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Faces of a wine fest 

  What does a five-day wine festival look like? With the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (NOWFE), which begins next week, the answer depends on the day.

  NOWFE is a festival with many faces, from the freewheeling Royal Street Stroll (Thursday, May 24), with ticket-holders drinking their way from one wine-stocked French Quarter art or antique gallery to the next, to the Grand Tastings (Friday and Saturday, May 25-26), which are gigantic food and wine samplings held inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. More than 1,000 wines will be poured at NOWFE events.

  There's a night of wine dinners at local restaurants (Wednesday, May 23) led by winemakers from around the country; and there are wine and food seminars hosted by chefs, wine experts and media personalities (Friday and Saturday). The schedule begins Tuesday, May 22, with the Ella Brennan Award Dinner and Wine Auction, which this year honors local beverage magnate and philanthropist Bill Goldring. This event is already sold out.

  New Orleans food sets NOWFE apart from other wine festivals around the country. While some of those events have blossomed close to picturesque vineyards and valleys, NOWFE is in the heart of a great American food destination. About 75 restaurants and other food-related businesses participate, hosting dinners or serving samples of their dishes at Grand Tastings.

  Saturday's Grand Tasting features the fifth annual Louisiana Seafood Cook-off, in which 10 chefs from across the state (including five from the New Orleans area) compete for the title of King or Queen of Louisiana Seafood. Their dishes will be judged during the event, with the winner announced at its finale. Visit www.nowfe.com for tickets and information.

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