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Dec 18, 201308:44 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

How To Get Out of a Beverage Rut

Here's what to try the next time you head to the bar.

elvinstar, stock.xchng, 2005.

Ruts are not good. In fact they are boring, tiresome and completely uninteresting.

Okay, so you have found a beverage of choice; something you like. You are satisfied with your selection and maybe even a bit smug. So why rock the boat? You keep going back to the default position.

Yet, here’s the real deal: you are better and deserve to live a more interesting existence. There are discoveries out there waiting for you. Yes, you. This is especially true at this time of year and during the upcoming Carnival season.

We are all finding ourselves right now at parties, bars and fun destinations. And instead of looking around and seeing what our fellow celebrants are enjoying, sometimes we simply head to the easy and “safe” beverage. “Oh, I’ll have the Chardonnay,” or “What kind of red wine is that?” or “Sorry, I did not mean to put my hand there.” Whoops, forget that last one. That has nothing to do with our column today. Sorry.

Anyway, let’s try something new. Let’s be a bit adventurous. Let’s not turn up our nose when someone offers us a beverage with which we are not familiar. First open your mind, and then open your mouth.

Pinot Noir
Yes, you are very cool. You have tried the “hot” grape, pinot noir. And you’ve seen Sideways, the movie. Whoa, you’re in with the in-crowd. Pinots from Sonoma Coast, Russian River, Willamette (Oregon) are a part of your repertoire.

But have you tried pinot noir from Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, all in California? How about Central Otago in New Zealand? South Africa?

Pinot Noir is such a sensitive grape that each one is different from its cousins in other places. Just because you are enamored with Russian River Pinot Noir does not mean you won’t like the same grape with different characteristics from other places. Even from other continents.

Oh come now, you still don’t cringe when your host/hostess offers you a glass of pink wine? You can’t still be threatened by the color and worried that the wine is too sweet, even though you have no problem sitting down to lunch with a glass of sweet tea?

Rosé wines come in a wide variety of grape types: merlot, syrah, grenache, pinot noir, malbec and even cabernet sauvignon. Hardly any of the rosé wines on the shelves are sweet, except the very inexpensive bottles. All are quite bone-dry, and many present the characteristics of their main grape ingredient, which means they are meaty and approachable young. Most possess good tannins and good acid structures. And most don’t deserve that look you give them when you see the color.

Okay, so you like Scotch and Bourbon. Whoopee! Now, here’s the deal: Try one that is older and enjoy it without a splash of water or even ice.

Older whiskies take on additional dimensions of depth, nuttiness, sweetness, color and smooth finishes. The additional time spent in the barrel does wonderful things to the spirit. The only danger here is that you will start to truly enjoy the older, and more expensive, liquid.

Why don’t you like this stuff? It’s delightfully complex and quite satisfying. Here again, the older it is, the more interesting it becomes.

Afraid of the “burn?” Then you are drinking it wrong. Unlike drinking wine, Cognac is enjoyed with your mouth and teeth closed, not bringing in air to open it up. You will be amazed at how smooth and tasty fine Cognac really is.

Okay, I’ll admit this one is a challenge. If you are ever in an airplane about to run out of fuel, and you have a few bottles of grappa, you’re good. Grappa is a truly acquired taste. It is not user-friendly. And it demands that you drink only the best.

Otherwise, you are going to be in the same fix you are in now, not understanding the stuff. Grappa is the Italian version of Cognac, only with more complications and lots of alcohol, but since it’s made from grapes, there are lots of flavors and nuances.

For Chardonnay drinkers, this white wine from Argentina presents a nice change of pace, and it’s pretty inexpensive. Fun spice notes on the palate and a pretty floral experience on the nose make a well-made torrontes such a pleasant experience.

Torrontes can be hurt in quality due to over-planting, leaving the fruit hanging on the vine beyond the time they are ripe, and improper vinification techniques in the winery. Of course, those statements are true of every wine on the planet. Torrontes is something you will enjoy, and you can amaze your friends with the breadth of your knowledge and wine appreciation.

So why did this dork writer list a spirit from Peru or Chile, right after a white wine from Argentina? I’m not as crazy as I look. Thankfully.

Pisco is a grape-based spirit that is claimed by two countries, and they are willing to do battle over who did the first and where. Pisco is made from the torrontes grape (oh, that’s why he did that), and is quite versatile.

You can make something wonderful in the form of a Pisco Sour or Pisco Punch. Or you can head over to one of our excellent local watering holes and let a professional do either one, or both, for you. 

I would be remiss if I did not suggest that you avail yourself of a few of our new locally made spirits and beers.

Over the past year we have seen distilleries open in Thibodaux (Bayou Rum) and Lacassine (Louisiana Spirits), La. We have watched as new products from the ‘hood hit the shelves, like the absinthe or the gin from Atelier Vie, located in Mid-City.

And Celebration Distillation: Old New Orleans Rum, continues on their steady way with fine efforts, perfect for both sipping and mixing.

As for the beers, the local scene is in a population explosion, both in terms of number of breweries and product. I covered this earlier in a very recent column.

Climb out of the rut and try new things. You may not find a lot of great outcomes, but there will be a pony in there somewhere.



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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans


In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.


Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.


Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.


Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.


They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.


Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.


Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.


Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.


It’s a good gig. 




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