We are on the verge of the annual siege of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience (May 22-25). This multi-venued, often overwhelming, never boring festival celebrates the culture and cuisine of New Orleans right alongside some truly pleasurable wines from around the globe.
If you have been wanting to learn more about wine, NOWFE is a great place to start. There are going to be more than 800 labels represented, and they will be poured by knowledgeable winemakers, wine professionals and wine aficionados. Questions and comments are encouraged. If there is a term, a process, a grape, a technique, anything that you don’t understand, you need to ask these folks and get the right information. If you don’t know wines from Argentina, Chile, Portugal or Greece, here’s the place to try them and see if you like them. Then you can head out and buy them, or not.
Which wines go with which foods? That’s a decision your palate can easily make because great New Orleans chefs from fantastic New Orleans restaurants will be alongside the wines from all over the world. Take a taste of wine, then have a bite of food. If that particular food/wine combination doesn’t work, try something else. You won’t have to go far to sample everyone’s wares.
I love this sort of activity because in our town and at this festival, not only do we enjoy fine wine and great food along with excellent music, we get to socialize. When was the last time you were in a room full of New Orleanians and you did not see somebody you knew? Probably lots of somebody’s. That’s fun.
May I have a few words with the “wine geeks” out there? One of the comments I hear over and over again every year from you folks is that the Grand Tastings feature only grocery-store style wines. You are not finding the high level of fine wines that you drink as a matter of course every day.
To that, I can only state: balderdash. Sorry for the harsh language. But let me ask you this: you call yourself an appreciator of wine?
Most of the wine sold in the marketplace is wine at a reasonable price point and of good quality. You will indeed see a lot of this wine at NOWFE, for obvious reasons. But there will also be some excellent high-end wines. I promise you because I find them every year amongst the masses.
Secondly, and here is the more important point, I always find some incredible new wines, at least they are new to me, which sell at most reasonable prices. Those are the treasures of NOWFE, and your challenge is to land on the island, also known as Hall J in the Convention Center, and find them.
Now, I will grant you that if your passion is top-ranked by Parker/Spectator/Enthusiast/Tanzer French wines, or silky Barolos from Italy, or even Champagne that will soothe the savage beast, those will be in short supply. They will be at NOWFE, just not as plentiful as you would love to see. Yet there is hope, and Vinola (see below) could answer your desires.
So, lighten up. Have fun. Drink it all in. Get in the spirit. And kwitcherbitchen.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program. Here’s a rundown on what will be unfolding at the 2013 New Orleans Wine and Food Experience:
7 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at various locations
More than 35 restaurants all over town will be serving special menus especially designed and prepared to pair with a winery or two. The principals, often the winemaker, will be in attendance. This is a special evening and each restaurant is dedicated to making the experience memorable. Many restaurants charge in the $100 range; some are lower, others higher. But it’s a grand evening, lots of wine and good company. Reservations can be made directly with the restaurant of your choice, listed on the NOWFE website, nowfe.com.
2:30-5 p.m. Thursday, May 23, at Omni Royal Orleans Hotel Ballroom
You wine geeks earlier addressed are going to love this event. Here are tables laden with wines, most all of which achieve the heady retail price of at least $75. Slurp it down to your heart's content.
Of course, you won't want to do that, preferring instead to sip and savor the wines, taking particular note of aromatics and the last finish sensations. Yea, right. Turning children completely loose in a sweet shop always results in restraint.
Royal St. Stroll
5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23, at the 900 Block of Royal Street
From the very first NOWFE this has been the signature event, and this is the event most talked about and most copied by other wine festivals.
Honestly, it is a blast. Inside antique shops and art galleries from the 200 through the 900 blocks of Royal Street are plenty of winemakers and representatives of wineries pouring their wonderful liquid creations. Nobody throws a street party like New Orleanians. This event proves it.
Friday, May 24, and Saturday, May 25, at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
This includes a huge convention center hall, J, bursting at the seams with wine from every spot on the globe. Okay, it's a wine festival, so no surprise there.
Where the great and happy surprise occurs, and this is what separates New Orleans from every other wine event in America, is that there is an amazing amount and breadth of dishes exemplifying our restaurants' best efforts.
Any type of wine you like, or many types, along with the cuisine we love best. All you want. You are going to at least one session, aren't you?
Friday, May 24, and Saturday, May 25, at Marriott Meeting Rooms
Possibly you are a classroom learner. You like the group lecture approach to education. NOWFE has not forgotten you. The seminar program this year includes talks about wines with bubbles (always a crowd favorite); the wines of the Burgundy region in France (should be a crowd favorite, always); the story of cuisine development in the Warehouse District; the importance of proper glassware when tasting wine; noted chefs like Susan Spicer, Alon Shaya; and a lively discussion of Asian/Cajun cuisine. Who knew?
Every seminar includes generous pours of noteworthy wines, and in many cases, some darn good food.
The Big Gateaux Show
8:30 p.m. Friday, May 24, in the Grand Ballroom at the Royal Sonesta Hotel
I am addicted to great dessert and sweet treats. Really. I am.
Okay, truth be told, I like scantily-clad ladies who expect me to stare.
Here you get both sweet things and "sweet, pretty things." Tariq Hanna of Sucre fame is staging this spectacle for the second year. He has tied this staging to many chefs from the region whose specialties are desserts, candies, and all manner of pastries.
Toss in pretty ladies, adept at the fine art of Burlesque, add great Champagne in the form of Nicolas Feuillate, and you have an event only NOWFE can do. Really, don't try this at the Omaha Wine Festival, if there is such a thing.
Funkin' It Up!
7 p.m. (6:30 p.m. for VIP admission) Saturday, May 25, at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom
Watch the pronunciation of the title. Be very clear.
This John Besh-developed event (and I thought he was a good family man) is NOWFE's way to honor the legends among us. The first recipient a few years ago was Ella Brennan, then Paul Prudhomme. This year a true Grande Dame of New Orleans cuisine, the incomparable Leah Chase, will be singled out and recognized in a most deserving way.
You have to admit that the short list of chefs who deserve recognition for their accomplishments, and for being genuinely nice people, would include every recipient to date. Miss Leah's inclusion on this august roster is totally proper.
And there you have it, a short run-down for this year's lineup at NOWFE. Nothing shabby about the schedule.
You will want to be there. If you don't come, somebody is going to talk about you, and you don't want that. Trust me.