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Sommelier on a Budget

00:00 November 21, 2011
By: Emily Hingle

Recent decades have seen wine grow hugely popular in American culture. Once reserved for restaurants and special occasions, it's now commonplace to drink it at home for dinner any night or for casual get-togethers. It can be found in many styles and mixtures, and to fit every budget. You can indulge wine in ways that won't break your bank while putting you on the path to becoming a knowledgeable wine drinker, perhaps even a sommelier. Here in New Orleans, wine tastings are on the rise; some are elaborate and involve lots of historical and technical information, others are casual and a fun alternative to a regular bar. Wine tastings are a good way to get to know this ancient and complex drink.

Swirl encompasses the charm of Mid-City with a casual, quirky atmosphere that is perfect for an afternoon exploration of worldly wines. Swirl wine is located in the Fair Grounds neighborhood at 3143 Ponce de Leon St. The owners and staff are very personable and passionate for the craft and culture of the products they distribute. They work very hard to stock the racks with unique wines that they find in travels around the globe. The chalk board displays the rotating daily specials of wine-by-the-glass that can include a wonderful, full-bodied Argentinian Malbec, a tasteful crisp French Chardonnay, Italian Cabernets and other delicious selections available for tasting at the bar at an affordable price.

If you're in the mood for more, Swirl offers cheese plates with varying types of cheese all from the local store St. James Cheese Company, also available for purchase by the wedge. The wine store, with gorgeous local art filling the walls, offers flites three two-ounce pours for $12 every Wednesday, and Friday free-for-all tastings from 6 - 8 p.m. Swirl hosts monthly wine and cheese pairing classes for $25 giving the taster some great information to go along with the equally great wines.

To keep up with all that the store is doing, or where the owners are currently looking for wines in foreign countries, sign up for their weekly email that's packed with information about their upcoming events, wines they will be stocking, articles, and recipes.

Pearl Wine Co., formerly Cork and Bottle, also located in Mid City at 3700 Orleans Ave. in the American Can Co. Building, is a wine and liquor store with a bar attached. The store host free tastings on Thursdays and Fridays from 5 - 7 p.m. to help orient customers with a variety of wines. You can get a manicure and a drink for $20 on Mondays or enjoy live jazz on Saturdays at 8 p.m. Check out their site for more information.

New to the table is Faubourg Wines located at 2805 St. Claude Avenue. They also serve cheese from the St. James Cheese Co. as well as fresh breads from Bellegarde Bakery. Enjoy a free wine tasting on Wednesday nights from 6-8 p.m. They also have wine pairing classes for those wanting serious knowledge on the subject and host other clubs like knitting circles regularly. Visit their site to see all of their events.

The Wine Institute of New Orleans, lovingly called W.I.N.O., is nestled in the CBD at 610 Tchoupitoulas Street, perfect for the working stiffs needing to relax after a day's work. Bryan Burkey, co-founder and director of W.I.N.O., is a true wine educator and sommelier with impressive credentials from wine institutes around the country. He brings that expertise and desire to this shop by offering classes at the store/bar like Introduction to Wine Tasting, Old World versus New World, cheese and wine pairings, and a professional wine tasting series. W.I.N.O. is open late every day of the week for wine connoisseurs that don't dare drink anything available at a grocery store.

Attending wine tastings around the city will help you get to know other wine enthusiasts, deepen your knowledge of wine and develop your senses through learning the proper techniques.There are so many options available that it would be a faux pas to pass on these events.

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