Random Sampling



Wine goes with everything. It's good with our cuisine, local music and even technology. While screwcaps and alternative corks have become increasingly common, electronic dispensing has slipped into the presentation at the local wine bar and shop W.I.N.O. (aka Wine Institute of New Orleans). On a recent Tuesday evening, guests could hardly get through the doorway as cocktail-hour cronies jockeyed for position at their favorite spigot. W.I.N.O. (610 Tchoupitoulas St., 324-8000) uses the latest in wine bar technology. A series of Enomatic machines dispense wine selections through the use of a smart card, an in-store debit card inserted into the portion-controlled pouring unit. More than 80 wines are kept in pristine condition for tasting by the air-tight system. Once the card is inserted in one of the machines lining the tasting room, the customer selects a 1-, 2- or 4-ounce pour from labels as distinguished as Chateau Margaux and Gevrey-Chambertin. By simply pressing a button, the desired amount is released into the taster's glass, and the bar can afford to 'open" the bottles without fear of not selling remaining portions before the wine expires.

Patrons like Steve Badeaux like the no-waiting aspect. 'It's like instant gratification," he says. 'You just pick out what you want and help yourself." The process makes it easy for fellow tasters to sample and compare notes about a host of wines. 'When I'm getting a wine from a particular group and someone's trying another one nearby, you start discussing which ones you liked most," Badeaux says.

Badeaux's wife, Jennifer Pettaway, notes, 'I like that so many varieties are available to try in small amounts so I don't have to get a whole glass of each wine."

All wines are available by the bottle as well, and often, customers stop by after work for a few tastes in order to choose a wine to take home and enjoy with dinner. W.I.N.O. also offers free weekly tastings and wine classes. A limited selection of cheeses, paté and tapenade are available.

Just down the street, Tommy's Wine Bar (752 Tchoupitoulas St., 525-4790) offers a more traditional wine-service approach in its clubby atmosphere. The ambience can be romantic as well as fun and frivolous. There's frequently live music to add to the atmosphere. Pianist and singer Jeff Spence entertains from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. during the week, and on weekends, Tony and the Cadillacs, a five-piece jazz band, performs from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. At times, the festive atmosphere can be a bit louder than what one might expect in a wine bar.

Tommy's has a full bar, between 20 and 30 wines served by the glass and roughly 150 by the bottle. Tommy's attracts an eclectic clientele of Warehouse District residents, conventioneers, and pre- and post-meal diners from adjoining Tommy's Cuisine and Emeril's. In addition to cheese and similar snacks, customers can order from the full menu at Tommy's Cuisine.

The most senior of the city's current crop of wine bars, Orleans Grapevine Wine Bar and Bistro (720 Orleans Ave., 523-1930) is tucked away in the French Quarter behind the St. Louis Cathedral in a charming old building. It has a very large selection that includes 75 wines by the glass and 400 by the bottle. The mood tends to be lively and energetic with much interaction between guests and staff members. The cuisine from chef Eddie Ray King offers enticing accompaniments.

'This is definitely not Disney," says Ryan Field, a Pensacola flight student visiting the city and Grapevine on a recent evening. 'This is the real deal." He was sampling one of the wine flights in which guests can order and compare three 3-ounce pours of different wines.

In Uptown, The Delachaise (3442 St. Charles Ave., 895-0858) attracts a varied group of customers from a young, hip crowd to hospitality industry professionals to wine enthusiasts. The wine selection is eclectic and ever-changing, representing old and new wine regions. In addition to the wine, the beer and liquor options always include some rare and intriguing choices. Chef Chris DeBarr offers a gourmet menu of small plates and occasionally offers full prix fixe dinners. DeBarr's menu includes some innovative takes such as Spanish roasted vegetables and fresh white anchovy bruschetta. The narrow space has charming ambience, but it's a bar without a non-smoking section for those who wish only to sip and dine.

Guests at Tommy's Wine Bar share a bottle of wine and conversation. - CHERYL GERBER
  • Cheryl Gerber
  • Guests at Tommy's Wine Bar share a bottle of wine and conversation.

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