The excitement of wine tastings

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
June 16, 2004
Saturday afternoons between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Martin's Wine Cellar on Veteran's Boulevard in New Orleans can only be called an experience.
It's when their free tastings occur, usually accompanied by an appetizer prepared by some of the finest restaurant chef's in the city. The appetizers are free as well.
Normally, Martin's will select three or four wines in the $8 to $14 price range for this Saturday event. Some will be white. Some will be red. Most of them will be wines of which you've never heard. As the people crowd around the table, an employee will pour a small sample of the wine requested, usually about an ounce. You can go from one wine to another if you are so inclined and eventually sample all three or four.
The wines are offered at a slightly discounted price, usually a dollar off, and the store, and it's a big store, is jammed with people in the tasting area which just happens to be adjacent to their deli restaurant.
Believe me, a sandwich from Martin's is a meal and we're talking everything from smoked salmon to Dagwoods with three or four different meats and cheeses on top of
the tastiest bread
or rolls imaginable.
Between
the tasting and the luncheon crowd, it is a shoulder-to-shoulder experience. It's also enormous fun. If you go often enough you get to know some of the regulars who rarely miss a week. You join them at their table, or they do at yours, and the discussion can range anywhere from wine to family, usually wine. You tell them your most recent discoveries. They tell you theirs.
Two stores
Martins has two stores, the original on Baronne which is smaller but more intimate and the big new one on Veterans. Baronne also has a Saturday free tasting but it doesn't seem to draw crowds as large as those which visit the younger brother.
I believe the Meridian wine stores do the best they can with the limited state list. They are competitive with New Orleans prices but they just can't match the selection offered. I see wines down there I read about in leading wine publications. In Mississippi reading about them is the best you can do.
We can't do anything like those tastings in Meridian. State law prohibits giving away wine samples in order to encourage potential customers to buy. I only wish we could and certainly the package stores would like nothing more.
What we can do, legally of course, is to have tastings such as our monthly event which we initiated about five years ago. These are always at Northwood Country Club on the last Thursday of the month. As our regular attendees know, we serve seven wines with a much more generous pour than that in New Orleans.
Next tasting
Our next tasting will be June 24 and will feature the wonderful wines of Oregon with two major producers matched against each other King Ranch and Chehalem. We will taste each winery's chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir head to head. You may be surprised with the difference individual winemakers can make, considering the grapes are all grown in the same area. They won't taste the same, that I can promise you. Some will like one. Some will like the other. That's half the pleasure of a tasting.
There will also be a door wine, a semi-sparkling white wine that is actually perfectly suited as an aperitif. The fee for this tasting is $30 and reservations are required. Call 482-0930 to make yours. It is enormous fun and a true learning experience as well. Some of the country's best wines are now being made in the Pacific Northwest. These wines are all in the $20-$30 price class so they are top quality. Mail your check to Wines Unlimited, P.O. Box 5223 Meridian, MS and you'll be guaranteed a place.
As for the tastings at Martin's, if you are ever in the Crescent City on a Saturday you simply must make a visit to either store although I prefer the action on Veteran's Boulevard. It is truly an experience you will never forget and will always want to repeat. Ask for Steve and tell him we're friends. He'll take care of you. After 30 years of shopping at their store, myself and other Meridian wine lovers are well known at Martin's.
To some people a visit to the French Quarter is a highlight of a New Orleans trip. To others it's dining at one of their many great restaurants. Others just like to stroll down River Walk.
As for me, a Saturday visit to Martin's Wine Cellar makes my day. Try it. It will make yours as well.

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