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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Many Faces of a Wine Festival

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2009 at 11:58 PM

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Thanks to the way they proliferate across the New Orleans calendar, locals seem to have a pretty good lock on what a festival looks like. Most are outdoors and have at least one stage with musical performers. Someone will be selling food and drinks and there will probably be T-shirts for sale, possibly even an official poster.

But what does a five-day wine festival look like? In the case of the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience (NOWFE) now underway, it depends on the day.

Tuesday and Wednesday programming is all about wine dinners, which are held in restaurants around town and often include a wine maker presiding over the dinner. Friday and Saturday the action is indoors as well. There is a series of wine-related seminars and the two-day Grand Tastings, where the floor of the Superdome is filled with booths from wineries from around the world and restaurants from around the region all offering samples.

But Thursday seems like the busiest day for NOWFE, and the day with the most festival-like action. There's the Vinola wine tasting and auction in the afternoon, and that night the new FEASTiVAL, a celebrity chef gala held at Harrah's Casino for the first time this year.

Packed in between is the Royal Street Stroll, where wine tasting meets block party. From 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., several hundred people wend their way down the French Quarter blocks of Royal Street sampling wine and the occasional snack inside various participating galleries and boutiques, while bands perform outside. The French Quarter setting and freewheeling format make it a fun and memorable evening, and New Orleans people have found ways to make it their own.

The Krewe of Cork parades down Royal Street, hurling their custom beads, and many people don wine-themed costumes (like the Mona Lisa tribute pictured above). This year, the Hotel Monteleone is extending the festivities by hosting its own outdoor party on the 200 block of Royal Street on Thursday night. The party will celebrate the hotel's 60th anniversary with 1940s-style music, dancing and drinks.

Those Grand Tasting events have gotten more festive in their own right since moving to the Superdome last year. Anders Osborne will perform at this Friday's tasting, and Bonerama performs at Saturday's event. Both days include a carnival-style parade with Bacchus floats, a high school marching band and Mardi Gras Indians inside the Dome all amid the tasting tables.

Tickets are required for NOWFE events, and the festival donates proceeds to other local nonprofits and education programs. It's true that NOWFE is a little different from the festival experience some locals might expect, but it does have its own poster.

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