by Ian McNulty
What does a five-day wine festival look like? With the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, or NOWFE, the answer depends a lot on the day.
NOWFE marks its 20th anniversary this year, and it has evolved into a festival with many faces. One is the freewheeling Royal Street Stroll (on Thursday, May 24), with ticket-holders drinking their way from one wine-stocked French Quarter gallery and boutique to the next, wine glasses in hand, and another face turns up that night with Vinola, the festival’s tasting for higher-dollar wines, held inside the Theatre at Harrah’s.
Then there are the Grand Tastings (Friday, May 25, and Saturday, May 26), which are essentially gigantic food and wine samplings held inside one of the biggest rooms around, an entire hall of the Convention Center.
Along the way there are wine dinners at local restaurants (on Wednesday, May 23), led oftentimes by the winemakers themselves.
There are wine and food seminars hosted by chefs, wine experts and media personalities (also on Friday and Saturday). And the whole schedule begins with the (now sold-out) Ella Brennan Award Dinner and Wine Auction (on Tuesday, May 22), which this year honors local beverage magnate and philanthropist Bill Goldring.
All events require tickets.
It’s important to note the full name of this festival — the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience – because it’s New Orleans food that helps set this event apart from other wine festivals around the country. While some of those others festivals may have blossomed close to picturesque vineyards and wine-rich valleys NOWFE is in the heart of a great American food destination. More than 75 restaurants and other food-related businesses take part, hosting dinners or serving samples of their dishes at the Grand Tastings, close by the wine reps and wine makers pouring their own wares under the sprawling roof of the convention center.
Of particular interest, Saturday’s Grand Tasting also features the fifth annual Louisiana Seafood Cook-off, in which ten chefs from across the state (including five from the New Orleans area) will compete for the title of “King or Queen of Louisiana Seafood.” Their contest entries will be judged during the event, and the winner announced at its finale.
But one final signal that this wine festival is a New Orleans festival is the way locals put their own stamp on it, and the way visitors seem to fling themselves into the same spirit upon arrival. The greatest example is the wine-centric spectacle of the Krewe of Cork, which makes an annual parade during NOWFE’s Royal Street Stroll event.
This krewe is a colorfully costumed marching group founded by a circle of local food and wine professionals. Now more than 400 members strong, this debonair assemblage saunters down Royal and don’t be surprised if you catch wine-themed beads from someone dressed as a Blue Nun or if you see Bacchus toasting a giant, walking box of wine with his sloshing goblet. Dressing up for some wine events means formalwear. During NOWFE, dressing up can mean really getting into character.
For NOWFE schedules and details, click here.