Most drinking establishments in New Orleans offer a full bar, but with the rise in popularity of wine tasting and small-plate dining, wine bars are carving out a larger niche among both restaurants and taverns. They are spread across town, from the French Quarter and Warehouse District to neighborhood spots, and they typically offer a large selection of wines by the glass and bottle.
Located in a 19th century building in the heart of the French Quarter, Orleans Grapevine (720 Orleans Ave., 523-1930; www.orleansgrapevine.com) exudes historic charm. Guests enter through French doors to find a romantic setting of exposed-brick walls, a fireplace and low lighting. There's seating around a large horseshoe-shaped bar, at a high-top communal table in the center of the space and at tables spread around the dining room. Outdoor seating is also available, both on the sidewalk, offering views of St. Louis Cathedral, and on an interior patio around a fountain and goldfish pool.
Since opening 10 years ago, Orleans Grapevine has been a wine bar and restaurant with a very deep wine list and full menu. There are nearly 70 wines available by the glass, and the bottle list includes upwards of 350 labels. During happy hours from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., there are tastings of flights of three wines. Chef Eddie Ray King offers a full menu beginning at 5 p.m. daily, and cheese boards, baked Brie and small plates are available.
In the Warehouse District, Bouche (840 Tchoupitoulas St., 267-7485; www.bouchenola.com) occupies a large and versatile space that proceeds from the lobby back to nooks modeled like a wine cellar with cafe tables. Bouche has lounge space with sofas and banquets and views of Tchoupitoulas Street. Private rooms can be reserved for dining or tastings and there is a cigar lounge for members. Food is served in all these areas. The wine list offers more than 40 wines by the glass, all preserved at the correct temperatures with an inert gas system. More than 50 wines are available by the bottle, and there is an emphasis on Old World wines, but new regions are represented as well.
During 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. happy hours on weekdays, patrons can sample a special wine flight or enjoy drink specials and a bar menu featuring freshly made chips, toasted ciabatta and other morsels. Consulting Chef Robert Bruce crafted a menu around hearty Louisiana ingredients. Small plates feature items such as smoked tasso truffle mac and cheese, shrimp and grits, sesame-crusted tuna, barbecue shrimp and a selection of cheeses from St. James Cheese Co.
For those who prefer to sample many wines, W.I.N.O. (610 Tchoupitoulas St., 324-8000; www.winoschool.com) is the place. It offers 120 wines, all open and preserved through an enomatic system that maintains a wine's freshness for up to 30 days. The automated system also allows customers to use a debit card to choose and pour their own portions. On a recent visit, the most heavily represented wine regions were France (26 wines) and California (22).
Many of the wines line the walls of W.I.N.O.'s front room and there's enough room to browse the choices. The spacious back room is decorated like a wine cellar and has plenty of tables. A limited food menu includes cheese plates, cured meats, pate, bruschetta and tapenades. A selection of beers is available. W.I.N.O. also is a wine store and offers wine classes.
A relative newcomer, Oak (8118 Oak St., 302-1485; www.oaknola.com) features wine, food and live music. Oak occupies a large space and the noise level can rise during musical performances, but there also are several side rooms offering a modicum of privacy.
A couple of dozen wines are served by the glass, and there are nearly 100 labels on the bottle list. Oak draws from every corner of the globe, and the wine selection complements an eclectic international menu. Patois' chef Aaron Burgau created the menu for Oak, and chef de cuisine Michael Nirenberg adds new items and creative twists. Oak serves a full menu past midnight.
The menu incorporates produce from local farmers markets. Nightly flights of sparkling wines and other combinations are available along with a trio of chilled Japanese sakes and a cocktail menu.