And the winner of KFWE 2023 (at least so far) goes to the Big Apple

Before we get to judging I need to restate the obvious, Royal Wines is the 800-pound Gorilla of the kosher wine market. The interesting fact is that some might say that the KFWE events are self-motivated and self-aggrandizing, and while this may be true, they are also the leading system for kosher wine self-education that we have! Also, Royal is the only company I know making a large-scale wine tasting before the Passover run. I hear there may be one in March, time will tell. Until then, Royal stepped up, even if it was self-motivated, any motivation that sells/promotes kosher wine is a WIN-WIN for all kosher wine buyers. Finally, making these events on the backend of what is now the COVID-19 wave, shows we have finally returned and that kosher wine will once again have a voice that it desperately needs, no matter the motives. So, BRAVO Royal, and now to the scoring!

One more aside, and I repeat this concept down below, It is great to want wine education and to have events that promote wines but what is even better is TALKING about wine, kosher wines. Two years ago, I dropped the ball, sure the 2021 Virtual-KFWE was a logistical mistake, and I covered that but I missed highlighting the best part of the Virtual-KFWE and something I think Royal should continue, in different ways going forward. True wine, region, and winery education! The Virtual-KFWE included guided wine tastings with Jay Buchsbaum, Erik Segelbaum, and Gabriel Geller. The videos were worth the price of admission! I continue to state this as I missed stating that in my post, and I missed seeing the forest from the trees.
With that said, Royal should go back to this, but I think on a smaller scale, think real bottles of wine, as part of a wine club, that promotes different regions, and different wineries, while promoting Royal Wines and having personal guided tastings with folks like in the virtual KFWE. Just a thought! OK, now, I mean it, on to the scoring!!

KFWE 2023 Scoring

Before I go further, I wanted to define to you my criteria for grading a wine tasting:

  1. The Venue, of course, its ambiance, and setup
  2. The wine selection
  3. The wine glasses
  4. The number of humans at the tasting
  5. the food served
  6. Finally, the reactions of the participants, though for me that is less important to me, as I judge the tasting based more upon the body language of the participants than what they say.

Now, some of these variables are subjective, rather than just objective. Take for example #1, the venue, it is highly subjective though also somewhat objective. Pier 60 is a nice place, but in comparison, the Petersen museum of the past was far more beautiful, but it had its issues as well. Sometimes too much space is actually not a good thing. The Hollywood Palladium, showed its age and issues, this year and left L.A. a bit behind the Eightball. Now, again, this is subjective, some people hate cars. They hated how big the Petersen was, and how spread-out the food and wine were. I loved the Petersen, loved the cars, and while the food and wine were spread out and difficult to find, the roominess and vast space to sit and enjoy art and wine at the same time, was truly impressive. Further, NYC needs a place to sit down, I think the VIP in both places were great for room to sit and relax but the general admission in LA was far better in its use of the space in the middle of the area, allowing for many couches and places to sit and relax.

The App is dead, long live the app!

Thankfully, this has been put to pasture and that is where it belongs. There were too many hoops to jump through from the logistics to the actual content and info. Nice idea, poor implementation. Until it is 100% rock solid – leave it off the menu as it adds more headaches than value to the customer.

Mother Nature took kindly to KFWE in NYC and LA (well mostly)

A quick footnote here, before we dive into the highly contested and dispassionate discussion around which KFWE is the best KFWE, we need to thank the good mother! Mother nature really threw us a pair of bones this year! Yes, I know that flying from NYC to LA was a bit torturous for some, and yes, I missed my upgrade by one, but come on, it was that or we get 0-degree weather and KFWE NYC would have looked more like a Flatbush Shtiebel during the summer, AKA empty!

The weather in L.A. was just divine! Clear skies, 70+ degrees, the only issue I had was that this was all inside. The Petersen of old would have hosted the trade and VIP on the massive rooftop deck, sunshine, and clear skies, I know there were issues with it, but I think that is where the KFWE L.A. needs to return. NYC’s weather was a warm 40 degrees and for February in NYC I will take that all day! It made going between Pier 60 (General Admission) and the VIP much more comfortable.

Venue (Pier 60 versus Hollywood Palladium)

The NYC KFWE was once again housed in Pier 60, while the VIP room was once again in the Current, Pier 60’s newest event space located next door near Pier 59 at Chelsea Piers. The walk over there was fine as the weather was quite acceptable for February.

The main two issues I had with KFWE NYC were a lacking of seating and a lack of a trade tasting. I find that at public tastings like KFWE, I can never get any real notes down. Further, the lack of a trade does not let us folks get a feel for what is being poured, overall. Still, trade is not what NYC is about and I get that.

KFWE LA had ample seating in both General Admission (GA) and VIP, and they had a trade tasting that allowed me to taste the Herzog wines, and a few others, in a professional manner.

Now, let us get to space, NYC GA had ample space because they had pourers that were well-trained, quick, and precise. They moved the tasters as well, via verbal queues, such that the folks behind those at the table were served quickly. Overall, it was the best showing at a KFWE in a long time. The professionalism showed by these pourers was top-notch.

Sadly, L.A. did not do the same. The pourers were nice and the Herzog table was staffed by the winery’s very professional staff. However, the remaining tables I was at and those I saw were slower and less precise. It caused the lines to queue and the spacing to feel packed.

The config in NYC was good and bad. The main issue that makes me say it was bad was the warm cooking of food, with those pizza aromas right next to wine pouring. In the past, those warm cooking aromas were at the far end of the space. Now they moved Israel to the far end and put the cooking/baking smells right next to wine tasting – UGH!! It is like a permanently placed fashionista with a bucket of perfume all over her right next to me at the tasting tables, DRIVES ME CRAZY! I liked that Israel tables were at the far end, where food used to be, for many reasons, but the food in the middle messed with the wine smells. This was one of my main complaints, so you know the overall KFWE NYC was solid. if that is the case.

Leaving the VIP aside for a moment, even without using the primary resources at the hands of KFWE LA, which are the weather and the overall L.A. style, L.A. should have won this year again. The lack of trade and seating for NYC really put it behind the Eightball. However, the number one goal of a tasting is to taste wine, and there, L.A. did not meet NYC’s new standard. I would not call the L.A. tasting a disappointment as much as I would call the NYC GA an incredibly elevated experience from previous vintages.

L.A.’s decision to move the Champagne from the Champagne room to a side section also confused me. They used the side section to pour Champagne and other sparkling wines while the Champagne room was set aside for VIP access to Herzog wines. The sectioning of areas for VIPs makes sense but why not take advantage of the nostalgia that the Champagne room emotes??

In NYC, the Israeli wine tables were empty. Let me start with the fact that too many Israeli wineries did not have proper representation, which bugs me a LOT! Many winery tables had no winemaker or owner there. They may have had some version of a marketing agent of some sort, and some were not even there or had no one representing them. Same for the French tables as well. Even the biggest names in Israel had rookies representing the table. Further, the tables overall were empty. Attendance at the table was never two deep or, at many tables, not even one deep. Just empty. Just a thought. IMHO, Israeli wineries continue in their self-destruction mindset. Trying to save a few bucks despite themselves. Outside of Amichai Luria, who is the archetype for positive wine promotion, from Israel, kosher, or not, Israeli wineries tend to look at the bottom line rather than the obvious, Royal Wines will not promote your wines, but they will sell them! Promoting and educating kosher wine buyers is on the winery’s to-do list. Show up at KFWE, show up twice a year besides KFWE, and promote your wines! That is the winery’s job!
At NYC, the busiest table was the MAIN French table, followed by other French tables, followed by Herzog, and then Capcanes/Elvi area. The covenant table was very busy as was Hajdu, but sadly Hagafen was not.

Between the two VIP sessions (NYC and L.A.) I think it was a toss-up. The NYC VIP was held again in the Current and the main issues here were the poor selection and implementation of food and the annoying smoke from the mixologists and the dried fruit table right next to the tasting table! The food was a total letdown, either the meat was overcooked or it was dull. Or at the Reserve Cut table, which was more of a show than a food table, you could have waited 30 minutes for a cube-sized piece of meat, no thanks! The wine selection at the NYC VIP was good enough. Remember, even dating back to the first VIP that KFWE LA did, VIP is always a curation process! Stay in the main room to taste what you WANT/NEED to, then go to VIP to enjoy. The seating in VIP was ample, so overall it was OK.

If there was a place where L.A. could have taken the crown again this year, it would have been in the VIP, sadly, that did not happen. Sure, only L.A. could have a cigar-smoking option, but that could not fix the VIP issues. The food was subpar and the wines were solid, but not overwhelmingly positive. I did love tasting the 2014 Chateau Soutard and the 2018 Gazin Rocquencourt, Blanc, but the overall feeling of the VIP was it did not beat out the NYC’s VIP. Both were just par or subpar.

So, from my subjective point of view, the KFWE LA fell behind in the place it needs to dominate to win the yearly crown. Location/venue/styling is where L.A. needs to dominate and I hope that next year they will find their groove and fix these issues.

Wine selection

The wine selection was the best, as usual, in NYC and this is common, though LA’s wine selection has been improving year over year. Sadly, this year, there were too many wineries and wines missing from the L.A. event. I cannot say why. Terra di Seta was a no-show at the L.A. event, as was Bokobsa a no show, and many other Israeli wineries as well.

Thankfully, all the Herzog wines were at the L.A. event, though there were no Eagle’s Landing wines, again, I am not sure why. Sadly, the Chateau Fayat was also not at the L.A. event, though the rest of the Royal-produced French wines were there, like Chateau Pontet Canet and Chateau Leoville Poyferre.

The VIP sessions in NYC and L.A. both had very nice selections of wines. I have to say that this is an NYC win, by a hair.

Wine Glasses

This is a tie, not subjectively, but objectively, as the glasses were exactly the same. The glasses were smaller, more like tasting glasses, but overall, they were solid in both NYC and L.A.

 Crowds and crowd control

The crowds in NYC were better managed than in L.A. and overall I have to give this one to NYC.

Food and participants

The food at the VIP sessions was both uninspiring and as such I will leave them to the side.

The GA for NYC was solid enough. The star of the event was the incredible Marble and Grain like they were at KFWE Miami with Kosh (Kosh is a sub-company of Marble and Grain). Marble and Grain had some lovely beef tartar, along with a beautifully cooked rib roast, and some very nice seared meat sushi. Overall, great presentation and food.
Next, in terms of quality was Sensa Kana, the fish was epic, though the dumplings were not as good as at the restaurant. Still, the raw fish was a winner.
Pizza Biza was solid, a bit behind in terms of getting the food out but they were solid when you got some. The smell of the Pizza being baked right across from the French wine table should make me HATE on them, but hey, this portion of the analysis is about the food quality, and it was nice enough. Finally, Crave bread was lovely.

The L.A. food scene was not as good as the NYC options, though there were solid showings from Yooshi Sushi, Lenny’s Casita, and Next Door had some nice cigars. I was disappointed by the Tierra Sur dishes both at trade, general admission, and the VIP table. They were all overcooked or bland, nothing that stands out. I heard the desserts were nice but I am not a sweet-tooth person.

So, if I add up the wins and losses, it shows that KFWE NYC is the 2023 KFWE of the year! Congratulations go to Royal Wines.

If L.A. wants to rise to the top I think they need to go to a place that highlights the weather and style of L.A. They need a venue with a large enough deck to have trade and VIPs like they used to at the Petersen. Seating and trade should also be important focuses for the next KFWE. Finally, doubling down on pourers, streamlining the process, and keeping the whole tables moving are the places to really further focus upon.

For NYC, move Israel upstairs to the smaller rooms above the main hall. Put in seating on both sides, and return the food to the far end so that the aromas do not affect the tasting. Bring back trade to NYC and make sure trade is really that! I heard of a few honest trade professionals that wanted to have their own tasting because the last time they were at trade it was a disaster. Indeed the 2019 and 2020 trade sessions in NYC were a colossal mess.

Overall, the restaurants tried their best and there were a few real stars, still, the quality needs to match the KFWE standard and I think that was lacking a bit this year on both coasts.

Finally, I really hope that Royal and Herzog can work together to continue with more education. The idea of having a wine professional lead a personal wine-tasting video a week after the wines arrive is easy to do and a no-brainer add-on for many of Herzog’s wine clubs.

In the end, I really need to thank Royal Wines, Herzog Wine Cellars, David Whittemore, and the rest of the Royal wine organization for hosting me over these two days. The events were a hit and thanks for putting on such a professional experience! Bravo to you both and I am looking forward to the next iterations of KFWE! Till next year! Bravo!

Posted on February 14, 2023, in Israeli Wine, Kosher French Wine, Kosher Wine, Wine, Wine Industry, Wine Tasting and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. This is a very amusing and detailed commentary. Yasher koach, David! 👏👏👏

    • Thanks, Jeff – I appreciate the comment. Your table was hopping and at the VIP I kept telling everyone to try the 19 Lot 70 – WHAT A WINE!!! Bravo buddy!

  2. Any wines that stood out to you ( for the good!)?

    • Hello Eli,

      I had tasted most of the wines before the tasting, but the 2020 Chateau Fayat was a new wine to me and it was lovely! The 2019 Covenant Solomon Lot 70 was epic as well!
      The 2020 Terra di Seta Guiduccio was riper than I would want but nice.

      Those were the new ones for me

  1. Pingback: The best/top kosher wines for Passover 2023 in all price ranges | Wine Musings Blog

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