The clinking of wine glasses mixed with corks popping from kosher champagne bottles and the sounds of chopsticks breaking apart as people scooped up sushi could mean only one thing: It was once again time for the Kosher Food & Wine Experience (KFWE), hosted by Royal Wine Inc.
The annual event, held for the sixth year on Monday night at New York City’s Chelsea Piers, drew 2,500 people, including 1,500 consumers and 1,000 industry insiders. The sold-out crowd represented an increase of 50 percent from last year’s event, which also sold out, according to Mordy Herzog, vice president of Royal Wine. Selling out, however, is not the goal, he said.
“Our goal is not to have a bigger show,” he said. “Our goal of the show is to get more people who are interested in learning about wines, about great quality foods, to get them in the doors, have them try the wines, enjoy the wines, enjoy the experience, and get them more passionately involved in the world of wines.”
For Isaac Posner of Wesley Hills, N.Y., the chance to taste newly unveiled wines was the draw, he said, pointing to Binyamina’s Aquamarine, a light cabernet, as his early favorite.
“I enjoy good food and I like good wine, so it’s a perfect deal for me,” he said of the show.
Adam and Lindsay Berger of Manhattan were enjoying the hot pastrami and corned beef carving stations by Pomegranite, the Brooklyn-based upscale kosher market. The couple also enjoyed the Covenant line of wines from California.
“Having such a large selection of wines in one place that are accessible, being able to try them is fantastic,” Adam Berger said.
Wine should never be served alone, and the KFWE offered an array of sushi, tacos, sausages, and desserts from more than 25 kosher restaurants, markets, and food companies. Teaneck’s Etc Steakhouse was serving up braised oxtail with a house-made barbecue sauce and crushed red mashed potatoes to guests. While owner Seth Warshaw certainly hoped to attract new customers, his purpose at KFWE was more to enjoy the atmosphere.
“We’re definitely here to have a good time, get together with other kosher restaurants, and show that kosher food is not what it used to be,” he said. “Everybody’s doing interesting food these days, pushing the envelope.”
Other tantalizing selections included chicken korma from Shalom Bombay of Manhattan, veal shepherd’s pie from Silverleaf Caterers in Riverdale, and seared prime beef from The Reserve Sushi Steakhouse in Lakewood.
“It’s a great show, and we’re very happy to see people who truly love wine,” said Assaf Paz of Binyamina Wines, which was showcasing 13 wines, including five new labels. “This is a great opportunity for us to show our wines, both to people that know us already – and we’re making the bonds stronger between us – and people that are new to the wine world in general and Binyamina specifically.”
While the majority of the wine vendors Royal sells to are non-Jewish stores, kosher wine still faces an uphill battle in the mainstream market. The overly sweet flavor of kosher wine is a myth that still persists, according to Herzog, especially in the secular media. He still reads headlines declaring that kosher wine is not the same syrupy, sweet stuff it used to be, but, he said, that is not new; that story has been written regularly since the 1980s.
Royal has had great success with its sweet Bartenura moscato and its semi-sweet Jeunesse, but the company also produces a number of dry and semi-dry wines, including merlots, pinot noirs, and cabernet sauvignons that can stand up to their non-kosher competition. Such countries as Spain, New Zealand, and Italy are producing great, new wines, he said, and if a winery can make a great non-kosher wine, there is no reason it cannot make a great kosher one.
“In wine there need not be any sacrifices in quality,” he said.
One surprising mistake consumers make, however, Herzog said, is to declare a favorite wine and drink it repeatedly. Part of vacationing is to see different places, different climates, different cultures, he said. “How can you get stuck on one place? You’re missing out on the world. You’re missing out on the art of wine if you’re going to get hung up on one wine and say I’m drinking this every Shabbes. Explore.”
And just as kosher wine consumers have grown more interested in wine and are trying new flavors, he said, wine producers have a responsibility to continue to provide new selections.
“The growth of kosher wine is not a Royal Wine story, it’s a customer story,” Herzog said. “We owe it to them.”