While more than half of this great nation experiences continuing weather conditions that have much in common with your freezer, we are not exactly toasty; neither are we home-bound nor fearful of running out of heating oil, whatever the heck that is.

Also what we are not is bored. Some of our northern brethren are sitting in their houses waiting for the plow to at least grade the streets from a snow-laden condition down to just being merely icy, and we are in Carnival. Works for me.

It’s a long season this year, to be sure, but it’s here. Balls are unfolding; truckloads of beads and trinkets are in motion; artistic and creatively-themed parade floats are being constructed; and plans are being made for festive gatherings of revelers to assure maximum pleasure is derived from the investment in parties.

The late finale, March 8, gives us plenty of time in the season to assure we have celebrated well and often. But a later Mardi Gras also means that other festivals are anxiously waiting their time on the stage, and we must take full advantage of a slow beginning to pace ourselves for a raucous finish. And there’s the challenge: There is no finish.

St. Patrick’s Day will be celebrated almost immediately after Mardi Gras, followed closely, as it always is, by St. Joseph’s Day (the term “Day” as applied to these two celebrations of heritage is really a misnomer – more like “Week” in both cases.), then comes the full wave of event-type celebrations in April: Spring Fiesta, French Quarter Fest and JazzFest.

I suggest if you have sleep to do, schedule it now.

But wait, there’s more. Order now and we’ll double this offer. Oops, sorry, wrong script.

Really, that thought is not so far off the track. There will be plenty of other activities, particularly as they relate to wine and spirits, right on the heels of The Greatest Free Show on Earth.
Our area and our region will be alive with the sound of popping corks, dining utensils on plates, music from the stage, and the happy chatter of people enjoying good food, good drinks and good times.

For us, even after Carnival, the band plays on.

The French Quarter Wine Festival: March 18 – May 13

Bit of an odd name for an event of such long duration. And since I have no better suggestions, FQWF it is. 

Actually a series of twice-weekly dinners – each one featuring a great wine and the owner or winemaker – paired with excellent cuisine created by one of New Orleans’ newest star-chefs, Michael Farrell. The events begin on Friday, March 18, with a blow-out tasting on the Maison Dupuy Hotel’s classic French Quarter courtyard, where many of the wines that will be served during the 10-week run of the Festival, plus others, will be poured to appreciative patrons.

Along the course of the FQWF, dinners in Le Meritage will feature wines from Opus One, Cakebread, Diamond Creek, Luigi Bosca, Silver Oak, B.R.Cohn, WillaKenzie, DeLille, Hess, Ehlers, Chateau Palmer, Poggio al Tesoro and San Polo, Duckhorn and Martinelli. There will be a closing reception, similar to the opening, on Friday, May 13.

It’s an ambitious program, but one that has proven quite successful over the past four years. Dinners and the reception tickets sell out fast. Check out the entire schedule, and choose where you fit in, at www.frenchquarterwinefestival.com

Savor Dallas: March 18 – 19

The event is pretty close when you head off on Southwest Airlines or American Airlines, and Dallas is a town that could use New Orleans’ leadership on how to have a good time at a wine festival.

But the town does a pretty good job on its own, considering that most of Savor Dallas takes place in the city’s newly-created Arts District, near the headquarters hotel, Sheraton Dallas. The Arts District Stroll is shamelessly based on New Orleans own Royal Street Stroll during our Wine and Food Experience (more on that later), and is a fun time where a plethora of terrific wines are poured in cultural destinations, which is unique in “Big D” (the pouring of adult beverages, not the culture part). For us, pouring wines in a museum is de rigueur. Up there it’s a special occasion.

Anyway, the Stroll takes you to the Dallas Museum of Art, the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Winspear Opera House – all on Friday, March 18. Later that night, the Ultimate Friday Night pARTy will take you to a 7th floor, one-acre deck, which is a park. Only in Dallas. This will be a truly kick-ass event, filled with wines, beers, spirits and fine foods.

On Saturday, seminars will be staged on topics such as pairing wine and cheese, wines from California and Texas and other subjects.

Saturday evening is a Reserve Wine Tasting, followed by an International Grand Tasting, both including cuisines from some of Dallas’ most talented chefs.

To make matters more enticing to New Orleanians, the organizers are offering a discount on individual events. Go the website, order the events you want to attend, and then enter the discount code of “nola11.”  Take 15 percent off just because you are so nice.

The Sandestin Wine Festival: April 29 – May 1
Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation: April 29 – 30

Two separate wine events, both of significant stature, running concurrently. You are going to need to be two people in the same place. But the place is Destin, so it’s worth the effort.

First, The Sandestin Wine Festival celebrates 25 years this year. A great outdoor tasting event featuring more than 750 wines poured throughout the adorable Village of Baytowne Wharf, on Choctawhatchee Bay in the planned community of Sandestin. Stroll along the pathways and near the waterways, tasting fine wines as you go. It’s going to take two days to do justice to this Festival, so just plan on staying that long. I know – the hardship of a few days in Destin – but someone has to do it.

Simultaneous to the Sandestin Festival are the events staged by the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation. Bit of a mouthful. DCWAF (not much better) puts together fine dining experiences in people’s homes throughout the Emerald Coast area on Friday, April 29. Each event is staffed by one of the great chefs of Destin and include some very fine wines. Cost per couple: $2,000, which includes two entries into the auction the next day.   

Or you may want to spend $800 per couple and enjoy dinner in a Destin restaurant, also receiving tickets to the auction.

The auction on Saturday, April 30, is where the real action is. Last year, more than $700,000 was raised for various charities in just one day. Impressive.

The auction comes at the same time as the height of the Sandestin Wine Festival, so what you do is take in as much of the Wine Festival as you can, head for the auction, then return to the Wine Festival the next day, Sunday, to finish up. You will need your best set of track shoes and a liver that is in fighting condition.

The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience: May 24 – 28

Just about every other wine festival in America seeks to unfold over two or three days. The New Orleans edition takes a full five days into its grasp.

Starting on Tuesday, May 24, with the Ella Brennan Awards Dinner and Live Auction, and then rolling into the Wednesday Dine-Around, where more than 30 restaurants and more than 40 wineries duel each other for attention, NOWFE, like its namesake city, just does not know when to moderate. Pedal to the metal all the way through.

Thursday, May 26, is the signature event: the Royal Street Stroll, encompassing art galleries, shops and antique stores from the 300 to the 900 blocks of one of New Orleans’ most famous thoroughfares. Prior to the Stroll is Vinola, a tasting of fine wines, each exceeding the $75 retail cost threshold.

Friday is a full array of seminars, with a Grand Tasting at the Convention Center in the evening. Saturday sees more seminars, then another Grand Tasting in the afternoon.

Tales of the Cocktail: July 20 – 24

Tales of the Cocktail is a major festival force on our calendar, and a most important event not just because of the esteem in which it is held around the globe, but also because it is staged in the throes of summer. Yep, a tall, cool drink of something stiff goes well with hot sun and heavy humidity. We should also mention the blessings of air conditioning.

Last year, more than 18,000 thirsty souls descended upon venues all over town and proceeded to instruct, concoct, imbibe, profess, create and amaze. If you have missed this event, for whatever lame reason, make this the year you correct the error of your ways.

There are seminars, lunches, dinners, competitions, tasting events, awards and special activities aimed at professionals and amateurs. Spirits-driven crowds are happy folks who like nothing better than to begin a heated discussion on the efficacies of one brand of bitters over another.

Even if you don’t know what bitters are, you will like the spectrum of tastes that are readily provided. Education? Yes! Entertainment? Yes! Friendship? Yes! Moderation? Not so much.

You may say to yourself, as we look on all the brown leaves of a winter’s day, I’ll get around to these things and make some plans. If you do say that, make other plans. These events sell out and you will never attend the seminars or tastings you want to go to without early reservations.

Head for those websites now. Don’t be disappointed later.