The Times-Picayune published a preview article in the Lagniappe section Friday. It is a much stronger effort than in years past. An item lost on many gets stressed early on: this is a charity event, benefiting various culinary and restaurant-focused, local organizations. The cause is good and the events are solid but lots of people do not participate due to the expense.
Improvements have been made regarding the overall event. Unfortunately, one of the biggest vanishes this year. The Grand Tastings return to the Convention Center from their more successful Superdome location of the past few years. Although crowds are appropriately handled and the hall works, the taller, roomier Superdome felt more inviting to this taster. Renovations at the home of the Saints forced the return to NOWFE's previous sipping grounds.
The largest improvement of late has been related to food. More new and interesting culinary efforts exist than ever before. Too much of it still runs out much too early, but thank you.
I worry about the addition of VINOLA, a high-end event on Thursday featuring wines priced at retail from $75 up. For years, NOWFE's Grand Tastings accommodated restaurateurs by offering free admission before the paying customers arrived. Due to some short-sighted thinking and some abuses by restaurant staff, the option was eliminated for a number of years. Now that it has returned, better wines and wineries should follow. [Like it or not, right or wrong, most wineries stress restaurant placement over retail sales. This means that some dropped out since they lacked access to the market they desired but are now returning.]
However, since wineries and local distributors donate all the wine consumed at the various events, focus for upper end wines may shift to VINOLA at the expense of the Grand Tastings. [Forget seeing the wineries that produce small quantities since they can not justify free bottles for judging, dinners, the Royal St. Stroll and Grand Tastings] Even the article, by Todd A. Price, describes them as follows, "The Grand Tasting, which features more budget priced options, is a chance to discover wines that you might drink on a weeknight and that are easy to find at your local grocery and liquor store." I can hear the NOWFE board cringing as I type this. If it's all"budget priced" wine then should the tickets be $89 + service charges? Should they continue to be called Grand Tastings? I think the description is inaccurate; I still found exciting, relatively high-end wines available at the Grand Tastings the last two years but fear an erosion in deference to the upper-end customers at VINOLA (tickets are $150 for this event).
Tomorrow: a frustration continues, mabye we can finally end it for next year...