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NOWFE 2009 Grand Tasting Review Part 1: Overview

Posted by perle0 on 2009-05-27 00:35:46 (8695 views)

[New Orleans]
Once again, the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience was a smashing success. (It doesn't seem too hard to go right with all of that delicious wine and food, but I imagine that it's a lot harder to put together than it looks.) Like last year, the 2009 Grand Tastings were held in the Superdome, and on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day Weekend. The Superdome makes for a handy venue, since it has parking available for a reasonable fee and plenty of room for the exhibitors. Since the crowds barely fit as it was on Saturday, I think they'll be sticking with the 'Dome for a while, unless somebody has a larger space to offer.
the crowd

For the first time, I finally gave in and attended both days of the Grand Tasting. I imagine that many people only attend one, since you have to pay for each day and the wines being offered are basically the same both days, as are some of the restaurants and food available. However, if you can swing the ticket price and the time off, I highly recommend attending both days. Astonishingly, there will still not be enough time to taste and try everything, but at least you will have a better shot at it.

The best part of going both days was that it allowed you to compartmentalize a bit. On Friday, I focused on wine and ate a lot of food in between, while on Saturday, I focused on food and tasted wines in between. I found good things in both categories on both days, but it felt a lot less crazy than trying to taste approximately 1000 wines and samples from 75 restaurants over 6 hours instead of 3. What was astonishing was how many things I still missed because there just wasn't time to do everything.
entryway float detail

When the tasting begins, the participants line up and flow through a gateway composed of two full-size Mardi Gras floats, complete with people tossing beads. As they pass through, they collect their plastic plate/glassholder and their glass for the day. (You can get a replacement glass if you lose yours or break it, but be warned--as the tasting draws to a close, they can run out.) Then you emerge into the sea of tables. Some of the tables are occupied by wineries, importers, and distributers with samples of their wines to taste; others feature restaurants offering samples of their food; and you also find the occasional booth with a wine- or food-related theme, such as wine-themed crafts, magazines like Culinary Concierge, or a (wine-friendly?) apartment building. You never know what you'll find!

The tables are arranged in bunches, all around the perimeter of the playing area and in circles dotted more centrally. In the very center of it all this year, there was a raised Lounge area with two levels. It was not clear what the lounge was for, but it looked nice, with walls of white cloth lit by white light. Tables with some particularly fine food items (but no wine) studded the outside of the Lounge area. Immediately in front of the entrance gateway, the stage for the musical acts faced out into the larger space. On the far end of the "field" was the Robert Mondavi area, with a pavillion and scheduled events, such as cooking demonstrations and guided wine tastings, open to anyone who lined up for them in time. In the middle of the right-hand side, coming from the entryway, was a stage area for Saturday's big Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off, which also hosted a cooking demonstration on Friday. Across the way, on the opposite side, the Roosevelt Hotel had a little piano lounge set up, complete with overstuffed chairs and with a small bar offering New Orleans classics like the Sazerac cocktail. To the right of the Mondavi pavillion was a special area--was it called the Agave Lounge?--offering tastings of tequila. The special areas helped to break up the endless sea of tables, taunting us all with their vast array of things to taste and try.
Terlato Wines table

Scattered about in the remaining space were tables, both with chairs and designed for standing. Scoring an actual seat was a challenge at times, but you could usually find a place at one of the standing tables, and most people were more than happy to share them. The abundant alcohol made conversation easy. Here were a few things you might have heard at the tables: "What are you eating?" "How is it?" "Are you from around here?" "That X wine back at Y Winery was awesome!" and my personal favorite, "What this place needs is a vomitorium."

As the tasting progressed, a few of the restaurant tables began to run out of food. This happens, as some restaurants simply miscalculate how many dishes they'll need to serve, or understimate attendance. Some may be overwhelmed if their dish turns out to be especially popular. On Saturday, I was astonished by how quickly some of the restaurants ran out of food. Several well-known and popular restaurants ran out before the event was even half over. Some of the wine tables can run out, as well, especially of popular offerings, but that happens less often then food running out, and the wineries usually have other wines still available to try. In general, Saturday was the most crowded I'd ever seen the NOWFE Grand Tasting, in terms of sheer number of people there. It's at times like this that we can all be glad the NOWFE is a charitable event, donating its profits to several New Orleans educational institutions and charities. Mo' people, mo' donations!
marching band in parade

As the end of the tasting drew near, a couple of motorcycle police with sirens wailing cleared a circle around the central Lounge for the mini-parade to follow. A marching band came next, then small floats complete with bead throwers, the Wild Magnolias Mardi Gras Indians, and a few marching characters (the big-head chef, the crawfish, etc.). The parade made three full circuits each time, and when they were done, so was the tasting.
part of the parade

But, in a new development, the end of the tasting meant the beginning of the after-tasting concert. On Friday, starting at 8, it was Anders Osborne with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and Kirk Joseph. On Saturday starting at 4, it was local favorite Bonerama. The after-tasting concert provided a nice way to wind down (or a perfect venue to strut your stuff, depending on how much alcohol you'd consumed pre-concert). It also gave attendees some extra time sober up before heading back to their cars, increasing the safely factor for the entire New Orleans area. All in all it was a successful event--both days!--and it sure looked like a good time was had by all. I know that LaWineClub certainly had a good time.
Anders Osborne plays with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and Kirk Joseph

Check back in with us next week when we'll be looking more closely at the specific wines that we managed to taste and enjoy. The following week, we'll be focusing on the food offerings. If you're not already subscribed to get our weekly e-mail with new articles, just shoot us an e-mail (include your site username!) and we can sign you up so that you get the link automatically.


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