Around 436 restaurants in New Orleans have reopened – out of about 1,350 that existed before Hurricane Katrina.

One of the best-known restaurants, the award-winning Brennan’s, which was reckoned to have one of the world’s best wine cellars, is expected to re-open in April.

But many wine cellars will be nothing like their pre-Katrina strength, mainly due to the ferocious heatwave that followed the flooding last year.

The heatwave destroyed all 35,000 bottles in Brennan’s cellar – including irreplaceable treasures such as 1929 Haut Brion, Lafite and Latour, 1897 and 1891 Lafite, and 1945 Lafite and Haut Brion.

‘It was depressing in the beginning, but I cannot do anything. When I get that insurance check, I am building a new cellar,’ Brennan’s sommelier Harry Hill told decanter.com.

Hill admits that the $1m insurance cannot replace all the lost bottles, but he plans to build ‘a decent cellar.’

‘I have contacts with people in Europe, and we have agents at auction houses. We are going to try to get some older vintages, but I realize it will not be like it was before.’

Jody D’Anna, fine wine buyer for Wines Unlimited, one of the largest distributors in Louisiana, told decanter.com they had lost thousands of cases.

‘Our warehouse was not flooded, but the heatwave following a power outage after the hurricane destroyed all 27,000 cases we owned. They ranged from mid-priced American wines to old and rare Bordeaux, bought from London.’

While insurance payments are helping to replace some of the lost wine – the company would not disclose how much was paid – D’Anna said many importers and individual wineries have donated.

‘They said that they would like to contribute to the cause. Ten or 12 or 15 cases, for example. There are too many [donors] to list.’

D’Anna said they were seeing ‘an upwelling of concern’ because suppliers at first stayed away from the market. ‘They were afraid of coming back too soon, when people were tied up with personal business.’

Local New Orleans food writer Tom Fitzmorris has launched www.nomenu.com, which monitors re-openings.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos