Every year, we are so blessed to have many wonderful –– and ultimately unique –– celebrations in this town. Many of those celebrations or events are commemorating or celebrating the visit by a central personage, real or fictional, which in New Orleans is often hard to separate.

There are Santa and the New Year’s Baby atop the Jax Brewery, St. Patrick, St. Joseph and the Easter Bunny. Then there’s a whole mess of seasonal mascots designating agricultural products, seafood, baseball, basketball, football and sales at stores. The latter is not what it once was with the 1825 Tulane little girl, Mr. Bingle and Al Scramuzza mostly gone except in memory.  

And next week will be the annual visit to our town from Bacchus. No, not Carnival’s ever-changing celebrity personage who reigns over the festivities Sunday night before the Big Day but rather the spirit of the god himself.

Bacchus rolls into town in a big way every year about this time to lend his passion to the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, a celebration in which he takes pride and ownership. For five days, winemakers and wine-lovers come together to discover, explore, dine, wine, learn, cavort and just have a fine time, centered on the liquid result of fermented fruit.

Wine, my friends, is at the core of this feast for the senses, with healthy portions of New Orleans cuisine throughout the festival. This is all about passing a good time with good friends

NOWFE is really the result of the way this town likes to celebrate, making something up if nothing is immediately available. This event began in the early ‘90s as another attempt to encourage visitors to make their way to New Orleans at a time of year when they would rather not be here, mid-July. After a number of years of sweat-soaked casual silk shirts and the constant threat of afternoon showers, the festival moved to Memorial Day week-end, a holiday of sorts but mostly for folks who live farther north or who are employed by the federal government. In the cases of many local branch offices of national corporations, Memorial Day is the holiday given up in order to earn Mardi Gras, which is celebrated nowhere else. But you knew that part.

Anyway, NOWFE is in its 19th annual version, and 2010 promises to be bigger and more spectacular than ever. As an example, 33, maybe a few more, restaurants are staging special wine dinners on Wednesday, May 26. A lot of these are sold out already and have been for quite some time. But many are still available, and there is no such thing as second-best in this activity. The chefs toss everything they’ve got at this affair because they are eager to shine in front of guests who know fine food and great wine. Plus at each dinner, winemakers, or higher-ups at the winery, will be sharing stories and beverages.

Thursday, May 27, is a manageable day. It starts at 2 in the afternoon with Vinola, the higher-end tasting and auction that NOWFE started a few years ago. For a wine to be considered as a participant in Vinola, the retail value must be at least $75. Forty wineries will be sharing the best work they accomplish, and part of the enjoyment of the event is watching a lot of local folks you know sharing notes with each other and then dashing off to another corner of the room to try some recommended juice.

The auction features all manner of art; keepsakes; signed books; posters; and special events, such as winery visits and overnight stays, the type of thing not usually available to mortal men. 

Following Vinola at 5:30, the keystone event of NOWFE unfolds on Royal Street, where winemakers and shopkeepers team up to provide the ultimate wine-tasting and shopping experience, either window or real. From the 200 to the 900 blocks, you can head into all manner of art galleries, fine jewelry or antique stores, looking and sipping all the way.

Hint: Head to M.S.Rau as early as possible, in the 600 block of Royal, and enjoy the culinary treats before they disappear.

Friday morning, 10:45, is the beginning of a long day. The seminars this year look to be incredible, and I’m not saying that just because I am moderating one. No, really, I’m not just saying it.

You can learn a lot about wine and food, or each one separately, at the 2010 seminar series. Pastries, sushi, charcuterie meats, chefs demonstrating their kitchen secrets, seafood, cheeses and dining on Magazine Street (hosted by Tom Fitzmorris) will all be topics of interest that are not even focused on wines.

Then there are the wine seminars, which include California’s Rhone Rangers (hosted by me!), South American wines, a great education in glassware from Riedel and Big Red Wines.

The seminars happen all day Friday and Saturday morning, and many of them are sold out, so you may want to get moving on making a selection now.

Friday evening at 6 p.m. and Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., the Grand Tastings are staged in the Superdome. The main floor of the Home of the World Champions will be awash with wine and food. You need to come to both scheduled stagings of the Grand Tasting because you cannot do it all in one visit. I promise you that. Don’t even try.

The Grand Tastings at NOWFE are among the finest general interest events in all of the wine world, anywhere. You will enjoy special treats from some of New Orleans’ finest chefs and restaurants. That alone is worth the effort to head to the Dome. Then there will be more than 700 wines for you to try to ask questions about. Heaven on earth, truly.

Friday evening’s Grand Tasting will feature the awarding of New Orleans Magazine’s Best of Dining winners from the local cuisine community.  An added treat on Saturday will be an appearance by Paula Deen, Aaron Sanchez and John Besh. Both Grand Tastings feature music because we don’t cross the street in New Orleans without musical accompaniment. On Friday, Paul Sanchez and the Rolling Road Show will perform, and on Saturday, the Dome will “get down” with Big Sam’s Funky Nation.

As an added treat this year, running simultaneously with NOWFE is a wine-tasting musical. Of course, you’ve never heard of such a thing; there has never been such a thing.

Wine Lovers is New York-born and -bred and is running at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, beginning this past Tuesday and running until June 13. It’s not every day, but you can check out the schedule at  http://www.lepetittheatre.com/winelovers/.

It’s really a fun show, a comedy with music, and the audience participates in tasting six different wines at various points during the performance. I’ve been to a lot of wine tastings but never one choreographed with lyrics in a Broadway style. Drinking wine and getting cultured. I like it.

Check out all the NOWFE activities at www.nowfe.com. If you have an interest in the Wine Lovers musical performances, there is a discount offered to NOWFE participants.

Once again the citizens of New Orleans come forward, donating their time and energies to raise money for worthy causes and allowing us to have a good time along the way.

Damn the oil spill! Let’s get on with the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience. 

The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.