do a more complete write-up on them both very soon – God Willing.
The next day the day started late with a 10 AM start to prayers (give or take a bunch of minutes). The Rabbi started with a short but extremely powerful discussion of theology and the Torah portion from Rav Nachman of Breslov. The words were deep and hit home hard and often, truly wonderful. The prayers carried on for 3 plus hours, and throughout the entire service, there was a cacophony of chopping noise coming out of the kitchen, as the ladies chopped their way to the finish line, with the only proof left over being a compost bin full of vegetable carcasses and massive bowls of fresh green salad and a bunch of assorted salads, just crazy. Mega kudos go to the ladies who did all the checking and cleaning of the vegetables. However, once again it cannot be underestimated the huge round of applause that Benyamin deserves. If you can imagine a bunch of strangers showing up at our doorstep, chasing you out of your home, and setting up shop in your kitchen chopping, cutting, cooking, and cleaning, while you stood by helpless. Now I am not, God Forbid, calling the people who helped this past shabbos thugs, heaven forbid, but to Benyamin having that many people in his kitchen without being able to manage and overlook the work being done, it causes him to be uneasy and some anxiousness, both of which are not fun. Anyone in his shoes would feel the same, essentially giving over the keys to his kitchen, home, land, and sanity for an entire weekend, would drive any many batty. Yet Benyo was the consummate gentleman and host throughout the weekend, so many thanks to you my friend!
Once again the room did a quick change from prayer hall to lunch room! Once again the partitions removed, tables added, chair placements reset, and tables set with eating utensils and loaded high with food. My lasagna was served along with a lovely trout and mounds of salads and dips. The food was paired with more 2002 Chardonnay, the 2004 Yatir mix, a bottle of 2006 Four Gates Merlot, a bottle of the 2005 Red Fern Merlot, and a crazy bottle of Syraph made by the Weiss brothers. This may well have been the highlight of the day for me when everyone around the tables went around and all said a quick word on the Torah portion, or told us history of the event, or just introduced themselves. Either way it was clearly a situation where all the participants opened themselves to the group, making them openly vulnerable by allowing us to see them all in a different light. Once again Rabbi Citron orchestrated the turns, allowing us all to partake and make it a memorable part of the shabbaton.
There was even a clandestine meat cholent after lunch served outside on paper plates of course. The cholent was constructed by Gavriel before shabbos, and I helped a bit cutting the vegetables up. However, he brought the meat and stuffing – it was a killer cholent! The Weiss brothers kindly poured a bottle of 1-2 punch and it was awesome again.
After the meals and the cholent it was time for a pair of classes from Rabbi Citron and they were wonderful. The first parlayed off my daily Daf Yomi studies, while the second was more teachings from Rav Nachman of Breslov. That was followed by Mincha services and are you kidding me – more food!!!! Yep, sholesh seudot! I could barely eat. I ate my requisite slice or two of bread, so no wine consumed.
Finally, the evening came to an end with a lovely havdalah service, once again led by Rabbi Citron. My personal take aways from it all was the warmth, the openness, the nature and the slow pace, the lovely voice and davening of Ra bi Citron, his classes, and all the awesome food. It was a wonderful event and one that I hope will continue so that I can lend a hand again and partake of it powerful messages.
Normally I give notes for wine I taste, but this time, I can only state a few take aways and score for each of the wines. So with my disclaimers stated the wine notes follow below:
2008 One Two Punch (Grenache/Syrah 50%/50% Blend) – Score: A-
The nose on this blue to purple colored wine is screaming with either chocolate malt or espresso coffee (different nose between two bottles), sweet oak, crushed herbs, and lovely red fruit. A medium bodied wine that plays into a bigger wine in your mouth from its mouthfeel of integrating tannins, oak, and chocolate malt/espresso coffee. The fruit peeks out in the mid palate along with acidity that is slightly unbalanced. The finish is long with herbs, more malt/coffee, and oak. The tannins are nicely integrating creating a more plush mouthfeel.
2005 Red Fern Cabernet – Score: Drink up
This wine is in a world of hurt and needs to be drunk now. Not memorable in any way.
2005 Red Fern Merlot – Score: B to B+
After the Cabernet debacle I was not expecting anything from this wine. However, it was barely alive showing nice mouthfeel, along with oak, black plum, and raspberry. Not bad, drink up.
2004 Yatir Blend (40% Cab/40% merlot/20% Shiraz) – Score: A-
The nose on this purple to black colored wine is screaming with tobacco, oak, spice, blackberry, and plum. The mouth on this full-bodied wine is packed with blackberry and nicely integrating tannins. The mid palate is balanced with oak and acidity. The finish is super long with tobacco, spicy oak, blackberry, and plum.
2008 Syraph (85% Syrah and 15% Grenache) - Score A-
The nose on this screaming eagle of a wine is packed with tar, oak, blackberry, plum, pepper, malt chocolate, and spice. The mouth follows the nose with crazy concentration of tar, blackberry, and oak. The mid palate is balanced with oak, nice tannins, and chocolate malt. The finish is super long and elegant with more tar, blackberry, chocolate malt, and pepper. Quite a nice bottle.
For those interested in buying some of the Syraph wine or the 1-2 (One Two) Punch wine please post a comment to get Shimon Weiss email address. I do not want to post it here, as it would just mean more spam for Shimon. I receive ZERO from their business. I am not affiliated or in business with them in anyway. I will reply to your comment via email with Shimon’s email address.
Roasted Chicken, Couscous and Abarbanel Beaujolais Villages, Red Fern Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Fern Syrah
This past week we made a bowl of lovely couscous by steaming it over a pot of chicken soup, along with some really nice lemon roasted chicken. The couscous is one of the best I have ever made. Normally I take a box of Niles East Plain Couscous and place it in steam basket above a boiling pot of chicken soup. On an aside, I never imagined I could actually place the couscous in this steamer insert. The holes on this thing look so big and the couscous kernels are so small, I thought they would all fall though. But the trick is to wet the holes of the steamer so that the couscous sticks to it, until it cooks fully. Also, as it cooks it puffs up and the next trick is to move the couscous in the steamer around so that you see the holes of the steamer. This allows the steam to move around the steamer insert and create an almost convection like atmosphere in the steamer.
Anyway, this time the pot was so full with soup, that when we placed the insert into the pot, soup leaked into the insert itself. I decided what the heck, I poured the couscous into the insert and sure enough 15 minutes later, the couscous was done. It was by the far the very best couscous I ever made, fluffy and flavored perfectly. The soup was equally enjoyable and the lemon/herb roasted chicken that my wife prepared to accompany the couscous was quite enjoyable as well. I guess experimenting every so often is not so bad.
To pair with the chicken and couscous I looked for a nice light bottle of wine and found a Beaujolais that would go nicely with dinner. A friend swung by before Sabbath started and brought the two Red Fern bottles over to taste, so the notes are included below as well.
The wine notes follow below:
2007 Abarbanel Beaujolais Villages – Score: B
The nose on this light burgundy/ruby colored wine is filled with strong dirt, mineral, and earth notes, along with strawberry, cherry, tarragon and spice. The mouth on this light to medium bodied wine is almost sweet with cherry and strawberry. The mid palate is acidic and bright with slight coffee flavors. The medium long finish is spicy with slight acidity. I highly recommend that you drink up as soon as possible and that once you open the bottle it should be drunk without waiting for it to air out.
2005 Red Fern Cabernet Sauvignon – Score: B+
The nose on this dark garnet colored wine is really nice with cranberry, plum, blackberry, sweet oak, and anise. The mouth of this full bodied wine is mouth coating with soft tannins, plum, cranberry, and cassis. The wine flows into a mid palate of strong acidity, oak, and coffee. The finish is long with more acid, wood, black fruit, and dark chocolate.
2005 Red Fern Syrah – Score: B – B+
The nose on this dark garnet wine colored wine was the best feature of the wine by far, with strong blackberry, cassis, and cherry, oak, and herbs. The mouth was way out of whack, which was a real shame — the acid was not commensurate with the wine’s body and structure. Still, the mouth starts with blackberry and cassis. The mouth flows into a mid palate of way too much acidity and tannin. The finish is average long with more acid and hints of leather and chocolate. I hope this wine settles down to reveal the fruit that lies behind the acid and tannin firewall. Until then, I would say your money is better spent on other Kosher Syrah options.
Baked Gefilte Fish Loaf, Veal Roast, Roasted Root Vegetables, Galil Barbera, Red Fern Chardonnay, Petit Castel, and Goose Bay Viognier
With our family still with us, I thought it would be cool to try a Veal Roast. The roast was pretty simple, except that I decided to make it complex, which was kind of yummy and complex. I whipped up a batch of caramelized thinly sliced white onions and browned mushrooms. My mother-in-law peeled the veal roast apart and laid the onion and mushroom mixture into the cavity. She then wrapped it and placed the roast’s netting back on it so that the roast stayed together. We roasted it at 350 until it was done. The roast was a hit and so were the baked gefilte fish, eggplant mixture, and roasted vegetables, the recipe for the rest of the stuff is here.
Veal roast is a light weight meat and so, I wanted to try it with a nice Viognier. I have spoken a few times about how much I love the Goose Bay Viognier and I must say that the Viognier is still going strong. I am so proud of myself for opening it a couple of hours ahead of time, and it could have still used more air – crazy. It paired crazy well with the Veal roast, but could have been colder. A friend brought over the Petit Castel, so we popped it open and it too was a joy. The Red Fern Chardonnay and Galil Barbera wines were opened prior to the meal for a wine tasting, and were enjoyed with the meal.
The wine notes follow below:
2007 Goose Bay Viognier - Score: A (no change from previous notes)
The nose of this light yet bright straw colored wine was filled with classic Viognier perfume, grapefruit, apricot and citrus aromas. The mouth of this medium bodied wine is strikingly fruity while also being infused with the perfume quality. The mid palate is strongly acidic and laced with grapefruit, lemon, and green flavors. The finish is acidic in an almost puckering way. I must say, that a nice perfumed nose and mouth while still dry, is great with heavy foods like roasted duck or turkey. But because it is so dry, it fails to stand up to spicy foods.
2006 Galil Mountain Barbera – Score: B+
The nose on this ruby to garnet-colored wine is hot out of the bottle, and has cranberry, cassis, plum, leather and oak. The mouth on this medium to full-bodied wine follows the nose, and is filled with cranberry, cassis, and plum. The mid palate is mouth coating with soft tannins, bright acidity and nice rich oak. The finish is long… with oak, leather, and chocolate. The wine is quite enjoyable, and shows that Barbera can be made successfully in Israel.
2005 Red Fern Chardonnay – Score: B+
The nose on this light straw-colored wine is green with vegetal notes, along with citrus and apple. The mouth on this medium bodied wine is green with bright acidity, citrus and apple. The mid palate is creamy with oak, while staying crisp with nice acidity. The finish is medium long, creamy, with custard and acidity. The folks at Red Fern have done a good job of not trying to do more with the grapes than nature has given them
2004 Petit Castel – Score: A-
This wine was awesome and totally overpowered the poor veal roast. Still, the wine was awesome. The nose on this deep and dark garnet colored wine is popping with blackberry, cassis, currant, oak, and chocolate – lots of chocolate. The mouth of this full bodied wine carries over from the nose with more black fruit and chocolate. The mouth is full and velvety and complex with layers of fruit and chocolate. The mid palate is balanced with just enough acidity to keep it all together. The finish is long with fruit, pepper, and more chocolate. Quite a nice wine, but drink up as it is at its peak.