New Orleans is a city for cocktailing, no doubt. But it's also (arguably) the best food town in America. And where there is great food, there has to be great wine. Of course the city's storied Creole temples, places like Commander's and Arnaud's, offer wine cellars that are world class. But even if you're on a budget, you can sip and sample, enjoy small plates and conversation at wine bars from uptown and Mid-City to the Seventh Ward.
In the past few years, a spate of interesting wine shops/lounges have sprung up offering thoughtfully curated options and seasonal picks.
If you’re really serious about wine, consider booking your trip around the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, an annual eating orgy that falls over May 25-29 in 2016. Attracting some 10,000 gourmands and oenophiles, this event is jam packed with food and wine seminars and tastings, special wine dinners and events like the Royal Street Stroll to visit galleries and sip vin and the big Grand Tasting at the Convention Center. In case you feel guilty about all the excess, remember that a portion of your spendings benefit local non-profit organizations, from food banks to culinary schools, with more than $1 million raised to date. So sip away.
Wine Institute New Orleans (W.I.N.O) advertises itself as a triple threat: wine bar, wine school and wine store. The wine bar uses a state-of-the-art wine serving system made by the Italian company Enomatic, which allows you to taste wine by the ounce, then decide to have a glass. Pay by the ounce upfront, then begin sampling away from different regions, years, etc. W.I.N.O is located in the Warehouse District of New Orleans. There is a compact menu of noshes including pate, fruit and cheese plates and hummus. Come here for a date or to unwind after a long day at a conference/convention.
Orleans Grapevine is a French Quarter Wine Bar & Bistro with a casual fine dining component as well. Start with the wine, which can be ordered by the glass or bottle. Come in between 4-6 pm to try a "Wine Flight", a three wine sampling to expand your horizons. The list is long, so don't feel bashful in asking for help in navigating it. The petit fare, like the cheese board or seared scallops will go great with your glass of vino. If you have a raging appetite, stay for dinner and enjoy the likes of herb scented rack of lamb and flounder stuffed with Ponchatrain crab meat.
This Garden District spot for sipping is relatively new to the scene and oh so worth discovering. The place is intimate, and ideal place to break from strolling and shipping for a glass or three. Wine flights and half-glasses give the curious drinker plenty of options for discovery. Small plates are fun to share. Try the avocado toast, charcuterie, roasted heirloom cauliflower and grilled Alaskan salmon, with a dark chocolate cake sure to tempt with your favorite red wine. When the weather is fine, sit in the romantic courtyard. Besides about 15 wines by the glass you can buy a bottle to open at the bar or bring home.
Owner Leora Madden has been fascinated with wine since her first visit to a Sonoma winery at the age of 14. She lived in wine country for seven years before bringing her informed palate to New Orleans. Besides wines Pearl offers a smart selection of IPAs, a solid array for a place of this size. Unlike downtown places, there is plenty of on-site parking and Pearl is easily accessible by bike. Expect an array of thoughtful, unbiased and passionately selected wine, beer & liquor at affordable prices. There is live music in the house starting at 8pm on Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights.
This forward thinking little wine shop and lounge is a bright spot of vin culture along the emerging artsy St. Claude corridor that flanks the Marigny, Bywater and the Seventh Ward. Specializing in high quality, small production wines from around the world, Faubourg (say FO-burg) calls itself a "friendly and fearless" neighborhood wine shop and that's not an overstatement. You don't find the mass produced brands carried in supermarkets here, in fact you might not recognize many (or any) of the labels on the shelves. Just ask the informed and friendly staff to point you in the right direction and you'll be happy. Locally made bread along with cheese and pate is available for eating in house or takeaway.
Patrick's Bar Vin in the Mazarin Hotel is an intimate wine bar that, though located not far from Bourbon Street in the Quarter is an oasis of refined good taste and delicious vin. The crowd tends to be older, enjoying options like 20-plus selections available by the glass and surroundings both elegant and upscale. If Patrick is in the house, and he usually is, he's always happy to make suggestions. Or even better, just order whatever he's drinking and you won't be disappointed. There's a lovely plant filled courtyard for drinking al fresco. You can order plates of cheese and charcuterie for sharing.
Tommy's Wine Bar is adjacent to Tommy's Cuisine, an upscale Creole-Italian restaurant tucked away on Tchop in New Orleans' Warehouse District. The wine bar serves more than a dozen wines by the class, with another 150 or so bottles on the list. Cocktails, cordials and specialty drinks can be made at the full service bar. The lounge usually has a piano player, a nice touch of ambiance to go with the small plates offered at this upscale wine-drinking setting. Tommy's also has a Cruvinet, a high-tech wine-pouring system that ensures that each bottle is absolutely fresh, making for a dizzying array of wines by the glass.
Bacchanal isn't like any other spot in town. Definitely off the beaten path, Bacchanal is a hybrid hang out that attracts artists, foodies and locals to chill, graze and listen to live music on the edge of the Bywater. The vibe is nonchalant whether you nibble cheese and charcuterie in the ramshackle courtyard or tuck into more substantial eats in the gastro pub upstairs. And of course, befitting its namesake, Bacchanal serves a decadent selection of wines by the glass or bottle. There's also a wine store up front if you need to stock up. On a sunny weekend day, there's no better hang in town.
Delachaise is that mystery spot that you might cruise right by without noticing during a daylight trip on the St. Charles streetcar. Come evening, and it's another story. The outdoor patio, lit with twinkle lights, is always buzzing with a lively crowd along with couples enjoying date night. This spirited wine bar uptown is easy to love for its long convivial bar, lack of pretense, impressive wine list and most notably the Thai spiced mussels served with goose fat fries. Really everything at this atmospheric French-ish bistro is good, say yes to housemade pate and tender flank steak bruschetta, and double yes to the devilish chocolate souffle. And order a Viognier and Gruner by the glass - a treat for a white wine drinker weary of house Chardonnay.
Swirl Wine Bar & Market is a neighborhood gem with an international selection of carefully curated wines with an emphasis on European vintages. Small plates are available, prepared by 1000 Figs and served at Swirl. If you just want to nibble on some cheese, olives and other wine loving snacks, just ask your server about bar bites. Food is available Tuesday through Saturday. There are ongoing special tastings and events and the staff is friendly, approachable and never wine-snobby. This is a fun, funky spot with owners who care deeply about both their neighborhood and their wine business, a passion that makes this spot such a winner.