8 New Orleans bars and restaurants where wine is on the rise

Few cities are as well defined by their drinking culture as New Orleans. But until recently, it’s been about cocktails and French classics. That’s all changing, as Jim Clarke finds out

Words by Jim Clarke

Bacchanal wine lounge New Orleans
Bacchanal wine lounge

The Sazerac, the Hurricane, the Vieux Carré – New Orleans claims to be the birthplace of these cocktails and many more. Few cities are so well defined by their drinking culture, but wine has often seemed an afterthought, confined to French classics. ‘New Orleans is really a Francophile town,’ says Braithe Tidwell, former wine director at Brennan’s, a New Orleans institution. ‘It’s fascinating how important it is to locals to identify culturally with French wine.’ Nothing wrong with that, but thanks to the dominance of large distributors it often meant a rather staid and conservative collection in the city’s bars, restaurants and shops – with options for drinkers limited to Burgundy and Bordeaux, some California wines, and little else. But a revolution is quietly underway. 

‘Small and medium-sized distributors have changed the course of things,’ says Bryan Dias, host and executive producer of podcast The NOLADrinks Show. Demand has been led by a younger generation of restaurant owners, chefs, and retailers, or wine bars that have more flexibility to fill in the price points between budget, liquor store wines and the prestige offerings of the classic restaurants. ‘You’re finding wines from Croatia, from Georgia, from the Canary Islands, things that are a little different,’ Dias says.

Nola podcast host Brian Dias
Bryan Dias, host and executive producer of podcast The NOLADrinks Show says there are now many exciting wine options in the city

The rich culinary world of New Orleans has seen similar changes, and these have helped drive interest in a wider range of wines as well. ‘You always think of the classic New Orleans Cajun and Creole cuisine, but our cuisine now spans the spectrum,’ says Michelle Gueydan, owner of VinoSolutions, a consultancy and wine education company. Immigration has brought influences from Southeast Asia and elsewhere, as witnessed by the success of restaurants like Maypop and MoPho, and many of these cuisines call for different wine pairing options than the French-influenced classics.

Certain neighbourhoods, in particular the Bywater and Warehouse Districts, have been focal points for the wine bar scene, but wine-centric spots are popping up Uptown and in other neighbourhoods as well. It’s a process likely to continue; Gueydan says her next project is to supplement the current, draft wine-only list at Susan Spicer’s restaurant Rosedale. ‘We’ll be rotating wines, focusing on female producers from around the world.’

Champagne flutes with sparkling wines
Effervescence (pictured) focuses on all things sparkling

Cocktails are by no means going away, but it’s nice to know that wine drinkers are no longer confined to mainstream, tried-and-true offerings; vinous options have caught up to adventurous food offerings on the menu. Here are a handful of wine bars and restaurants that have led the charge in New Orleans.

8 great wine-led bars and restaurants in New Orleans


Shortly after this New Orleans institution reopened in 2014, Braithe Tidwell came on board, charged with building an award-winning wine programme. ‘The Burgundy selection at Brennan’s is quite enormous, but adding in horizontals and verticals from producers from all around the world was important for me and for Brennan’s,’ Tidwell says. Diners looking for Grand Cru Burgundy or Napa Cab will not be disappointed, but that depth is matched by breadth as well, as demonstrated by a well-chosen set of Greek wines and a horizontal of Frank Cornelissen Nerello Mascalese.
417 Royal St; Brennansneworleans.com


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Compere Lapin (@comperelapin)

Compère Lapin

The menu of Nina Compton’s Warehouse District restaurant blends Creole and Caribbean influences, and the list is well-suited to the cuisine. Those who eschew that matching approach  in favour of big reds will still find plenty to choose from, but it’s the plethora of medium-weight whites and reds like a Brooks Rastaban Pinot Noir or Ochoto Barrels ‘Texture Like Sun’ blend that show how much attention has been put into bringing wine and food together here.
535 Tchoupitoulas; comperelapin.com


Courtyard at Bacchanal wine bar
Photo: Bacchanal


Just a wine shop at first, Bacchanal emerged as a hub for the Bywater community while the city was recovering from Katrina, as featured on the HBO series Treme. In doing so, it pioneered the retail-cum-wine bar model: pick out a bottle in the small but well-stocked shop and then claim your space under the trees in the expansive courtyard. It also offers New Orleans’ other treasure, great live music, at lunchtime and in the evening, seven days a week.
600 Poland Ave; Bacchanalwine.com

effervesence new orleans
Photo: Effervescence


Perched on the edge of the French Quarter, Crystal Hinds’ airy, bright lounge has put bubbles front and centre since 2017. She keeps a remarkable variety available by the glass and in flights, ranging from less familiar wines like Slovenia’s Rodica Refošk Col Fondo Saignée to high-end icons like Krug. The bottle list is similarly expansive; Champagne rules the roost, of course, but there’s no lack of traditional-method wines, pet-nats, sparkling reds and other options from around the world.
1036 Rampart St; nolabubbles.com

Pluck Wine Bar

After years working at cutting edge wine bars like A16 in San Francisco and Le Compagnie du Vin Surnaturels in New York, Sky La Torre brought her casual but geeky wine approach to the Warehouse District, just a few blocks from the bustle of the French Quarter. The list is well-balanced between classic regions and more esoteric options: follow a glass of August Kesseler Riesling with a Force Celeste Pet-Nat from Swartland, paired with classic wine bar snacks and a few more substantial items.
722 Girod St; pluckwines.com

Grill Room interior Windsor Court
Photo: The Windsor Court

The Grill Room, The Windsor Court

There’s nothing particularly trendy about the Grill Room at The Windsor Court, but New Orleans’ rich history and dining traditions sometimes call for classics, and the wine list acknowledges that role while avoiding stuffiness. Most exciting about the programme is the chance to taste well-cellared older vintages of wines from all over – current releases are the exception rather than the rule. France gets the deep dive, but opportunities to taste older vintages of German, Austrian and even South African gems like Eben Sadie’s single-vineyard wines present themselves.
300 Gravier St; windsorcourthotel.com

Exterior of The Independent Caveau Nola
Photo: The Independent Caveau Nola

The Independent Caveau Nola

‘The Independent Caveau is really fascinating because it’s in a really odd place, uptown behind the Restaurant Depot. It’s hilarious, but the selection is incredible,’ Tidwell says. Like several places in New Orleans, The Independent is both a wine bar and retailer, and its selection draws industry folks and others to its Central City location for the chance to enjoy Georgian Qvevri wines, boutique natural wines like Clos Bateau from Beaujolais, and other wines that represent the forward-thinking edge of the Nola wine scene.
1226 South White St; theindependentnola.com

St. Germain

This cosy Bywater spot has a split identity. Indoors, a 10-course tasting menu, and on the patio, snacks and your pick from a naturally-leaning, eclectically Eurocentric wine list. Dias says the wine pairing with the former was ‘one of the best-executed wine pairings I’ve experienced in ages.’ Indoors or out, chefs and owners Blake Aguillard and Trey Smith keep the dining experience casual, homey and modest, despite the multiple ‘best of’ awards St. Germain has received in the couple of years it’s been open.
3054 Saint Claude Ave; saintgermainnola.com