Editor’s Note: Bourbon street, like New Orleans, is a place like no other. Anything goes in this iconic street; it has often been referred to as “the life of a party town” and “a place for revelry of all sorts”. It appears as if even the most erratic behaviors are legal there. In Bourbon Street partygoers have liberties like open-container drinking and public nudity, which are illegal everywhere else. The street has a never-ending selection of bars and restaurants with different music genres and themes that cater to even the most unique of tastes. The liberties allowed on Bourbon Street often bring to mind the question of “How is this legal?” and have given New Orleans a wild reputation. Famous musicians like Mannie Fresh attest to this reputation saying, “When a lot of people are calling it a night at 2 AM, New Orleans is coming alive,” comments such as these have made New Orleans nightlife iconic. People travel across the country to come let loose and lose their inhibitions in Bourbon Street, especially during Mardi Gras when the city sees an influx of approximately 1.4 million people. The party reputation of New Orleans and the spotlight placed has brought many benefits like tourism to the state but has also resulted in a lack of attention towards more serious issues. New Orleans has deeply entrenched issues regarding its prison system and inequalities with race. Preoccupying stories about how women in the Orleans parish prison can get sterilized to reduce their prison sentence and how prison labor is comparable to slavery don’t get half the attention of stories about the best bars in Bourbon. It would be useful to open people’s eyes to the realities of New Orleans and give attention to the issues that need resolving shifting from people asking, “How is this legal?” to “How is this not illegal?”. This piece was originally published on October 8, 2012.
The second hand of the clock still has a good 25 minutes of motion before it strikes the noon hour at NOLA Tropical Winery in the Riverwalk Marketplace. But the chic little tasting room, with its stressed-wood display table and elbow-shaped marble bar, fills, empties and refills with a steady stream of clients.
That can partly be traced to the free samplings that owner Todd Judice is pouring with a liberal hand. But a large part of the curiosity has to do strictly with the wares.
This wine bar offers reds, whites, roses, ports, sherries, even sangria. But not one of them is made from … grapes.
NOLA Tropical Winery sells wines made from an eye-opening array of (other) fruits and berries. Apple, cherry, apricot, pear, wildberry. Mango, pineapple, tangerine, key lime and coconut. Watermelon and dragon fruit. Grapefruit and pumpkin.
Discovering that I’m a pinot grigio fancier, Judice pulls a bottle out from under the counter like a magician brandishing a top hat, hiding the label from view.
“Tell me what you think,” he says. A sip, and the flavor lingers on the tongue. Fresh, crisp, surprisingly light and dry.
“Kiwi,” he says, turning the bottle with a flourish, so that the label appears.
Tropical wines, like their more traditional counterparts, run the gamut of flavors. A tart, bright passion fruit wine pairs well with food. A dry blackberry is akin to red table wine, while Cherry Red has a fuller bouquet and flavor. Key Limen plucked from the freezer makes for a great mock Margarita.
The only surprising thing is how little any of them taste like, well, fruit. Those expecting the cloying flavor of grandma’s homemade blackberry brew will discover that many of these concoctions have a bouquet and complexity that defies the stereotype of fruit wines.
Judice will tell you that he doesn’t sell so much to casual wine drinkers; rather, his clientele tends to hate wine — or love it.
“Those who generally don’t like wine find that they do like these,” he says. “And wine connoisseurs try it out of curiosity and interest in wines in general.”
More then one California wine snob, he says, has walked in expecting to find a contemporary update on Boone’s Farm apple, only to ship a case or two of the NOLA Tropical wines home.
Judice himself was an equally instant convert. He and his wife wandered into a tropical wine store while on vacation in Key West. They sampled and savored, and decided the wines would be a natural for New Orleans.
He’s an engineer; she’s a psychotherapist. Neither could claim to be an oenophile. But both are the type willing to take a leap of faith – they met, after all, on eharmony.com, these two New Iberia natives who had never known one another growing up in that Southwestern Louisiana town.
Within a year of their discovery, they had opened NOLA Tropical Winery in the Riverwalk. Soon after came stores in San Antonio and Sarasota. Now, they are branching out with a new concept for the French Quarter.
The NOLA Tropical Wine Smoothie Bar opened a couple of weeks ago on Bourbon Street. The entrance is on St. Peter Street, next to the Krazy Korner. The courtyard has half a dozen tables for sipping and savoring, and plans are in the works for wine and smoothie tastings for tour groups.
Each wine smoothie, available in three sizes or a refillable souvenir cup, is a blend of fruit, citrus or berry wine (many made in Louisiana), ice and a house-made fruit concentrate. There’s peach-mango, strawberry margarita, an orange cream that resembles the old dreamsicle, and their own Hurricane made with cherry wine.
“They have the same texture and flavor of a frozen daiquiri or margarita,” Judice says. “Without the calories.”
As at the Riverwalk location, the Bourbon Street menu includes tropical wines, as well as shots of Mango Port or Blackberry-blueberry port. And the house-brand smoothie mixes are available for blending at home.
A recent NolaVie blind taste test of Mango Tango produced an aromatic apricot-colored frozen drink that drew universal approval — and puzzlement.
The secret ingredient? Rum? Vodka? Fresh fruit?
Not one taster guessed … peach wine.