Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Our Blog Has Moved!!

Our blog has moved!  Please check out our new website and you'll find the tab for our blog in the menu.  Thanks for reading!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Pesto and Pigato, Perfect Pairing from the Ligurian Coast

Who doesn't love pesto, that rich, green highly aromatic sauce known for its decisive yet delicate flavor? Fresh pesto is one of those foods that epitomizes Italian cuisine  - a blending of 6 high quality ingredients that when made fresh can make the most simple things taste divine.

Village on the Cinque Terra from the hiking path.

I can't eat pesto without thinking of its famous home in Italy, the Ligurian coast. A small and breathtakingly gorgeous region, Liguria sits on the Mediterranean Sea in Northwest Italy.  The location along the pristine coastline, its back set up against the steep hills of the Appennini Mountains, give it a unique microclimate and landscape that produces the majority of the ingredients used to make their traditional pesto—Genovese basil, Ligurian extra virgin olive oil and even pine nuts from the Stone Pines that grow in abundance. And it's bordering region, Emilia Romagna, provide the essential Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Ligurians use only the young tender leaves for their pesto.

Ligurians are very proud of their pesto and fiercely defend their traditional recipe, Pesto alla Genovese. This is a D.O.P. protected food that has to be made in a precise way and with very specific ingredients. The primary ingredient being D.O.P. basil from Genoa, for example, because the soil and climate in that particular area gives the basil a flavor that’s impossible to replicate anywhere else in the world.  

Trofie pasta, Vernazza 2004 trip
The are also very specific about they use pesto, never randomly adding it to chicken or fish as we often do.  Pesto is used for 2 things, pasta and soup.  But again, not just any soup but specifically minestrone alla Genovese, a staple of daily life on the Ligurian coast.  In terms of pasta there's a bit more variety here as gnocchi, a local version of Lasagna and a few traditional dried and fresh pastas, are acceptable.

And of course the perfect pairing comes in a the form of a local wine made from Pigato (of the same DNA as Vermentino, Rolle and Favorita).   The Punta Crena Pigato is produced by the Ruffino family who has be farming this particular land for the past 500 years. And they tend their vineyards as they always have; terraced by hand, grapes picked by hand, nothing added, nothing taken away - let the grapes do what they will.  No pretense here, just light, fresh wine that marries beautifully with the local cuisine of fresh vegetables, fritto misto, fish and of course, pesto alla Genovese! 

Here is the official DOP Pesto alla  Genovese from the Consorzio del Pesto Genovese:

Genoese basil - 70 grams, preferably young and fresh.
Grated Cheese - 50 grams  Parmigiano Reggiano DOP (preferably aged 36 months) and 10 grams of Pecorino DOP (preferably aged 15 months)
Garlic - 3 cloves (preferably Vessalico)
Pine nuts - 1 tablespoon of nuts from the Mediterranean 
Ligurian Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 3 Tablespoons
Coarse Sea Salt - a few grains

-Wash the basil in cold water and set aside to dry on a towel.

-In the mortar, crush the cloves of garlic with a few grains of salt until the garlic has softened. Begin adding basil leaves (but don't add all at once!) The essential oils of basil are stored in the veins of the leaves. For the best taste, you must be careful not to tear or shear the leaves. Use a gentle circular motion, slowly crush the basil by moving the pestle around the edges of the mortar. The consorzio allows for a food processor, but it must be down quickly so that the heat does not oxidize the pesto.

-When you notice a bright green liquid being drawn from the leaves, it is time to add the pine nuts.
Once softened, add the cheeses, and finally the olive oil in a very thin stream.

-Preparation should take place at room temperature and the sauce should be served immediately to avoid oxidation. So pour it over the pasta, possibly linguine or strozza preti, and enjoy!

Also from Liguria: Bringing the Cinque Terre to Swirl

Monday, July 6, 2015

What can I do to help you today...Erin Rhoads

Awhile back I did a series of posts on our amazing staff, the heart and soul of the store. We've had a change or two since then so I wanted to update you on the current, hardworking, wine loving people who help us help you.  While we can fill our space with great products, do good deeds through our community work and support  local artists and businesses, it is our friendly, helpful, professional, knowledgeable team that truly set us apart! Because without the warm, positive vibe created by those who work here, Swirl would be just another wine shop!  

Erin Rhoads has been with us for quite awhile now.  But when Matt Snyder departed for the greener grasses of Gentilly to focus on his family and true career, she decided to take on a bigger role in the shop.  And we're so happy to have her! 

What are some important, more personal, non wine related things about you?  
I grew up on a cherry farm in Northern Michigan, and after a brief post-college stint (German and Marketing major) at a wine bar in Edinburgh, Scotland, I spent 10 years in Chicago. I fell in love New Orleans before I'd even visited through the friendships I developed with Katrina-transplants who bided their time in the cold Midwest while their true homes were being rebuilt. If you have an open heart, it's easy to be woven into the fabric of the magical place, and that has definitely been the case for me. A couple of fun facts: I'm a classically trained violinist (although terribly rusty now), and a trained Pastry Chef.

What are your hobbies?
Gardening and cooking are two of my favorite ways to relax - I'm a huge homebody! I'm also a sports fan, and when I'm not rooting for the Saints, I'll be cheering on my Michigan teams. I also recently began volunteering as a Docent for school groups at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art and have been thoroughly enjoying viewing art through the eyes of children!

What are your favorite wine regions for reds, whites, rosé?
Red: I'm a huge fan of all wines from Campania, but the reds are especially dear to me. I think that the volcanic soils of that region produce perfect "food" wines. White: The Columbard/Ugni Blanc/Gros Manseng blends from the Cotes de Gascogne are perfect for our humid climate. Rose': Provence is the classic region for Rose', but I've been really enjoying the richer Rosatos from Southern Italy this season.

What is your current favorite red, white, bubbly in the store right now?
Red: The Alois Settimo from Campania in the Earthy/Zesty section is to die for. I recently had the pleasure of revisiting it, and have been kicking myself for not recommending it more! White: The El Perro Verde Verdejo in Crisp/Lively is a steal of a wine and perfect for a summer pool and patio gatherings. Bubbly: We just brought in the Pol Roger NV Brut and it's a delightful champagne: powerful and full-bodied, yet still finessed and balanced.

If you could pick any wine from the indulge section right now what would it be?
The 2009 Travaglini Gattinara from Piemonte offers a light bodied Nebbiolo that is immediately drinkable and quite enjoyable, even during summertime in New Orleans!

What was you best recent food and wine experience?
Mine is more of a Wine and Weather experience. I recently enjoyed a couple of glasses of the Broc Cellars Old Vine Carignan on the porch on a drizzly Monday evening. Sometimes rain is the best thing to pair with wine!

And finally what do you like most about working in the wine biz?
One of the most rewarding moments in this business is reaching a point where you can break down complex concepts and theory into easily digestible chunks. I love educating customers. Of course, the more I study wine, the more I realize I have to learn. It is truly humbling.

Thanks Erin!
You can find Erin in the store Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and every other Friday.  We are also working on putting her culinary skills to use for our special events and private parties - more on that later!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Un Caffè Per Favore!

Coffee in Italy is an art and its ritual a necessity of life.  You won't find expensive fancy sweet coffee drinks served in giant go cups or milks from every source imaginable and more types of sweeteners than you can count.  Coffee in Italy is simple - it is your fuel in the morning and your digestivo after meals.  Because while the Italians aren't big on laws in general, food and drink are the exception and a little education on how it is done will go a long way on your next trip.  So here are some steadfast rules and observations from one who honors the long standing tradition of true Italian coffee.


Pasticceria Vannelli, our favorite in Toscana
  •  "Bars" in Italy are cafes and they are everywhere!  The are usually quite small and have only a handful of tables.  A pasticceria is a pastry shop that also serves coffee.
  • Usually you go to the register and pay first then take your receipt to the barista who will make your drink.  If you want a brioche (pastry), a typical Italian breakfast, order that while at the register as well.

Un caffè at Bar Mulino in Positano
  • Your morning coffee is usually "taken" standing up at a bar and often accompanied by a delicious brioche.  If you want table service there is a cover charge for doing so.
  • Cappuccino and milk based drinks are for the morning, espresso in the afternoon and after meals.  If you want to be sure to labeled as a tourist, order a cappuccino in the middle of the afternoon!
  • If you order a lattè you will get a cup of milk, if you want coffee order a lattè macchiato or milk with espresso.
  • If you order "un caffè" you will be served an espresso - unless you look like a befuddled tourist then your order will be confirmed,  "Espresso?"
  • A simple macchiato is espresso with a dollop of steamed milk
  • An "Americano" is not American drip coffee but the Italian way to satisfy the needs of Americans who think bigger is better by adding water to shots of espresso and serving it in a large cup.

Un cappuccino e brioche, a typical Italian breakfast!
  • Coffee is not taken to go, and it is always served in the proper china on a saucer accompanied by a small spoon.  Sugar, and the dreaded artificial sweeteners for the tourists, are on the bar.
  • Whole milk is the norm. Touristy bars in big cities that are catering to Americans may offer something else but it is rare.
    Un cappuccino alla mia cucina!
    And the best part?  This delicious cup of heaven costs no more than $1.25 even in a touristy area! I hope this helps makes your next cup of coffee in Italy the wonderful experience it should be!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Comments from The Somm's Pick Tasting Event

Our Somm's Pick tasting event was a huge success and Dan Davis of Commander's Palace kicked the series off in grand style - not that we expected anything less! We can't wait to see what John Mitchell from the Windsor Court comes up with for next month! Here's what attendees are saying about the event:

"A great environment for an evening of wine discovery that was fun and informative. Will definitely be signing up for the next one!" Diana

"Dan was great! As anyone would expect, he is extremely knowledgeable. He provided a lot of information in a very accessible way. He broke everything down to a level that non-wine experts could easily grasp. There was not one bit of snobbery or condescension in his presentation. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Somm’s Pick events." Yvonne

"We have been to many tastings at wine shops and restaurants over the years, and by far Dan's descriptions/mini-lessons combined with the Sommelier tasting sheet for the red blind were fabulous. We learned a great deal." Brian

"The quality of the wines were perfect - not too expensive, addressed the value, yet complex and interesting." Joan

"My knowledge of wine is incredibly limited, but with the Somm's pick, in one night I learned enough about wine to get seriously hooked. It was so enjoyable learning in a laid-back atmosphere. I can't wait for the next one." Vey

"I have been reading about, studying, taking e-courses, etc. on wine, thinking about trying to break into the business, and one of the most intimidating aspects is the sommelier exam. Dan made it seem possible, if still rigorous. I feel excited and more eager than ever to take my passion for wine to the next level. Thank you so much for staring this program." Mazie

Monday, January 26, 2015

Visiting Vini Alois

Frattoria Alois, Caserta, Campania

Located in the Caiatini Mountains of Campania, the beautiful property of Fattoria Alois is literally situated between 3 volcanoes.  With Roccamorfina to the North, Monte Nuovo to the west and the infamous Monte Vesuvio just south east, the town of Caserta sits amongst multiple extinct and active volcanoes.  It is here that for centuries the Alois family has been associated with the fine textile industry, their famous silks adorning the walls of the Louvre and the White House.  But more recently Michele Alois and his son Massimo have been taking advantage of their location and the volcanic soils that surround them by applying their talent and passion for quality products into Vini Alois.

But it is not just the soils that make these wines special.  Because while Campania is known for its expressive whites like Falanghina, Fiano and Greco and the dark, earthy Aglianico, the Alois wines are focused around some rediscoverd ancient varieties.  Twenty years ago the Italian government launched a project that was devoted to finding grape varieties that survived phylloxera, but were no longer being cultivated. Massimo has been a champion for those forgotten indigenous grapes and with his efforts Casavecchia, Pallagrello Bianco and Pallagrello Nero are making a comeback. See the video above as Massimo discusses the origins of the Casavecchia grape.

The Audelino vineyards surrounding the property

Thanks to our friend Matt Lirette of Lirette Selections, Kerry and I had the good fortune of staying with Massimo and his family at their estate in Caserta a few summers ago.  He spent the day with us, taking us to their different vineyard sites and cooked a fabulous dinner that we shared with his wife and children, of course accompanied by his amazing wines and great conversation.

In the Morrone della Monica vineyards with Massimo and his son Gianfranco
The next morning we  met his father Michele and oenologist Carmine Valentino in the winery for a tank tasting.  One of the things that struck us about these somewhat famous, southern Italian male winemakers was their genuine interest in what we thought about their wines.  Their humility, pride, respect for our opinions and the amount of time we spent together has left a long lasting impression about the people behind these very distinct and fascinating wines.

Oenologist Carmine Valentino and Michele Alois

Tank tasting with Carmine & Michele

We are excite to have Massimo visit us next week and you can join him at Swirl on Wednesday February 4th for a seated tasting of his wines accompanied by the cheeses of southern Italy.  Reservations are required and you can do so here:  Vini Alois

Massimo Alois

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Somm's Pick Buyers Club

The Somm’s Pick Buyers Club 
Intriguing selections chosen by New Orleans’ sommeliers brought to you 
by Swirl Wine Bar & Market

The Program

Swirl’s tasting and education series, The Somm’s Pick, puts you in direct contact with some of New Orleans' finest sommeliers.  During their monthly presentations you'll have the opportunity to taste with them and discover wines they have chosen as some of the most intriguing in the market. Plus as a member of our Somm’s Pick Buyers Club you'll be able to purchase the wines at a discount and receive a special advanced notice for all tastings and events associated with the program.

What’s Included
  • Access to wines chosen by New Orleans’ Sommeliers as some of the most interesting wines in the market
  • Advanced invitation plus half priced admission to the Somm’s Pick Tasting held on the first Tuesday of every month
  • 10% discount on the featured selections available to you throughout the month
  • Exclusive offers and discounts on other special events associated with the program

 How it Works 

  • On the first of each month you will be billed for the featured somm’s selections of wines with a 10% discount.  The cost for the 2 wines can range in price from $40 - $80 depending up the wines chosen.  The wines will continue to be available to club members at the discounted price through the month or while supplies last should you wish to purchase more
  • Wines will be available for pickup at Swirl after the first Monday of the month
  • You will receive a special eventbrite invitation via email for advanced reservation to attend our Somm’s Pick tasting for half price ($5) The invitation will arrive 24 hours before the event is publically releaseYour membership commits you to 3 consecutive months of the program, after which you can cancel anytime via email to sommspick@gmail.com


  •      Email us at the sommspick@gmail.com or call Swirl @ 504.304.0635

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Somm's Pick, an Engaging New Program at Swirl

Tasting wine @ Ken Wright's Tasting Room in Oregon
American wine consumption has been on the rise now for 20 consecutive years, in fact we've been setting records recently and the market is predicted to continue to grow.  And as Americans are getting more and more into wine, earning the title of certified sommelier has become a hot career path.  People are signing up for sommelier programs in droves and schedules fill up almost immediately when new training and certification dates are released.  Movies, national and international "top somm" competitions and the media have brought an intense, almost cult-like focus on this once somewhat stuffy and obscure wine and service career.

While there are many excellent wine education programs out there, there is no doubt that the title of "sommelier" is the most recognized by the American public.  In terms of certification organizations it is the Court of Master Sommeliers that tends draw the most attention with its multi tiered system where different levels of certification are obtained through rigorous study, exams and blind tasting evaluations. To earn the title of sommelier students must first pass an introductory level exam to then be eligible to take the Certified Sommelier exam which entails written theory, demonstration of service as defined by the Court and blind tastings.  This is just the tip of the iceberg as there are then 2 more levels in the Advanced and the coveted title of Master Sommelier.
Blind tasting is an important component of all CMS certifications
The post Katrina exploding New Orleans dining scene has brought with it a demand for wine professionals and there are probably more certified somms than ever before in the Crescent City. Helping to meet that demand, each year Commander's Palace hosts the Court of Master Sommeliers as a site for their workshops and exams, giving New Orleans service industry easy access to the program.  Dan Davis, sommelier and wine director at Commander's has been a driving force behind getting more New Orleanians educated through CMS and hopes to offer two certification dates in 2015.
At Swirl we have always tried to make it fun to learn about wine and I think our new program, The Somm's Pick, will be one of our best yet.  Through our new tasting and education series at Swirl, we will put you in direct contact with some of New Orleans' finest sommeliers.  During their monthly presentations you'll have the opportunity to taste with them and discover wines they have chosen as some of the most intriguing in the market. Plus you'll be able to purchase the wines at a discount should you decided to participate in our Somm's Pick Buyers Club.

Our guest sommeliers will include Dan Davis of Commander's Palace, Liz Dowty of Square Root,  Michelle Gueydan from Vino Solutions/Neat Wines, John Mitchell of the Windsor Court, our own Kimi Kivirana and more.  We'll meet at the shop once a month to taste their selections and pick their brains on the who, what, when and whys of the bottles they've chosen.  And if you have an interest in becoming a sommelier this will be the perfect time to learn what is involved with obtaining the title from professionals who have made it through different levels of the program.

So here's how it works.  The first Monday of the month my weekly newsletter will  introduce a featured sommelier and their picks of the month.  The next evening, the first Tuesday of the month, is The Somm's Pick Tasting.  Our featured sommelier will be in the house from 6-8pm pouring their 2 wines which can be sparkling, red, white, rose' - sometimes it may be 2 reds, sometimes mixed, who knows?  It's their call!  The wines will be priced somewhere between $19.99 and $39.99.  Plus we'll have a third selection from the shop that we'll pour blind to give you a little insight into how to evaluate an unidentified wine.  It is $10 to attend the event, that will include tasting the 3 wines plus a free Reidel crytstal wine glass that is yours to keep.  The wines will be available for sale starting that evening and will be featured in the store through the month.

Then there's the Somm's Pick Buyers Club.  If you decide to join, each month you will be billed for the 2 wines with a 10% discount for being part of the club.  You can attend the tasting for half price and receive your free wine glass.  If you choose to purchase more of the wines anytime throughout the month you will continue to receive the 10% discount.  You'll also receive exclusive offers and discounts for any other events associated with the program.  The best part is, there's no long term commitment or obligation - after the first 3 months you can cancel at any time!

Dan Davis, Commanders Palace - Photo by Sara Essex Bradley
Intrigued?  Our first tasting is on Tuesday, February 3rd at 6pm and our featured sommelier is Dan Davis of Commander's Palace.  I'll have more details in next week's email, but mark the date, this should be one exciting kick off!


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