Dinners, Tastings, Seminars and Competitions, Oh My!

That stupid smile on my face is not an act. I’m happy. This is a great time of year. In all honesty, most times of year in New Orleans are pretty great, but in particular right now, no complaints.

French Quarter Fest, Navy Week and two weekends of Jazz Fest really were kick-ass. Then we enjoyed the Sandestin, Fla. Wine Festival in the midst of it all, and are now looking forward to the Swing Ball commemorating World Cocktail Week at the Museum of the American Cocktail, with the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience right on its heels. Then I’ve just returned from judging an international wine competition in Riverside County, California. Talk about a natural high! Okay so there are some adult beverages involved but for me it would be unnatural not to have those close at hand.

Friday, May 18
Swing Ball
Museum of the American Cocktail
Riverwalk Marketplace
6 p.m to 9 p.m.

World-renowned mixologists Dale DeGroff, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and our own Chris McMillian are joined by a cadre of young New Orleans bar dudes and dudettes to celebrate World Cocktail Week, alongside some of New Orleans finest restaurants.

Meschiya Lake and her Little Big Quartet will perform and for those of you with a rusty swing-dance style, there will be lessons in how to properly propel yourself back to the 1930’s and 40s.

Tickets are $40 at the door, but you will no doubt enjoy more drinks than that in the first hour alone.

Tuesday, May 22 until Saturday, May 26
The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience
Various venues around town

Celebrating 20 years (yes, you have been to a lot of them) of featuring wines from around the globe alongside great New Orleans cuisine.

Starting on Tuesday, the Ella Brennan Award Dinner will honor business leader and philanthropist Bill Goldring, chairman of Sazerac Co. and Crescent Crown Distributing, for his many years of selfless dedication to myriads of good causes in our community. The dinner and an auction will take place beginning at J.W.Marriott Ile de France Ballroom at 7 p.m.

On Wednesday, more than 35 local restaurants will stage dinners at the same time, 7 p.m., and each featuring a different premium winery, or two with the winery principals in attendance.

Thursday is the day the newest regularly-scheduled NOWFE event happens again, Vinola. A premium wine tasting with limited attendance starting at 2 p.m. in the Theatre at Harrah’s. Later that afternoon is the quintessential NOWFE event, The Royal Street Stroll, occurring in the 200-900 blocks of Royal Street, with winemakers pouring very nice wines while tucked into antiques, art, and high-quality shops up and down the best shopping street in the Quarter.

Friday and Saturday will be a veritable parade of seminars, more than 10 in all, and two grand tastings. This year on Friday, there will be a special late-evening feature event at the Royal Sonesta, The Big Gateaux Show, to commemorate 20 years of NOWFE, but this will be unlike any commemoration activity you have ever experienced. It’s a cake competition and tasting, complete with Nicholas Feuillate Champagne, staged by Tariq Hanna of Sucre. Judges and competitors are coming our way from all over the country to take part. Did I also mention there will be Burlesque? This is New Orleans after all.

Few wine festivals anywhere soar to NOWFE’s heights, and carry on as long or as intense as this one gets. You will need to rush to the website now and assure that tickets are available for the dinners, events and seminars in which you have an interest. Everything sells out and you don’t want to miss the fun or the education just because you could not get yourself in gear.

Riverside International Wine Competition
Riverside County, Temecula, California

I have the good fortune to participate in about 8 professional wine judgings each year. Some would say it could not be a professional wine judging with me involved. And I would be hard-pressed to argue the point.

But I keep getting invited and I keep showing up. So there!

Anyway just completed the Riverside, Calif. International Competition in Temecula and the results were enlightening. As they usually are from such affairs. Keep in mind that during the judging we have no idea who made the wine nor where it is from. We are only told the grape varietal, and the blend, sometimes.

More than 2,000 wines are entered into this competition, and they come from all of the winemaking regions in the world. There are about 40 judges from all over and we spend three days evaluating the wines. It’s serious business and we take it as such. The wineries are seeking professional evaluations so they can market their current releases and a medal means that their story has that much more validity to the buying public.

Since we are not aware of who made the wine nor the region of origin, it forces the judge to focus on the important aspects of the wine, and to assure that anything receiving a medal is representative of the best work the industry can accomplish.

Ready for a few eye-openers?

Sweepstakes Awards  (Best of the Best)
Korbel Non-Vintage Brut Rosé, California
Valley of the Moon, Sangiovese Rosé 2011, Sonoma, California
Wild Goose Dry Gewurtztraminer 2011, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia
Jeff Runquist Barbara, 2010, Amador County, California
Arrowhead Spring Vineyards Vidal Ice Wine, 2009, Niagara, New York

Out of 2000 wines judged, those were the ones which rose to the top. Then there are the 77 wines that earned a Chairman’s Award. These wines received gold medal designations from every judging panel member and were considered for the higher awards. Still quite an accomplishment.

Not all are listed here as not all of the winners are available in New Orleans.

Gloria Ferrer Caves and Vineyards – Blanc de Noir
Barefoot Bubbly – Blanc de Blancs, Moscato Spumonte
Korbel Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma County, 2011
Robert Hall Vineyards Chardonnay, Paso Robles, 2010
Davis Bynum, Rodney Strong Vineyards, Russian River Pinot Noir, 2010
Trecini Pinot Noir, Vicini Vineyard, 2009
ZD Wines Pinot Noir, Founders Reserve, Carneros, 2010
Don Sebastiani & Sons, Aquinas Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2010
Cakebread Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2009
Boisset Family Estates Raymond Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Reserve Selection, Napa Valley, 2009
Jeff Runquist Wines Touriga Nacional, Silvaspoons Vineyard, Lodi, 2010
Gatt Wines Australian Shiraz, Barossa Valley, 2010
J. Lohr Merlot, Los Osos Vineyard, Paso Robles, 2009

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