NO.Ian.Winetastings.092513

Rebecca Rapp enjoys a glass of wine during the weekly tasting at Swirl in Mid-City.

New Orleans sets the table with a famously robust restaurant scene and a passionate food culture. Wine is often on the table too.

Now, a new wine awards program is taking shape to underscore that relationship and help take it further.

The inaugural New Orleans International Wine Awards will take place Nov. 6-8 in the French Quarter. Winemakers from around the globe will vie for medals from a panel of judges from around the country.  Serious wine lovers in New Orleans will have a chance to try them too.

The new event is organized by a group of local wine impresarios in partnership with some of the city’s most historic restaurants -- Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s and Galatoire’s.

“We live in one of the great restaurant cities on the planet, and wine is something people enjoy as part of that,” said Tim McNally, a wine writer and frequent wine judge who is a co-founder of the New Orleans International Wine Awards.

“We think there are a lot of winemakers out there who appreciate what New Orleans means and would value the chance to compete for awards here,” he said.

McNally’s co-founders in the program are James Moises, a physician who also runs his own wine import and distribution label, Bizou Wines, and Bill Kearney, a partner and wine director at Galatoire’s Restaurant (John Georges, an owner of the Advocate, is also an owner of Galatoire’s).

The New Orleans calendar is filled with festivals, and it already has a wine-focused annual event with the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, held each spring.

But the New Orleans International Wine Awards founders say their event is intended to be much different. It is aimed primarily at people in the wine business, the wine makers who will be competing for its medals.

There is also a public component. Once the judging is complete, the competing wines will be poured at tastings held concurrently at Antoine’s, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s and Galatoire’s. These will be limited-ticket tastings, with different wines at each of the nearby restaurants. Attendees can wander from one grand dame to the next sampling the wines, including those that won medals.

McNally said the new event was inspired by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Awards, the country’s largest wine competition. In 2018, close to 7,000 wines were submitted to this annual event.

The New Orleans awards will be much smaller to begin, with a target of 500 wines up for assessment.

WineJudging.com, the company that manages the San Francisco Wine Awards, will also manage the New Orleans competition.

While the San Francisco event takes place on the doorstep of California wine country, New Orleans may be a less intuitive locale for wine awards. But that’s where the city’s culinary foundation comes in.

“The wineries that are trying to produce the best wine want to be in world-class restaurants , and that’s what we have here," said Kearney.

The city's restaurants, and the way they draw visitors and locals hungry for culinary experiences, builds the bridge between New Orleans and the wine world, the founders say. 

“The great restaurants we have here give us access to wines that wouldn’t otherwise be in the market,” Kearney said. "You have great wine, you have great food, it’s this symbiotic relationship.”

Many winemakers pursue awards as part of their marketing strategies, and retail wine racks are filled with bottles bearing the symbols of past accolades. The local event founders are banking on the culinary prestige and reputation of New Orleans to help make its awards stand out.

“When I travel, I’m so excited to bring wines to this city that might only be otherwise sold back in their home country,” said Moises. “I think with these awards, we’re opening the door for more wines to come through here. If we build this as a real show, we can get people’s attention around the world to see us as a wine destination as well as a food destination.”

New Orleans International Wine Awards

Nov. 6-8, 2018

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.