The Little Wine Shop

This story occurred in Taormina, a resort town on the cliffs above the Mediterranean, on the east coast of Sicily.  But it could have been anywhere.

The bay o\f Taormina

We checked into our hotel and, as we had reserved, saw that we had a large terrace attached to our room, with a motor-driven shade that made it tolerable to sit there in the heat of the afternoon Sicilian sun.  The view was so gorgeous, we knew immediately that we had to have a bottle of white wine for sipping while admiring the view.  So we asked the front desk where we might buy some and they recommended a shop a few blocks away (and up the hill), called Mamma Mia.


Mamma Mia enoteca.  Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor.

Mamma Mia!  Could there be anything more stereotypical than a shop by that name.  (Actually, the sign in front said, in English, New Mamma Mia, so maybe there was an old one somewhere.)

One side of the shop was a convenience store cum salumeria, the other an enoteca.  Both sides were presided over by a young man named Fernando.  As we entered, he was selling olives to another couple who then wanted some wine.  They didn’t speak Italian and Fernando didn’t understand whatever language they spoke but it became clear that they were looking for a cool, refreshing and inexpensive wine.

After they left it was our turn and we guessed Fernando thought that two more foreigners would want the cheap stuff, too.  That wasn’t what we were after and in our broken Italian we made that clear to him.  So he pulled a few biancos off the wall that cost around twenty euros apiece.  We decided to buy one if he had it on ice but then asked if he had anything better or, in fact, to show us his best wine.  (This entailed a lot of hand motions, a little English, maybe a word or two of French and whatever Italian we could dredge up from our limited vocabulary.)

So he reached back and showed us a bottle of white wine for forty euros, which he said was his best and most expensive.  He was a little apprehensive about suggesting such a high-priced wine but also a little eager to show some interested visitors what he considered to be the best of Sicily.  So in addition to the one we had already chosen, we took the top wine, which he did not have refrigerated.  We had a small fridge in our room, so we bought some olives, a piece of cheese and some sausage and went back to our hotel to enjoy the view.

The ”special” wine

The next day we had our little feast for lunch and opened the “special’ wine.  It was a Duca di Salaparuta Bianca di Valguarnera Bianco Terre Siciliane, and it was among the most enjoyable white wines we had ever tasted.  But it’s only available in Italy, maybe only in Sicily.  During our stay in Taormina, we became regulars at Mamma Mia’s enoteca and salumeria.

Moral of the story: in your travels, when you want a good bottle of wine, ask where the locals shop and get their best.  You’ll rarely be disappointed.


Tasting in Napa Valley – A Status Report

In the more than 40 years that we have been visiting Napa Valley, we’ve seen many changes.  Some have been for the better, some for the worse as would only be expected over such a long period of time.  Fortunately, some things will never change.  The mountains and the valley floor will always be beautiful, showing different characteristics as the seasons pass.  The earth will always support superb vines.  And, so we hope, those vines will be producing extraordinary wines for many years to come.

For those like us who take pleasure in visiting Napa Valley for wine tasting, we present our perspective on the plusses and minuses of the region today.

  • The top wineries may be making the finest wines, year after year, that have ever been made there. In a recent visit we focused on the reserve tasting at some of the best vineyards.  Almost without exception (there were a few, but we’ll let those pass) the red wines in particular equaled or surpassed anything we have tasted before.  The wines from the drought years are maturing admirably and the recent vintages sparkle.  You are almost certain to sip great wines when you visit.
  • Merlot is less available in tasting rooms, while Malbec is becoming more prominent. Of course there are still great Merlots to be sampled.  Beringer’s Bancroft Ranch and Pine Ridge’s Carneros Merlot were our recent favorites.  But more and more wineries are featuring single varietal Malbecs.  Although it is historically a Bordeaux grape, the Bordelais barely use it anymore.  We suspect that its new popularity stems from its dominant use in Argentine wines.

The tasting room at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

  • Wine tasting prices have skyrocketed. You will have to pay a pretty penny to sample the top wines, though.  Based on a non-scientific sample, we can report that $45 is table stakes to taste reserve wines.  Mondavi charges $75 for a reserve tasting; Joseph Phelps charges $85.  You can partake of a tasting in Pete Buttiegieg’s wine cave (actually it’s at Hall Rutherford) for $125.  Wine tasting in Napa Valley has become unaffordable for many people.  Moreover, the prices of the top wines at almost every winery we visited are $100 or more, some into the $200s.
  • The same can be said for hotel rooms. There may be inexpensive places to stay, but we haven’t found them.  We now pay for a room what we would have walked away from only a few years ago.  Using your points at a Marriott or Hilton property may be a good tactic.

The tasting room at Trefethen Family Vineyards, where all the tastings are seated

  • More and more wineries are erecting Napa Palaces. Places that only a few years ago were little more than farmhouses with a bar have now become elegant “visitor centers”.  Stag’s Leap, Louis M. Martini and Joseph Phelps are among them.  Some reserve the fancier digs for members of their wine clubs; Etude, Pine Ridge, Domaine Carneros and Bouchaine are among these.  It’s hard to say if this is a positive or negative trend.  The new buildings are indeed beautiful, but they are further removed from the elemental farming and winemaking that has made Napa Valley what it is.
  • Increasingly, wines are served in seated tastings. Again, this may be viewed as a plus.  You are less likely to be standing next to an over-served know-it-all at the bar.  But on busy days it may prove harder to get your glass refilled.  The servers are more like waiters than educators; they have less time to explain to you the details about what you are sipping.  And while you won’t be bothered by other visitors, you’re less likely to meet interesting people who share the same enthusiasm for wine.

As we said, Napa Valley has changed and surely will do so in the future.  It is still a wonderful destination for wine lovers.  We just think it’s best to be aware of what the conditions are before you book your trip.


We almost didn’t visit Narbonne.  We were in southwest France to soak up village life and to visit vineyards.  Why spend time visiting a second-tier city that wasn’t on the list of “must-see” places in the country.  But it was only a short drive from where we were staying and so why not?  It would have been a big mistake to miss Narbonne.

Located in the heart of Languedoc Roussillon, there are indeed many vineyards in the general area as well as some famous beaches (Narbonne Plage) nearby.  The city manages to contain ancient monuments, 19th century splendor and modernity quite well together.

Gargoyles on Narbonne’s cathedral.

The best of the ancient buildings are a gothic cathedral and an almost as old bishops’ palace, so we went to take in a bit of medieval culture.  And indeed, the cathedral is impressive.  There had been others on the same location and in 1268 the Pope decided that the town was safe enough from heretics to build a new one.  Most of it was erected, but they never quite got around to finishing it.  What they did build is quite an eyeful, especially the gargoyles around the top.

By all means see the old stones, but leave time for the more contemporary, less touristy attractions Narbonne has to offer.  For us, foodies that we are, the topmost among these is the grand indoor market, Les Halles de Narbonne.  Like other markets in France, you’ll find a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables bursting with color and flavor. (If you’re there at the end of summer, eat mirabelles, small green plums that are the sweetest we’ve ever tasted and you can’t find them in the United States.)  There are beautiful meats, of course with butchers who will slice you a steak of Aubrac beef.  And the cheese counters are a tour of French pastures.

But not everywhere can you find the kiosk that specializes in tapenades, the olive and anchovy spreads beloved in the south of France.  Or the fellow who will sell you cassoulet in an earthenware bowl for you to heat it up in.  Or counters of tapas bars (Narbonne is quite close to Spain) where the locals meet on weekend mornings for snacks and wine.

A procession of winemakers through Les Halles de Narbonne during the Fête des Vendanges

Should you be there on the second Saturday of September, the local winemaking fraternities hold their annual Fête des Vendanges (harvest festival).  You can see the members of these wine societies parade through the village and into the Marché, striding with a few instrumentalists among the food stalls.  A grand feast is held outside on long picnic tables, with food available from many of the stalls inside.  You feel as though you were just transported to the Middle Ages.

Along the Canal de la Robine in Narbonne

If you’d like to sit in a bistro along a tree-shaded canal, Narbonne offers many of them as well, along the Canal de la Robine that crosses the city.  In warm weather, which is most of the year, there are outdoor tables in front of every restaurant.  Your only problem is choosing which one.

Finally, leave some time just to walk around.  There are narrow medieval streets, leafy boulevards and lots of charming places to stop for a coffee.  Avail yourself of this little French jewel of a city, and then drive just outside of town and visit the vineyards.


Champagne – The Region

There are many parts of the world’s Wine Country where they make sparkling wine.  It almost seems that every place that grows grapes makes some sparklers.  They may call it champagne, but only one place makes true Champagne and that’s in France.  The Champagne region is about an hour and a half drive from the Paris airports and lies, generally speaking, in the area between and around the towns of Reims and Épernay.

The September harvest in Champagne

Now, of course, any reader of Power Tasting will want to visit Champagne in order to taste the wines there.  But when you are there, there are many other reasons to enjoy the Champagne region.  For one thing, it’s a beautiful region of rolling hills and endless vineyards, with plenty of other farming where the land does not lend itself to growing grapes.  We were fortunate enough to travel in Champagne during the harvest; the sight of the workers in fields bursting with fruit in the vines was inspiring, especially knowing the destiny of those grapes.

The Chagall windows in Reims Cathedral

Both of the major towns are worth visiting.  Reims has a magnificent cathedral that has had its unfortunate share of warfare, especially during the two world wars of the 20th Century.  You can still see the marks made by artillery on the walls.  Fortunately, the parishioners took down the rose window and preserved it from the violence, but the windows in the Lady Chapel at the rear of the cathedral were not so lucky.  However, they were replaced after World War II with new windows by Marc Chagall that are among the most gorgeous works of stained glass, ancient or modern, to be seen anywhere.

The Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Épernay

Épernay does not have the an equivalent architectural marvel, although many of the buildings that house wineries are wonderful examples of 19th century imagination.  You can see many of them on the Avenue de Champagne where some of the best known Champagne producers (and many lesser known ones, too) have their headquarters.  [More about that in our article on wine tasting in Champagne.]

Aside from the major towns, the Champagne region is full of history.  We recommend that you look up the Routes Touristiques de Champagne (in English at  It will show you all the little, out of the way places to visit.  Then, drive around looking for the signs that point out all the turns on the routes.

We are rather surprised at the lack of top restaurants in Épernay and Reims.  You can get a good enough meal, to be sure, but the restaurants aren’t up to the level of food we have come to expect in Wine Country, especially in France.  However, in the smaller villages in the countryside, there are many small cafes and bistros, as well as grand gastronomic establishments, where you can sample fine French cuisine.

Finally, a word about the name “Champagne”.  Americans pronounce it sham-PANE.  But the French say shahm-PAN-ya, sort of swallowing the last syllable.  Of course it’s their country and they have a right to say it their way (which is, after all, the right way).  But an American, even one who can speak French tolerably well, feels silly saying it their way.  Okay, you want to blend in so try it the French way.  But believe us, you won’t blend in anyway.  They can tell a tourist from kilometers away.


N’Ombra de Vin

Here is another in Power Tasting’s irregular series on great wine bars of the world.

Italy has some of the most beautiful cities in the world: Rome, Venice and Florence come to mind.  Milan, the country’s financial and fashion capital, was victimized by too many wars and lost many of its antiquities.  It still has some beautiful things – such as the Duomo, The Last Supper, La Scala – but it boasts modernity rather than an ancient patina.  Today, what typifies Milan is a very sophisticated lifestyle and all of us, as visitors, are invited to partake of it.

Milan revels in its wine bars and we love one in particular.  All over the city there gathering spots where fine wines are served and a great number of the populace assemble in the early evening for a glass of wine, a bite of food and the Italian national pastime, chatting.  Our personal favorite is N’Ombra de Vin on the Via San Marco (  Evidently there are others who favor this spot, because it is packed every evening.

As for the name, well, it doesn’t mean anything in either Italian or English.  “Ombra” is Italian for shade or shadow and of course “vin” means wine…in French.  Let’s just say that the name means “In the shadow of wine” in some combination of languages and that works pretty well.

And indeed, N’Ombra de Vin is all about wine.  It was originally and still is a wine store.  Not exactly originally; that is, the owners claim that the building goes back to the 5th Century and that in later years Napoleon’s army and Mozart himself frequented the location.  Who’s to say?  But in 1973 it definitely became a wine store.  In later years, N’Ombra de Vin added an Italian tapas bistro and a music venue, as it continues today.

We got there early.

But for our purposes and for those who jam the joint from 5:00 until at least 8:00 every night, N’Ombra de Vin is about the institution of the apertivo.  The list of wines by the glass is a compendium of the great winemaking regions of Italy.  It changes frequently but there are always a few excellent Tuscans and Barolos and also many wines from lesser known corners of Italian Wine Country.

And the prices, at least for those of us used to New York wine lists, are amazingly low.  We well remember having healthy pours of Quintarelli Primafiore for 14 euros ($15.50) a glass.  It’s one of our favorite wines and it’s  $50 for a bottle.  Imagine what that would cost in an American bar, if you could find it.

Snacks, on the house.

Along with your drinks there you will be served little complimentary plates of snacks.  There will be olives, cheeses, bites of pizza, nuts and whatever they feel like adding that night.  We always get to N’Ombra de Vin prior to dinner and we always eat too much beforehand.

The third great attraction is the crowd.  If you want a seat outside – and you do want to be outside if the weather permits – get there early.  N’Ombra de Vin will be empty at 5:00 and overflowing by 6:00.  If you’ve been touristing around Milan all day, you’ll appreciate sitting down.  But the locals all seem to want to stand and mingle.  It seems that everyone knows everyone and you’ll feel like you’re at a cocktail party with a lot of well-dressed people (they’re Milanese, of course).

Milan is often the port of entry to Italy these days, so no matter where we’re going, we land there.  And if we have even one evening in town, we make a bee-line for N’Ombra de Vin.



Not so long ago, Yountville was a sleepy farming village where freight trains stopped to pick up produce and drop off supplies.  We always hoped it was named for Milwaukee baseball legend Robin Yount, but it actually got its name from one George Yount, who was reputed to have planted the first vineyard in Napa Valley.

There are many reasons why it grew into the tourist mecca it is today, not least being the explosion of interest in California winemaking.  But if Yankee Stadium is the House that Ruth Built, then Yountville is the Town that Thomas Keller Put on the Map. Beginning with French Laundry, he has added Bouchon, Bouchon Bakery and Ad Hoc to his restaurant empire, all along Washington Street in Yountville.  Keller has recently opened La Calenda, a Mexican restaurant in the location that used to house the late, lamented Hurley’s.

With all that, Yountville is now the culinary capital of Napa Valley.  After his time as chef at Domaine’s Chandon’s Étoile restaurant, Philippe Jeanty opened Bistro Jeanty, a veritable reproduction of a country French bistro.  Richard Reddington added Redd and then Redd Wood.  And on and on.  It’s hard to find a bad meal in Yountville.

With the restaurants came the diners and the shoppers.  Washington and Yount Streets abound with boutiques, topped by the V Marketplace, a shopping center with the full line of Napa Style accessories, housewares, wines, restaurants and galleries that give Napa Valley its fashion tone (and fill your mailbox with catalogs).

Photo courtesy of

There are also a number of tasting rooms along Washington Street.  As with all in-town tastings, there are some that are well worth a stop and others that are best passed by.  Unfortunately, there is little way to know in advance which is which.  In Yountville, we have enjoyed Priest Ranch and Beau Vigne, which is not to say that some of the others aren’t worthwhile.

As a visitor to Yountville, a great way to enjoy it is to make a day of it.  This is especially good advice on a weekend, when the roads and wineries on Route 29 are jammed.  Begin with breakfast at Bouchon Bakery.  You’ll stand in line for coffee and croissants but the wait will be worth it.  Sit outside at one of the little tables and think about all the places you will go today.  Well fortified, you can try a winery and look into a gallery or two.  Then it’s time for lunch.  Why not a pizza at Redd Wood or a salad at R & D Kitchen?

A few more wineries in the afternoon and some serious boutique-ing come next.  Be smart about the alcohol you consume; still, it’s nice to know that you don’t have to get behind the wheel to go from place to place.  An aperitif at the bar at Bistro Jeanty will give you the chance to mingle with a few locals.  Then it’s off to dinner.

Yountville at Christmastime.  Photo courtesy of

As noted, the choice of restaurants is broad, but if you want to be in with the in crowd, queue up for a table at Ciccio.  Run by the owners of Altamura Vineyards, Ciccio doesn’t take reservations and it is always packed with people who have the patience to dine there.

A final word: visit Yountville at Christmas season.  They wrap every tree on Washington Street in little white lights and the town becomes a fairyland.  It’s magical.    And the crowds are less in December as well.


The town of Carcassonne sits among several different winemaking regions, with Minervoix to the northeast; Corbières to the southeast;  and Gaillac to the west.  If you are on a wine tasting trip in the Southwest of France, you should definitely save time for a stop in Carcassonne.  In fact, the town is a worthwhile destination, no matter what brings you to the French Southwest.

The Cité of Carcassonne. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The lower town is no different than many others in France, but the massive rock to the north is a wonder.  It is a classic medieval fortress city essentially undisturbed since the late 13th century.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  In fact, by the mid-19th century the town had fallen into such disrepair that the French were prepared to tear it all down.  The hero of this tale is Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, an architect and antiquarian who made it his life’s work to restore structures that had suffered over the centuries.  He led the project to restore Carcassonne to its previous glory and although his vision was as much romantic as historical, the restored town is not only a monument to French history but also to the memory of Viollet-le-Duc.

While there had been a town along the Aude river since Roman times, Carcassonne achieved a prominent place in history during a crusade against believers in a proto-Protestant religion known as Catharism, considered heretical by the Popes of the 12th and 13th century.  The fortifications that can be seen today, called La Cité, were first erected to keep the papal armies out.  The local nobleman who ruled the city decided to give it up without a fight and when all the wars were over, Carcassonne had become a part of kingdom of France.

The entrance to the Château Comtal.

As a visitor, you can walk around the stone streets and along the ramparts.  It doesn’t require much imagination to see the invaders below, holding Carcassonne in siege.   In fact, anyone who has ever dreamed of knights in shining armor and their damsels in flowing robes will feel a bit of romantic memory wash over them while inside the walls.  The Château Comtal, or the Count’s Castle, is one of the sights not to miss.  Here you will get a feeling for how the people of the time actually lived.  Also, the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus, built before the age of the Cathars, is a testimonial to the glory of the Middle Ages.

A café in one of Carcassonne’s squares.

Of course, Carcassonne is a tourist destination so there is the usual array of stores selling t-shirts and other souvenirs, but that shouldn’t keep you away.  This town is a piece of history that has been lovingly restored, and the 21st century gets along quite well with the 13th.  Have lunch at an outdoor café, drinking the local wines and eating the contemporary fare and pretend that you are gathered with townsfolk to fete the Viscount and his court.  You and your inner child will be glad you did.


The Beaujolais region of France (actually the southern end of Burgundy) makes wines that generate a lot of differing opinions. Some think they are little more than plonk; others, including us, say that there are many excellent Beaujolais, well worth drinking and some worth cellaring.  These points of view arise because there is so much geographic variety in this sector.

If the wine is simple a Beaujolais, it can come from anywhere in the region and is likely made from less than the best Gamay grapes.  A Village  is better made, generally from grapes from the southern end of Beaujolais.  But the wines known as crus are the top of the list.  They come from ten specific communes or villages in the northern end of the region.  They are Brouilly, Côte de Brouily, Régnié, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Moulin-à-Vent, Chenas, Julienas, St. Amour and Morgon.

There is a range of style and quality among the crus.  Some are thin and acid; some are flowery (they don’t call it Fleurie for nothing), some are deep and rich.  And then the last mentioned of these crus, Morgon, has six different sub-sectors, called climats, each of which has distinct characteristics.  The most powerful and best known is the Côte de Py, in the middle of Morgon.

So wine tasting Beaujolais is a much more complicated matter than just driving into a section of France and visiting wineries.  So let’s just focus on Morgon.  Because it’s our favorite, that’s why.

The Cooperative in Villié-Morgon

Assuming you’re coming from the south, from Lyon, drive north on the A6, which is a relatively wide road.  It’s about a 45-minute drive.  Turn left when you see signs for Villié-Morgon, the only town in the region.  It’s a nice enough little town but not one for which you ought to plan a special trip.  But it does contain the Cooperative of Morgon and that is worth a stop.  There you’ll learn more detail about everything contained in the first three paragraphs of this article.  You’ll see exhibits explaining the history and culture of Morgon and can sample tastings from the various climats.  It is fair to say that, as with most cooperatives in France, you won’t be offered the best wines of the AOC, but you will get an introduction to the differences within it.

Because it is centrally located, Villié-Morgon touches on four of the six climats.  So staying within hailing distance of the town you can visit quite a few high-quality wineries without travelling very far.  But understand that this is not California, where the wineries have elaborate tasting rooms.  You well may find that even some of the better labels come from small vineyards and you will have a chance to taste in the front room of a farmhouse.  Also, if you are there in the vendanges, harvest-time, they may be too busy to offer you a taste at all.

Harvesting the Gamay grapes that will soon be Beaujolais.  Note how low they keep the vines in this region.

Villié-Morgon has a few cafés and bistros, but nothing of any note.  If you’d like to have a truly memorable French country meal, we recommend you drive through the Côte de Py following the main (only) road until you come across signs for Le Restaurant Morgon ( .  It won’t set you back much; you can avail yourself of their wonderful cellar full of Beaujolais of a quality you may never have known of; and the food is fabulous.  Leave room and some wine for the cheese course.

Antica Bottega del Vino

This is another in Power Tasting’s occasional series on great wine bars of the world.  Previous locations have included the Bounty Hunter in Napa and W.I.N.O. in New Orleans.

Generally, when Power Tasting recommends a wine bar, it is not primarily a restaurant with a bar in the front.  We make an exception for the Antica Bottega del Vino in Verona, Italy for a couple of reasons.  First of all is the name; it means the Old Wine Shop, so you know right from the beginning that wine is king here.  For another, the wine bar draws its own patronage distinct from that of the restaurant.  And finally, because the wine selection is so good.

The wine bar at Antica Bottega del Vino.  Photo courtesy of

A few issues ago, we presented our impressions of the town of Verona.  It’s a charming little city with roots back to Roman times (and a great, still active arena) and is best known as being the home of Romeo and Juliet.  It’s also the jumping-off point for wine tasters visiting Valpolicella.  So you would expect that a Veronese wine bar would feature Amarone and other wines of the region.  And indeed, you can get some good Amarones and Ripassos.  But what makes Antica Bottega del Vino so special is that their list, written on a chalk board over the bar, includes wines from all the great wine making regions of Italy.  You can choose a Barolo, a Brunello, Nero d’Avola, Marche and so on and on and on.

Of course, there are many bars where you can find a long list of fine wines.  But in most cases, wine bars buy recent production and don’t have either the facilities or the finances to age their wines.  Antica Bottega del Vino is the grand exception.  Mostly, you’ll find wines with ten years or more on them, well-cellared and well-poured.  These folks appreciate wine and their customers have come to appreciate their knowledge and care.

And those customers are a part of the attraction as well.  Get to the bar a little before five, earlier than when most people leave work and before the diners arrive.  If you get there much later, you’ll have some difficulty getting a table in the bar, because the place fills up with Veronese, stopping by to sip, to nibble, to chat and be seen doing all the above before going home to spouses and bambini.  Unless you happen to speak Italian, you won’t understand the conversation but you’ll be wrapped up in an atmosphere that only a bar that first opened in 1890 can give you.  And if someone notices that you’re showing real enjoyment of the wines you order, he or she will want to know who you are, where you come from, what you do, why you’re in Verona and what you’re having for dinner.

We’ve never dined at Antica Bottega del Vino, but we have noshed.  The bar features many cicchetti (snacks), such as finger sandwiches, a meatball, a piece of cheese.  Just little things to go along with your wine.

And one last thing: it’s not very expensive.  For what you’d pay for a glass of plonk in New York, you could have a noble wine aged perfectly.  It’s almost enough to make a special trip to Verona.


Here’s another in Power Tasting’s irregular series on great wine bars of the world.

Of course, you knew that W.I.N.O. ( stands for the Wine Institute of New Orleans.  Situated just outside the famed French Quarter on Tchoupitoulas Street (that’s Chew-pa-TOO-las, in case you have to ask your way), W.I.N.O. is one of those places with a lot of bottles in nitrogen-filled dispensing machines.  They refer to themselves as a self-service wine bar.

You get a plastic card, insert it into a slot and then put your glass under the spigot in front of the bottle of wine you want to taste.  You can get one-, two- and four-ounce tastings at graduated prices.  There are a few communal tables up front where you can sit and sip your wine, or you are free wander around with glass in hand.

Many, perhaps most of the wines on offer are little-known.  There are others that are quite renowned and are priced accordingly – rather steep for little servings.  We’ve found that trying wines we’ve never heard of is the most fun.  They don’t cost much to sample and they’re from all over the winemaking world.  If you don’t like it, you’ve only spent a few dollars on an ounce of something obscure.  And if you do like it, you’ve made a wonderful discovery.

But, you may well ask, what’s so special about W.I.N.O?  There are lots of similar tasting machines in cities across the US, and overseas as well.

For one thing, at W.I.N.O. you are wine tasting in New Orleans.  Maybe you’re there for a convention or to listen to jazz or try the local cuisine.  And drink (a local custom).  Now, New Orleans has famous cocktails, like the Hurricane (ugh) or the Sazerac (not bad).  It has some great local beers, specifically Abita, available at every bar.  There are good wine lists at some of the better restaurants, but if you’d like to go to a wine bar and don’t want to travel far from the French Quarter, W.I.N.O. offers you a wine-friendly oasis.

Another part of the appeal of W.I.N.O. is the sheer scale of the selection available to you.  Their wine dispensers house 120 beverages (a few spirits are included as well).  They have reds, whites, rosés and dessert wines from the US, Europe and many other corners of Wine Country.  The cost of the pours is based on the bottle price and runs from a dollar for an ounce of an obscure wine from a little-known source, to as much as $20 per ounce of Opus One. Careful: putting “just a little more” on the card adds up quickly.

If you’re looking for a quick education in the wines of a region you’re unfamiliar with, W.I.N.O. gives you the chance.  In our most recent visit to W.I.N.O., we looked specifically for Languedoc wines, just to see what they would have.  In fact there were five or six, but we were familiar with all of them and had some bottles of them at home.  We were amazed to find out also that there were two bottles from a really off-the-beaten-path cooperative in the Enserune region that we also had tried in France.

You can get some fancy nibbles to absorb the alcohol, like cheeses, dips and olives.  In New Orleans, though, if you come out a little woozy from what you’ve been drinking, no one will notice.  This is the town with the motto Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler.