Sandra Dunn, chairperson for the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) Kosher Food & Wine, wants you to know there's more to kosher wine than the stuff your grandfather drank at seders.
"One of the purposes of the event is to help turn kosher wine's reputation around," says Dunn, who works in partnership with the Israel Wine Producers Association. "There's a misconception that kosher wine is the mass-marketed, sweet wine served during the Jewish holidays, when, in fact, the kosher wine world encompasses a range of varietals, from Sauvignon Blanc to Merlot. What makes wine kosher is the traditional Jewish processing of the grapes, and it has nothing to do with the grape itself. It can be as tasty as any other type of wine."
On December 11, attendees of the WIZO festival at J.W. Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa in Aventura can taste more than 400 kosher wines from over 40 local and international vintners. New this year are guest winemakers from Israel, France, Italy, and New York, who will be on hand to talk about their vintages.
The festival, which raises funds for WIZO's 800 educational and social projects benefitting women and children in Israel, saw 400 attendees at its debut in 2013 at Gulfstream Park. This year, the event will take over a new waterfront space at Turnberry, where more than 1,500 guests are expected to nosh on everything from fish tacos to Peking duck to an assortment of desserts by South Florida vendors such as 26 Sushi & Tapas, the Fishery, and Ana Paz Cakes.
Kosher champagne and spirits will also flow during the four-hour tasting, and beats provided by local DJ Kaisa will complement the party-like atmosphere. In addition, works by ten visual artists will be on display for purchase, and a Sage gourmet market stand will sell fine kosher goods.
As in years past, the night before the main event, WIZO will host a live auction of vintage wines and an exclusive dinner hosted by a master chef. For the fest's seventh edition, James Beard Award-nominated chef Brad Kilgore (Alter, Ember, Kaido) will design a six-course dinner with pairings for a 75-person affair to take place at a private Miami Beach home.
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"He took on the invite as a challenge," Dunn says of Kilgore. "He'll be cooking kosher under orthodox supervision, and dishes will be paired with Psagot Israeli wine, a high-quality brand that exemplifies the finesse of the agricultural and irrigation processes of the country. It is an arid land, and yet the wines made there can be exquisite."
Suzanne Harper, director for WIZO in Florida, says guests gladly pony up $1,800 for a ticket to the dinner. "Those who attend the dinner and auction are particularly passionate about helping the children in Israel. We had one guest pay $8,500 for a bottle of rare wine last year who wants to now donate it for this year's auction."
Priced at $150 per ticket, the festival, with a grand tasting, is a more affordable fete. Dunn says the festival is more than an evening of food, drinks, and fundraising. "The great thing about it is that it offers a unique vibe and lures all kinds of food and wine lovers looking to meet like-minded people. We've even had some love matches come out of it."
WIZO Kosher Food & Wine. 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday, December 11, at JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa, 19999 W. Country Club Dr., Aventura; 305-861-8860. Tickets cost $75 to $200 via kosherfoodandwinemiami.com.