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Reviewed: The 17th Annual NOWFE Grand Tasting

Posted by perle0 on 2008-05-26 21:41:58 (7313 views)

[New Orleans]
Another year, another awesome Grand Tasting for the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience! This year, the Grand Tasting was held in a huge new venue...the Superdome. The event organizers had tons of extra room to play around with, and it showed in many ways. I can't say if this was the biggest NOWFE Grand Tasting ever, but it sure felt like it!

The Grand Tasting is the culmination of a five-day wine and food blow-out, and this one rose to the very high standards New Orleans has for both wine and food. More than 175 wineries from all over the world were represented, pouring an estimated 1000 wines. 75 of New Orleans' best restaurants provided samples of their finest cuisine, to make sure nobody got too tipsy. (They failed on that account in some cases, but did not fail to provide taste temptations sure to lure attendees to their regular kitchens for more.) In addition, there was constant live music, a Louisiana seafood cook-off of New Orleans' finest chefs, and even Mardi Gras floats and a Second Line parade to close things out.

Upon entering the Dome, attendees followed the red carpet through a passageway between two Mardi Gras floats with seafood, New Orleans, and wine themes. These floats were the real thing, and were later occupied by riders who tossed beads as people left the event. Beyond the floats, in the center of the floor, was a symbolic "Jackson Square," complete with a green "grass" carpet and the familiar statue of Andrew Jackson. The square was encircled by a light "ironwork" fence with gothic arches over the entrances.
Jackson Square

The tasting was basically divided into two main parts, each on one side of Jackson Square. And oh, the tasting booths. There were booths in the square; there were booths gathered in blocks beside the square; and there were booths lining each of the walls on the left and right. If one continued straight through Jackson Square, one ran into the viewing stands for the Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, with the chef's tables gathered against that wall.

As I find every year, to even begin to scratch the surface of the wine and food on offer was impossible. I think it would take something like 10 days, attending for three hours each day, to taste everything. Alas, I had only three hours total. The lesson that I should have learned years ago is this: Go to both Grand Tasting sessions.

Yes, I know you have to buy a separate ticket for each day. It's so worth it. Our LaWineClub photographer was able to make both sessions, and he reports that it is far more enjoyable when you can taste at leisure and not feel compelled to spend every second gulping wine or seeking out the most intriguing food offerings. In one three-hour session, you can perhaps try 50 wines and sample 15 dishes, if you really apply yourself. Now, remember that there are 1000 wines and 75 dishes available. See why you want to come on both days?

Now, for the specifics you want to know: what great wines did I discover? What delicious dishes would I want to try again? Among the items that I was able to sample, my personal favorite was Ultima, a dessert wine from Elk Cove Vineyards in Oregon. An icewine made from a blend of Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat, it retails for only $36/half-bottle, very reasonable for an icewine of such quality. I'll be looking for it in the stores. Sadly, dessert wines seemed more under-represented than usual this year; I found only the Ultima, an odd but strangely appealing raspberry-based dessert wine cleverly called "Raspberry Dessert Wine" from Arrington Vineyards in Tennessee(!), and a few Ports. (Sandeman had a 20-year-old tawny Port that was amazing, if you're a Port fan.)

This year also seemed to feature more Champagne and other sparkling wines than in past years. This was particularly welcome, as opportunities to taste Champagne are often limited to the time around New Year's. The very best that I came across were the Scharffenburger's and the Roederer Estate, two California sparklers with French connections, delicious for anyone willing to shell out a few bucks. For the more budget- conscious, there were plenty of tasty lesser-known names and less sought-after types, such as Prosecco.

Among the "normal" wines, my favorites were some of the Australian shiraz blends (d'Arenberg The Dead Arm, I'm looking at you, with your powerful taste and equally powerful price tag) and one Chateauneuf-du-Pape with an amazing finish...Chateau de la Gardine. I also enjoyed the J. Lohr South Ridge Syrah.

Among the food offerings, my personal favorites included Restaurant Cuvee, with its smoked duck debris with sweet glazed cornbread, Muriel's crawfish and goat cheese crepes, and Melange at the Ritz-Carleton's "Foie Gras Three-Way," which included a foie gras mousse, a deep-fried foie-gras'd rice ball (I'm sure they had a nicer name for it), and a foie gras pâté with balsamic vinegar and apple chutney. The flavors on that last one mixed wonderfully.

I hear there was some delicious creme brulée somewhere, but I missed out on it. The good stuff goes quickly! All the dishes were well worth a try, though. There's nothing like a restaurant showing off to make for a difficult choice... food, or wine? This line, or that line?

When all was said and done, every attendee seemed wine-soaked, full, and happy. And really, isn't that the whole point?

To find out more about what you missed, or to reminisce about the good time you have, check out the NOWFE website. Check it again next year in the spring, when details about the 2009 NOWFE will be available!


NOWFE Grand Tasting
Posted by gatonolawino on 2008-05-28 12:58:56
I was very disappointed with the venue and hope that it returns to a more event-appropriate venue in the future. The concrete floor was very uncomfortable, you could not hear the music regardless of where you stood, and the faux floats seemed out of place. The Hilton was much nicer. With all the hotel ballrooms available in NOLA, I can't imagine why someone would choose the Superdome. We were also disappointed that the annual wine raffle was not present. There was certainly something missing this year. We've been to several in the past that we thoroughly enjoyed, and this year was a disappointment. If NOWFE wants to be a Mardi Gras event, it needs to be held in conjunction with a parade. We won't attend the Grand Tastings in the future. I hope the Royal St Stroll and Vintner dinners remain the tasteful events we've come to enjoy and always look forward to year around.

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