Grape Expectations

A guide to the wine experience around town

Pearl Wine Co.

BRYAN TARNOWSKI

Since New Orleans’ international reputation for holding a really good party at the least provocation is relatively intact and properly recognized, it seems only fair, and maybe redundant, to note that we’re on a cordial, intimate, first-name basis with both wine and spirits.

As the nouvelle cocktail craze has taken hold across America, guess who has moved among the top-tier of cities performing classical and cutting-edge work?

When every city was embracing wines from California and Australia, guess who respectively hung back and continued to appreciate Old World wines reflecting heritage? Only after the new entries proved themselves to be worthy, then which city moved into the fray, defining the blend of both indigenous cuisine and American expertise in creating something innovative?

Easy quiz. The answer to all questions is New Orleans. But you knew that.

From the founding of our village all the way through the Spanish regime and beyond, wine was a preferred beverage of New Orleans society. The crass Americans brought grain-based spirits down the river into our community. That was fine by our ancestors. Wine was never replaced, only supplanted.

When you thirst for something fermented not distilled, you’re never more than a few steps away from satisfying your desires. While our community does possess bars and clubs devoted almost exclusively to wine, we’re also fortunate to have outlets that feature special wines along with other libations. Whatever the destination, everyone in the party will be happily satisfied.


Bacchanal

Wine Bars
(mostly)

WINO, Wine Institute of New Orleans.  The abbreviated name connotes something not so nice, but the longer name is more august. WINO makes full use of the Italian enomatic automatic wine-dispensing machine. In goes your card and you determine what wine you want and how much. Bryan Burkey, owner and proprietor, offers a constantly changing selection of more than 100 wines from around the globe by the glass and by the bottle.

The Delachaise. The oddly shaped building on St. Charles Avenue near Touro Infirmary dispenses an interesting selection of fine wines that may not be available anywhere else in town. Evan Hayes, owner and wine buyer, is willing to purchase in small lots and then make the wines available by the glass or the bottle at reasonable prices. Some excellent frites and snack plates are also featured.

Patrick’s Bar Vin. The name Bar Vin doesn’t lie but the offerings are much broader at this clubby and quite charming location right off the madness of Bourbon Street. Patrick Van Hoorebeek – Belgian by birth, New Orleanian by choice – brings in some fine beer from his original home country, along with well-crafted cocktails, most based with wines. Request a Patrick’s Intimate Kiss – it’s a drink, don’t let him fool you.

Tommy’s Wine Bar. Next door to Tommy’s Cuisine, a signature New Orleans-Italian restaurant, Tommy’s Wine Bar is a living room that’s both comfortable and welcoming. It isn’t stuffy or pretentious and the dimly lit room sets the mood for pleasant banter and moody sweet-nothings. Live music on several nights doesn’t interfere with conversation.

Orleans Grapevine. Right behind St. Louis Cathedral, across from the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, the building dates from 1809, and the player piano adds to an authentic French Quarter ambience. The wine list is adequate, not ambitious, and the cuisine that the minuscule kitchen prepares amazes. An intimate patio makes for an excellent dining and drinking experience.

Oak Wine Bar & Bistro. Oak’s devotion to new New Orleans music in a classy, modern setting assures that the enjoyment of fine wine will be that much better. It doesn’t hurt that chef Aaron Burgau of Patois has created a small-plate menu, perfect to accompany various wines under the headings of “Splendor in the Grass,” or “Stones and Acid,” among other colorful descriptors.

Bacchanal. Walk into this place and force yourself to imagine you’re any place else but Bywater – you can’t even entertain the notion for a moment. It is a wine shop, and a well-stocked one at that. There is food from chef Joaquin Rodas and music most nights. The lively patio is where you’ll want to be. And then there’s the regular crowd; as they like to say, “This ain’t Galatoire’s.”

Vine and Dine. What could be more romantic than a sea cruise, finishing with an excellent glass of wine or a tête-à-tête over dinner? Frankie Ford was right. Just off the Canal Street-Algiers ferry landing on the west bank of the Mississippi River sits Vine and Dine. Small, intimate and quiet, with only four tables and a few bar seats, you won’t believe you’re still in the city. It is another world, indeed.

The Wine Loft Mandeville. Originally conceived as a franchise of wine bars scattered throughout the country, Wine Loft has evolved into single locations that can offer what its patrons desire. A nice gathering spot for meeting friends, with sofa-conversation areas as well as a roomy bar space, food is available, mostly falling into the shared-plate category. Live music is a hallmark, as are low light levels throughout the evening.

Bacchanal
600 Poland Ave.
948-9111
BacchanalWine.com

The Delachaise
3442 St. Charles Ave.
895-0858
TheDelachaise.com

Oak Wine Bar & Bistro
8118 Oak St.
302-1485
OakNola.com

Orleans Grapevine
720 Orleans Ave.
523-1930
OrleansGrapevine.com

Patrick’s Bar Vin
730 Bienville St.
200-3180
PatricksBarVin.com

Tommy’s Wine Bar
746 Tchoupitoulas St.
525-4790
TommysNewOrleans.com

Vine and Dine
141 Delaronde St.
361-1402
Vine-Dine.com

The Wine Loft Mandeville
1901 U.S. 190
Mandeville
(985) 674-5988
TheWineLoftMandeville.net

WINO, Wine Institute
  of New Orleans
610 Tchoupitoulas St.
324-8000
WinoSchool.com

Wine Shops that feature Wine Bars

WINO, Wine Institute of New Orleans

Martin Wine Cellar. The granddaddy of all wine stores in the region, Martin has created in their flagship Metairie store a fully stocked bottle shop, a deli, as well as a wine tasting area – all three of which are deserving of patronage when you visit. The deli creates one of the best hamburgers in the area.

Swirl. Tucked into a side street, right off Esplanade Avenue, this quite well-done wine shop cum wine bar is a neighborhood favorite destination spot. A changing by-the-glass list usually covers an interesting range of grape-growing locales and styles of wines. Local art and nice offerings of deli items completes the Faubourg St. John experience. Very, very, very pet friendly.

Faubourg Wines. This place is the ultimate proof that the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods have truly arrived. Catherine Markel, owner and proprietor, hand picks every wine in her inventory and does not mind sharing why any particular label was chosen. Delivery is available in the neighborhood and patrons are encouraged to buy a bottle from the stock, pay a $2 corkage, sit down at the bar and share their thoughts. Cheese plates from St. James Cheese Co. are available, and your well-behaved dog is as welcome as you are.

Pearl Wine Co. Formerly Cork & Bottle, this place recently changed hands and has a hipper vibe than before. The separate but connected wine and cocktail bar offers an excellent selection of fun Old and New World Wines. There are many evening tastings; some even free. Leora Madden, proprietor and owner, is committed to stocking and sharing the 600 wines in the store, many from small producers that are not available anywhere else. The bar is a congenial neighborhood gathering spot.

Faubourg Wines
2805 St. Claude Ave.
342-2217
FaubourgWines.com

Martin Wine Cellar
Various locations in New Orleans, Metairie, Mandeville and Baton Rouge
MartinWine.com

Pearl Wine Co.
3700 Orleans Ave.
483-6314
PearlWineCo.com

Swirl
3143 Ponce de Leon St.
304-0635
SwirlInTheCity.com

Bars that Serve Fine Wines
(along with other pleasures)

The Delachaise

SoBou. Tucked against the wall in a room full of picnic-style tables, some with beer taps in the middle, are a row of self-serve wine dispensing machines. The SoBou team, with consultation by sommelier Dan Davis of Commander’s Palace, keeps a good stock in rotation offering whites and reds, alongside excellent bar-bites and a fun bar scene.

G. W. Fins. Maybe the most overlooked wine list in town, with plenty of by-the-glass offerings, Fins now has a unique program where wine never served in the glass-only fashion is available. If you don’t think you want to pay $110 for an excellent bottle, satisfy your curiosity with a glass for a lot less dough.

Fountain Lounge. This latest dining and drinking outlet at The Roosevelt New Orleans is just off the main lobby, adjacent to The Sazerac Bar. The Fountain Lounge was first installed in the hotel in 1938, closed in ’65 and replaced by the Sazerac Restaurant; today it’s making a comeback. A raw seafood bar with local cuisine, a fine wine list with many selections – even a usually almost-never-offered-by-the-glass Tignanello – and many wines available from a storage and dispensing unit give you numerous reasons to visit this “newest” destination within a grand hotel. Off topic: the grilled oysters here are excellent.

Emeril’s. The home office of what has become a dining empire, from his beginnings Emeril Lagasse wasn’t only committed to restating New Orleans cuisine, he was also devoted to a wine-centric program by presenting the total package to his friends and patrons. Emeril’s has one of the great wine lists in town and many of his outstanding selections are available by the glass as you sit at the serving bar enjoying tasty menu tidbits, or at a table fully participating in the energy of this dining destination.

Annunciation. Bringing the feel of an Uptown restaurant downtown to the Warehouse District, Annunciation has one of the most progressive bar programs in New Orleans. The enclosed glass wine tower at the restaurant’s entrance makes the statement that you’ll find appealing offerings by the bottle and by the glass. The bar scene is varied and offers an interesting overview of the entire operation. Wines from all over the planet can be yours with a simple request.

Domenica. John Besh and Alon Shaya have created quite the Italian bistro, albeit on a grand and energetic scale. As you would expect, the core thought is fully fleshed out and no decision is left to haphazard chance. Authenticity is the guiding principle. The wine list is heavy with unique offerings from the Italian boot, and the by-the glass program is worthy of just dropping by and having a pizza and a glass of red (or white) sitting at the diminutive bar. There is nothing like this list elsewhere in town. Oh, did I mention half-price on both wines and pizza every day, from 3 to 6 p.m.?

Tableau. This newest establishment from New Orleans Magazine’s Restaurateur of the Year 2013, Dickie Brennan, is in one of the most majestic locations in the city. Right on a corner of Jackson Square, with views of The Cabildo and the Upper Pontalba, Tableau is in the same building as Le Petit Théâtre. The wine list is complete, but interestingly the centerpiece of the list is a carafe serving program with wine drawn from kegs that have been shipped to the restaurant, just as is done in the fine cafes of France.

Bouligny Tavern. Do not let the kitschy furniture throw you – the seating area looks like a living room of some of your parents’ friends that you were forced to endure when you were 10 years old – but the energy is unmistakably vibrant and very Uptown. A grand bar, tables and a long banquette are usually crowded but you’ll no doubt find someone you know with whom to sit. The wine list is carefully chosen from important wine-growing areas, but isn’t the usual pedigree. Bar bites of retro style are perfectly suited to the environment and way too often overlooked. Bouligny is right next door to Lilette, and also owned by John Harris, Lilette’s renowned and oft-awarded chef-owner.

Annunciation
1016 Annunciation St.
568-0245
AnnunciationRestaurant.com

Bouligny Tavern
3641 Magazine St.
891-1810
BoulignyTavern.com

Domenica
The Roosevelt New Orleans
123 Baronne St.
648-6020
DomenicaRestaurant.com

Emeril’s
800 Tchoupitoulas St.
528-9393
EmerilsRestaurants.com

Fountain Lounge
The Roosevelt New Orleans
123 Baronne St.
648-1200
TheRooseveltNewOrleans.com/Dining/foundation-lounge.html

G.W. Fins
808 Bienville St.
581-3467
GWFins.com

SoBou
310 Chartres St.
552-4095
SoBouNola.com

Tableau
616 Saint Peter St.
934-3463
TableauFrenchQuarter.com

The Right Way: Understanding Wine bars

Wine bars are strange animals. They serve products from places you may never have heard of, made with grapes that you may not know but just about everyone is using, and the outcomes are all over the board. To confuse a wine bar with a cocktail lounge isn’t the way to experience what can be a fascinating evening.

The wine bars chosen for this story were included for several reasons. First, they actually bill themselves as “wine bars” – simple and straightforward. And secondly, many bars today, particularly those noted in the accompanying article, feature wines that are off the usual path. Sometimes the uninformed patron can become a bit uncomfortable. It isn’t a hole in your education if you don’t know what a Picpoul is, but it is a hole in your quality of life if you’re not the least bit curious.

And that’s the purpose of a wine bar. Sure, go on and have a non-descript chardonnay if that’s what you wish. Yet, give the list a good, long look. Ask the server to recommend something. Try a glass of a wine of which you would normally not buy a whole bottle. Travel to places you’ve never been without ever leaving your chair. Enjoy aromas and tastes that have never been in your life before that very moment.

You can always order a Cosmo or a Scotch on the rocks, but this is your opportunity is to move a different way. If you’re unsure of whether you even would like a full glass of a wine, ask the server if you could have a small taste to see what you think. Almost always he or she will oblige.

Then you’ll have found new friends, both behind the bar, beside you on the next stool and in the glass. A votre santé.
 

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