New Orleans mixes distinctive cuisine and stellar wines to create the casual, easygoing cool distinct to “The Big Easy.” According to Marc Preuss, former co-owner of Broussard’s in the French Quarter, the city’s focus on wine intensified after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
“Before Katrina, our little bull’s-eye, our area of appreciating wine and food was a small space,” he says. “Now, it’s expanded over most of old New Orleans.”
Preuss runs NOLA DeTours, which offers customized, private expeditions throughout the city. One highlight is a historic culinary cocktail tour.
“These neighborhoods all have special bars and, blended with the character, all of the original history,” says Preuss. “Whether it’s Bacchanal in the Bywater, or Faubourg Wines in the Marigny, that’s what makes them unique.”
Wine Shops and Wine Bars
In the Bywater, Bacchanal became a part of the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts when guest chefs from around New Orleans cooked for the crowds on Bacchanal Sundays. “After Katrina, New Orleans had this renaissance and reinvention of itself, and I think Bacchanal had a lot to do with that,” says Gregory Gremillion, owner of local restaurant CellarDoor.
This combo wine shop/backyard party hosts live jazz on the outside patio. Its Old World-focused wine selection does include some New World bottles. The menu has a variety of options by the glass or bottle, as well as $5 glasses of wine during the daily happy hour from 11am–5pm. There’s also a seasonal weekly menu featuring small plates.
This upscale neighborhood wine bar/bistro in the Garden District features more than 350 wines. It’s known for its frozen drinks during the summer, namely the $5 friesling/frosé happy hour specials. Specialties here include goose fat-fried pommes frites and smoked-salmon Johnny Cakes. The outdoor patio is perfect to sip a glass of wine and watch the streetcars as they travel up and down St. Charles Avenue—fitting since the exterior of the building looks like an old rail car.
Proudly billing itself as “your friendly and fearless neighborhood wine shop,” Faubourg spotlights rare wines and some of the world’s best premium bottlings. There’s also a selection of wines under $15. The shop, which opened in 2012, seeks to build community through wine. “What sets our shop apart is that we are less focused on the transaction of selling wine and more involved in the experiences and interactions that are naturally enhanced by wine,” says owner Catherine Markel.
Step off the St. Charles streetcar and wander into Oak, a seductive wine bar located on the street that bears its name. Owner and General Manager, Patrick Winters, oversees the wine list that focuses on palate, rather than region. Sections can include “Stones and Acid,” “Flirting with Oak” and “Herbs and Smoke.” It meshes beautifully with a menu of small plates like fried shrimp tacos or soft pretzel with beer cheese fondue. The venue often hosts a variety of jazz, folk and R&B acts. Located in Carrollton, which was once its own city, the neighborhood maintains a nostalgic appeal.
Patrick’s Bar Vin
Located in the heart of the French Quarter inside Hotel Mazarin, this elegant spot is run by Patrick Van Hoorebeek, the former maître d’ of Bistro Maison de Ville. The extensive wine list is complemented by a wide selection of craft cocktails and beers from Van Hoorebeek’s native country, Belgium.
Van Hoorebeek is the star here, and his personality is as big a draw as the food and wine options. He holds the title of “king for life” of the Krewe of Cork, the Mardi Gras group that celebrates wine, food and fun. Its members often hang out in the intimate courtyard alongside other locals. You can also rent a personalized climate-controlled wine locker.
Pearl Wine Co.
This combination wine shop/bar is housed in the American Can Company building, a historic structure along the Bayou St. John built in 1929. It was once the largest aluminum can factory in the country.
Proprietor Leora Madden takes pride in how the wine scene has evolved since she opened in 2013. “We have seen an incredible shift with people who say, ‘Hey, I had a Syrah I liked. Show me a Syrah you like,’ ” says Madden. “Or, ‘What’s natural wine? I wanna try some.’ ” Pearl Wine Co. offers an array of craft cocktails, a diverse roster of events like crawfish and bingo nights, as well as local music, wine tastings and open mic nights.
Saint-Germain may be the newest kid on the block, but it’s très magnifique. A Parisian-style wine bar and 16-seat, reservation-only bistro in the Bywater, it focuses on organic and biodynamic natural wines. It’s the brainchild of three chefs who wanted to bring the laid-back feeling of France to New Orleans.
For those lucky enough to snag a reservation, Saint-Germain’s goal is to make you feel like you’re eating at the chef’s home. Situated in one of New Orleans’s iconic double shotgun-style houses, Saint-Germain’ spacious, shade-covered backyard may make you believe you’ve been transported to a lush courtyard in the South of France.
Wine Institute of New Orleans (W.I.N.O.)
This self-service wine bar/shop features 120 options on tap, which are available in 1-, 2- or 4-ounce pours. Small dishes and cheese plates are also available. Don’t miss happy hour, where you can score 25% off all wines on tap. The location also holds Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) classes and wine seminars. Located near the convention center in the Central Business District (CBD), it’s the perfect place to unwind after a long day.
Restaurants with Great Wine Lists
This chic gastropub eatery is named after the plantation and faubourg that once existed in the area that is now a part of Uptown. Chef/owner John Harris first opened Lilette, a sophisticated French restaurant, in 2000.
When the adjacent building became available, he grabbed it and opened Bouligny Tavern. It offers an array of wines by the glass in addition to a diverse, 60-bottle wine list. A menu of small plates includes mushroom bruschetta and fried hush puppies. A creative assortment of cocktails are worth trying, if only to say their names. Managed Mischief or Birds & Bees, anyone?
This eatery is located in the historic Swoop-Duggins House, one of the oldest structures in the CBD. Believed to have been built in 1830, the building has had several incarnations, including 40 years as a brothel. CellarDoor, which opened in 2014, features wine, beer and craft cocktails along with innovative cuisine.
Influenced by international travel, owners Gregory and Rachel Gremillion pride themselves on their wine selections. “What I’m trying to do is curate a global wine list that showcases wines around the world that you may not be able to see anywhere else,” says Gregory. The building is stunning, with 15-foot ceilings, original bricks and a three-story gallery built by Gregory. “It’s been really fun to see a restaurant and bar breathe new life into this building and provide the income to restore it,” he says.
Cavan Restaurant & Bar
Cavan serves coastal American cuisine that incorporates fresh, local ingredients. It specializes in Old World wines and offers a daily happy hour that includes half-priced classic cocktails, wine, local beers and selected appetizers. Cavan is housed in the historic Garden District Victorian mansion known as Cockerton House, built in 1881. Some believe it to be haunted. When the restaurant opened, it’s said that inexplicable things began to happen. The mysteries include strange smells, motion detectors that trigger randomly and doors that seemingly slam on their own.
Out and About
Southern Food & Beverage Museum (SoFAB)
This nonprofit museum focuses on all the cultures that create the South’s unique culinary heritage. Its stated mission is dedicated to the discovery, understanding, and celebration of the food and drink cultures of the world through the eyes of the South. SoFAB hosts exhibits, tastings and demonstrations that include an exhibit for each of the Southern states. Another recent series of classes highlights Creole and Cajun cooking.