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How does New Orleans' collective wine taste differ from that of other American cities?

We like to think we're different. And compared to the rest of America, we most certainly are.

ÊNew Orleanians go out more, eat out more, party harder.

ÊOur heritage is different from the rest of the U.S., and even our history is more colorful and character-filled. Heck, we almost had the deposed Emperor Napoleon as a resident. And the only French Impressionist to travel to America -- Edgar Degas -- lived right here in New Orleans on Esplanade Avenue.

Don't we know that?

While most of America adheres to the Laws of the Land, we are blissfully, happily, marching and lurching to our own beat. Does anyone in Kansas City have the slightest idea of what a second line is?

So what about our drinking habits? What are we drinking? Are we in step, or as usual, contrary? The Gallup research organization reported that in the past two years, wine has surpassed all other adult beverages in percentage of the population who enjoy such things.

Are New Orleanians drinking more wine? We asked a few folks who should know and the answers are surprisingly ... well, all over the map. But several definite trends emerge.

Just for the record, the number one selling wine varietal in America is still Chardonnay. In fact, here in our burg, our survey says that of every three bottles of wine sold, one will be a Chardonnay. That's considerably higher than the rest of the country, which comes in at 22 percent. Maybe that is due to our hotter climate and the refreshing qualities of a white wine served well chilled.

The second-highest grape varietal sold in America is Merlot, registering 12 percent by volume and almost 14 percent by value. But it is on a downward trend. Moving up is Cabernet Sauvignon, growing 50 percent in volume sales and 65 percent in dollars sales. Of special note is that Merlot failed to register any sales growth over the past year in America.

Pinot Noir is seeing phenomenal acceptance, and that is true to a great extent here. In our humble and very limited survey, Pinot Noir appears to have the edge on red wines.

Matthew White of Orleans Grapevine said it is the most popular wine they serve. That is echoed by Brad Hollingsworth of Clancy's, a veritable ground-zero for fine wine and fine dining aficionados.

"Pinot Noir and Merlot are still strong, certainly post-Katrina. We've seen no changes in drinking habits, other than volume. Folks are focused on enjoying themselves," he says.

Jon Smith at Cork & Bottle says he can't keep Pinot Noir on the shelves. There's a veritable run on the Burgundian style of wines. Smith also noted that Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire Valley or New Zealand are hot items, again probably due to our climate, and the reasonable cost of those wines.

Buyers are also drinking pink. "People have finally figured it out. Dry rosŽs are not white Zin," says Smith, who put in a dozen dry rosŽs a few weeks ago and subsequently sold out.

Maitre d' (and Krewe of Cork president) Patrick Von Hoorebeeck notes that, at The Bistro at Maison de Ville, Pinot Noir leads the pack with Sauvignon Blanc next and Chardonnay sales falling off considerably. "We really don't sell Merlot," he says.

At CuvŽe where the wine list is like the Holy Grail to wine lovers, owner Kenny Lacour has noted a distinct swing in favor of Pinot Noir.

"We've enlarged our Burgundy selection and these wines are selling along with Pinot Noirs from Oregon, Australia, California, New Zealand and other places," he says. "People have come off the big Cabs and are going towards Pinot Noir more." Lacour is also seeing increased white wine sales of Rieslings, Pinot Gris and Spanish whites now that warm weather is upon us.

It also appears we have a deep love and respect for California Cabernet Sauvignons. Blaise Todaro, co-owner of Vieux CarrŽ Wine and Spirits, says that Cabs, particularly the "good stuff," are still selling well. Phelps, Stag's Leap, Ridge, whatever costs a bit, goes out the door. Todaro also does well with Merlot and Pinot Noir.

ÊGiving a strong "amen" to that sentiment is the gang at Morton's. Okay, so that is to be expected, but what goes better than a fine, well-aged cut of beef than a fine, well-aged bottle of California Cabernet? Silver Oak, Rodney Strong, Symmetry, older Mondavis, are all crowd favorites at this upscale dining room.

All-American? Not so fast, tannic-tongue. Think again. This is New Orleans, after all.Ê

Speaking of Degas, CafŽ Degas' Jacques Soulas is pleased to note that French boutique wines are alive and well on Esplanade Ridge. Sancerres from the Loire Valley, Cotes du Rhone selections, Beaume de Venise, Prieur Lichene Margaux, and Burgundies from Joseph Drouhin are served alongside Ferrari-Carano from Sonoma, J. Lohr from Central Coast or a Martin Ray Pinot Noir.

Conclusions as to whether New Orleans is following the same trend as America are difficult to draw. Keep in mind that wine is great with food. In fact, that is the point. Perhaps the wine enthusiasts here are more open to a wider variety of wines from around the world.

New Orleans sticks out in America for offering its own exciting cuisine. As you enjoy many different styles of dining preparations from different corners of the world, featuring the freshest of ingredients, all brought together by our inimitable mix of spices and other influences, you come to the conclusion that here -- the "melting pot" of America is what's on the table.

And the wine must complement. Interestingly, two of the most food-friendly wines of all are the ones New Orleanians seem to be the most passionate about: Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blancs. Bon appetit!

click to enlarge Maitre d' Patrick Von Hoorebeeck notes that, at The Bistro - at Maison de Ville, Pinot Noir leads the pack with Sauvignon - Blanc next and Chardonnay sales falling off considerably. - "We really don't sell Merlot," he says. - DONN YOUNG
  • Donn Young
  • Maitre d' Patrick Von Hoorebeeck notes that, at The Bistro at Maison de Ville, Pinot Noir leads the pack with Sauvignon Blanc next and Chardonnay sales falling off considerably. "We really don't sell Merlot," he says.
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