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2012 Herzog International Wine Festival – a feast for all the senses under the big top!

This past week I was under a big top enjoying kosher wines from around the world and Chef Aaron Todd’s sumptuous splendors were available for all to enjoy. The event was the 2012 Herzog International Food and Wine Festival (IFWF) that was being held at the stately Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City. Last year’s event was held at the state-of-the-art Herzog Winery, in Oxnard CA. The intimate lighting and setting was lovely last year, but the combination of the Royal’s larger wine portfolio, the wonderful food, and the growing crowds made it feel like the event was getting too big for its britches. So, with much dismay we waited to hear where the event was going to move to. When the word came out that the event was going to be held at the legendary Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Century City – the event became the must attend hot ticket event for everyone who enjoys food and wine in the LA area – which is about all Los Angelenos.

Now before anyone thinks the event was held in the stately Los Angeles Ballroom – it was not. Actually, it was held in the lovely Plaza Pavilion, whose name does not even begin to give the unique 9,000+ square foot space its due. The event was moved from the somewhat cramped, yet intimate, setting of the winery to a beautiful tent that is a permanent fixture in the hotel and the social calendar of many a LA party hopper. Actually it is with good reason, if I may say so, as the room is a long rectangle with sufficient yet dim-able lighting and enough space to host the many food and wine stands that the 500 or so attendees partook of. Never during the evening did I feel cramped or claustrophobic like I did last year. Further, while the smell of charring wood and meat is a huge turn-on (for me), it totally messes with my olfactory abilities, which when attending a wine tasting (not drinking) event – really bites! There were copious examples of carnivore delights, which were all prepared on site, but the smells did not permeate the walls of the pavilion. The larger space allowed for more vertical sitting spaces with round tables, in case you were not heads down like I was tasting wines. Also, the ability to stroll out of the pavilion and sit in the reception area, a few feet away, made for a far more roomy feeling event. Finally, the pavilion’s lovely champagne, antique gold and chocolate-brown colors, along with the chandeliers and wall-to-wall carpeting made for an evening of sheer elegance and grandeur. Just an aside, while the surroundings were indeed attention grabbing, the guests who attended the event were equally well draped. Some came with tails and a top hat, others dressed to kill in evening ware gowns and suits. I of course, jeans and long sleeve shirt, however, the majority of the crowd were clearly channeling the elegance of the evening.

The confluence of events that just happened to fall on Wednesday, February 15th, made it feel like the odds were stacked against a successful foray out of Herzog’s home base. First it rained – I mean pouring rain! If any of you saw L.A. Story, I hope you can appreciate how rare that is – even in the so-called winter! Further, POTUS decided to do not one, but TWO drive-bys, bringing traffic to a standstill while people craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the most powerful man in the free world. Still, blessedly, nor rain nor sleet nor traffic (the latter a very common malady that Los Angelenos are used to) can keep good citizens of LA from enjoying some seriously good wine and food. The event to me was a major success for many reasons, but the main reason was the fact that sure the event was attended by Jews interested in seeing what wines to buy for the upcoming Purim and Passover. However, there was a large contingency of party goers who attended the evening festivities to enjoy good food and wine – irreverent to their religious and dietary beliefs (which trust me in LA is saying a LOT)! The opportunity to show the L.A. glitterati that the word kosher does not relegate one to an automatic 15 minute timeout, is serious step forward for the kosher industry. Read the rest of this entry

Kosher wine tasting at the Cask in LA featuring Celler de Capcanes and Shiloh Winery Wines

This past week my friend and I drove down to Los Angeles, CA to taste kosher wines at the 2012 Herzog International Food and Wine Festival (IFWF). The night before the IFWF we called The Cask, a new wine store on Pico, in Los Angeles, and they said they were having a wine tasting. I guess in my life, you can never taste too much wine! Though to get to the Cask, I had to drive for 1 hour to go 4 miles! My goodness, LA is really a nasty place to drive around during rush hour!

The Cask is not the first wine store in LA, but it is the first kosher-only wine store in Los Angeles, catering to the Jewish crowd that geographically surrounds it from all sides. There have been kosher wine stores before in LA, but a store that sells only kosher wine does take serious courage in this economy.

The Cask, the brain child of Michael Bernstein and Sivan Vardi (Sivan has since moved on), opened quietly, and just in time for Passover 2011. It had its red carpet grand opening in June 2011, with a real red carpet for people to show off their love for wine and haute couture. Interestingly, while neither partner has been part of the retail wine business before, the event I was at was well attended and went off without any hitch, from what I could see.

The front of the store, looks like any other wine store you may find yourself in on an early Friday afternoon looking for some wine to go with you cholent and roast chicken. However, the layout is still quite nice and the prices are competitive, from the quick check that I did Thursday night. However, the website is the weakest link. It is missing the social touch that is sorely needed to be competitive in this market, something that Sivan seemed to be doing before she left in September of last year. The prices are not on the site and the daily deals still show a wine from last September.

Clearly, the Cask is not trying to copy or do battle with some dude in his basement who cobbles up a kosher online wine store. Rather the Cask is all about the local touch of a high-end store where you taste and experience the wine with winemakers or wine professionals. Sure, maybe LA doesn’t need another place to go and buy kosher wine, though the Cask fills that admirably. What LA craves is the ability to walk into an establishment that has 200 or more wines and not be bewildered by the selection. The hope of the store is to educate the kosher drinking public about the hundreds of options available, and let them decide which wines best suit their palate or cuisine. Read the rest of this entry

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