A traditional cochon de lait, a daytime rosé stroll and a Tabasco-fueled bloody mary brunch are among the new events at this year’s New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, happening next week.

Now in its 27th year, the wine and food extravaganza takes place April 3 to 7,  roughly a month and a half earlier than its usual late May slot. 

Organizers say the event was moved to accommodate more winemakers, some of whom were unable to fly in for the event in previous years, which has traditionally been held over Memorial Day weekend.

“We have over double the amount of wine at the Grand Tasting that we’ve had the last couple of years because we made the change — and the most winemakers that we’ve ever had fly in for NOWFE,” said Aimee Brown, the event’s executive director.

Brown estimated that there were roughly 40 different winemakers attending this year’s wine events, which include both the high-end wine tasting event Vinola and the Royal Street Stroll, several seminars, experiences and the Grand Tastings.

Kicking off the multiday fete on April 3 are close to 30 different wine dinners, with restaurants around the city teaming up with wineries for a slew of multicourse meals and wine pairings. Some of this year’s collaborations include a dinner at Maypop featuring wines from Charles Krug Winery, a Robert Mondavi wine pairing at Brennan’s, and wines from maker Orin Swift at Copper Vine, among others.

On Thursday, a traditional cochon de lait will be held at Central City BBQ, marking the first of several new events taking place this year. The pig roast party takes place at the South Rampart Street’s barbecue hub’s backyard patio from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature a whole-hog roast from Boucherie’s Nathanial Zimet and sides from Central City BBQ and chef Jimi Setchim, of Broussard’s.

Local whole-hog master and barbecue historian Dr. Howard Conyers will lead the event with a history of the local tradition, while Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers will provide the musical backdrop. 

The pig roast precedes NOWFE’s signature event, the Royal Street Stroll — a  French Quarter block party with food and wine tastings. Led by the Krewe of Cork, the event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. and takes over the 300 to 800 block of Royal Street.

The location for this year’s Grand Tasting events is also moving to a new location. Previously held at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the two-day event will instead take place at the Sugar Mill, which Brown said would offer guests a more “boutique and intimate” setting. The events, which are held on the evening of April 5 and during the afternoon on April 6, feature dishes from more than 70 different chefs and restaurants paired with wines from all over the world.

Also new this year is an event coined the Tournament of Rosés, which takes place the morning of April 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event, sponsored by Harrah’s New Orleans, takes over the 500 block of Fulton Street and features several different versions of the namesake wine from producers all over the world accompanied by snack pairings by Harrah’s.

A new paperless wristband entry system will allow guests to enter events and purchase wines using electronic bracelets, which can be ordered online and picked up before and at most of the listed events.

Every year, the organizers designate new beneficiaries, which this year are the newly opened New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute and Café Reconcile. One NOCHI student will receive a $15,000 scholarship, and Café Reconcile will receive the remaining event proceeds, the organizers said. 

Closing out the weekend’s festivities is a new Tabasco-sponsored Peppers, Popovers & Punch brunch event, on Sunday, April 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Held at the newly opened NOCHI space, the brunch will feature dishes from a group of local restaurants with dishes and drinks spiced up with Tabasco.

“We’re just excited to partner with one of our beneficiaries to show off their new, beautiful space,” said Brown.

Participating restaurants include Avo, The Vintage, Sucre and the Ritz-Carlton with coffee beverages from Orleans Coffee Company, Big Easy Bucha, and bloody marys made with Tabasco mix and Cathead vodka.

For more information on the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience or to purchase tickets to any of the events, visit the festival’s website, nowfe.com.


Follow Helen Freund on Twitter, @helenfreund.