Inspired by a new beachcomber of wine confined in Paris, London and New York, three top Portland restaurants — Le Pigeon, Nostrana and Castagna — anniversary opened a casual, wine-focused restaurant abutting aperture to their flagships this spring, two on the aforementioned day. Go aback a year, and a bisected dozen of the best raved about openings accept been either wine confined or restaurants breadth wine plays a above role.
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“It’s about like the altered guys on altered continents advertent calculus simultaneously,” says Andy Fortgang, co-owner of Le Pigeon.
On a macro level, it makes faculty for Portland to accept great wine bars. Oregon wine is bigger than ever, with added than 700 winemakers accidental an estimated $3.35 billion in bread-and-butter action to the state, according to the Oregon Wine Board. Big-time money from France and California accept bought up swaths of Willamette Valley land, and alike some accustomed wineries are putting a brand bottomward in Portland, including the chichi new Domaine Serene tasting allowance at the Hotel Sentinel downtown. In September, affecting New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov alleged Oregon “the distinct best agitative winemaking breadth in the United States.”
Yet added than 50 years afterwards pinot noir was aboriginal buried in the state, and admitting several accomplished wine shops and a few abundant restaurant wine lists, Oregon’s better burghal hadn’t developed a activating wine bar scene. Until now. Our new crop of confined and restaurants is afterlight the rules, throwing out cheese plates in favor of dry-fried craven wings with truffled honey and agronomical at Fortgang and chef Gabriel Rucker’s Canard, build-your-own pasta al pomodoro at Cathy Whims’ Enoteca Nostrana and antic fast aliment riffs from Justin Woodward at OK Omens. And they’re bond those artistic dishes with agitative wines from a new bearing of winemakers from Oregon and throughout the globe.
Seek the antecedent of this abnormality and you ability acquisition yourself at the arch of a dark, ambagious admission off Northeast Alberta Street. Airing accomplished an old wine columnist and a mural featuring the wine goddess Dionysus to acquisition Les Caves, a air-conditioned cavern wine bar with tinned seafood and a world-class broiled cheese sandwich from co-owners Jeff Vejr and John House, who congenital their dream bar in a above boiler allowance below the long-gone Victoria Theater aftermost year.
“I larboard a acknowledged restaurant to bandy my hat in the arena and accessible up a wine bar because I anticipation it was important to actualize a amplitude centered about the ability of wine,” says Vejr, who aforetime curated the pairings at Holdfast Dining. “There are temples for cocktails, beer, coffee, Thai food, pizza, alike doughnuts in Portland, but breadth was the temple to wine?”
At Les Caves, wines from about the world, accurately “natural” wines — those about fabricated with no additives or bartering aggrandize — are caked in a hip amplitude that, aloof a few years ago, added acceptable would accept been angry into a cocktail or ability beer bar. The vibe is annihilation but stuffy. Vejr and House cascade old vintages, sherry and agrarian wines starting at $4.50 a bisected glass, from producers old and new. They cascade a brace of bottles anniversary of their own brands, Golden Cluster and Ovum, appropriately — alongside a slushie apparatus abounding with “freezling” on the bar. It’s all allotment of Vejr’s plan for wine to abduction Portland’s imagination, the way beer has.
“When Portland thinks about beverages, they’re usually cerebration about beer first, again coffee, again cocktails, and again maybe now it’s wine,” Vejr says. “Historically, if you added up kombucha and tea, it would apparently bang wine’s butt. But these days, we’re authoritative a move.”
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Some owners, including Vejr, see their confined in allotment as a acknowledgment to Oregon’s anxiously branded monoculture: Pinot noir makes up some 64 percent of all grapes developed in the state. Les Caves and others coursing bottomward adolescent winemakers from Oregon and above application nontraditional grape varietals, some developed about Hood River, Elkton or southern Oregon’s Illinois Valley.
“In the United States we tend to accomplish wine this elitist beverage,” Vejr says. “That’s not the case anywhere abroad in the world. By and large, it’s a cooler for the people. Once you brainwash bodies that it’s not this air-conditioned big-ticket affair that abandoned affluent bodies drink, you tend to breach bottomward barriers.”
Working in wine’s favor: Portland’s adventuresome aficionado — Les Caves’ two best sellers are “orange” wines angry yellow-gold from diffuse bark acquaintance and the ever-changing “mystery pours” called by Vejr himself — and admission to a array of absorbing wines from about the world. Portland is one of the better consumers of Italian wines in the United States.
“I was absolutely afraid at how able-bodied Les Caves was accustomed actual aboriginal on,” Vejr says. “And the aboriginal success of Les Caves has accustomed added wine-focused places the blooming light.”
Fortgang noticed that success. In April, he and Rucker, co-owners of Le Pigeon and Little Bird, took over a above steampunk bazaar for Canard, their “wine-focused” third restaurant on East Burnside. Aggressive by the casual, Michelin-star-spurning “neo-bistros” of Paris, the duo congenital an all-day restaurant with White Castle-inspired beef burgers, pancakes decrepit in avoid gravy and added dishes that alarm to apperception the anarchic aboriginal canicule of Le Pigeon. A arced marble bar up advanced wouldn’t be out of abode in Paris. The bendable serve apparatus might.
“There accept consistently been wine bars, there accept consistently been adorned restaurants, but there haven’t consistently been places breadth you can go and get the absolutely air-conditioned wine with food, and not accomplish it a accomplished big meal,” Fortgang says.
Fortgang, one of Portland’s best admired wine directors, best a counterbalanced account of old and new vintages with an accent on accessibility. Taking a added accidental access to aliment and account meant Fortgang could allegation a few dollars beneath per bottle at Canard than he could at Le Pigeon. And for barter who accompany in bottles age-old 15 years or older, Fortgang waives the corkage.
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On the aforementioned day Canard opened, and aloof a abbreviate airing abroad on Southeast Morrison Street, longtime Portland chef Cathy Whims was acid the award on Enoteca Nostrana, a attractive wine bar with 1980s-glam architecture aggressive by Milan’s Memphis group. The bar, which took over a yoga flat abutting aperture to Nostrana, serves a customizable pasta al pomodoro and wine pulled from a two-story, glass-walled cellar, some called with ascribe from Sicilian wine superstar Arianna Occhipinti. Visit on a balmy evening, and you’ll see barter crushing a air-conditioned Negroni or bottle of wine while cat-and-mouse for a table at Nostrana. Account is comfortable and familiar. Stools are fabricated from behemothic corks.
In June, Portland restaurateur Monique Siu bankrupt her longtime Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard restaurant Cafe Castagna to accomplish way for OK Omens, a new wine bar and restaurant apprenticed by Brent Braun and Justin Woodward, the sommelier and chef at next-door’s flush Castagna. As Woodward set out designing a card with riffs on Szechuan absurd craven and Cal-Mex salads and guac, Braun was raiding Siu’s claimed wine apartment attractive for gems. Some of those fabricated their way assimilate the wine account at OK Omens, on a account that follows brownish passions, with accustomed wines, air-conditioned dry Rieslings, and more. Wine hawks accept already ample out that there are bottles of 25-year-old Oregon pinot noir and California cabernet for beneath than $100. They won’t aftermost long.
“One affair I’m seeing is added adolescent people, millenials, who are into wine, which is affectionate of a new thing,” Siu says. “But they don’t appetite the airless approach, the ancient access breadth you affliction about Parker credibility or ratings or exclusivity. It’s aloof about wines that you absolutely drink.”
Braun, one of Portland’s best accomplished adolescent sommeliers, says transforming Cafe Castagna into OK Omens was a accustomed move. They had apparent the abruptness success of Les Caves. It was time for a change at Cafe Castagna. And they had a abundance of acceptable wine, some from Siu’s own cellar, others aloof from Castagna’s tasting menu, that they capital to share.
And they weren’t alone. In the Pearl District, Thelonious Wines boutique owners Kelsey Glasser and Alex Marchesini broke advancing San Francisco chef Sara Hauman to run the kitchen at Arden Wine Bar, a new restaurant with both tasting card and a la carte aliment options. Park Avenue Wines partnered with Karl Holl to set up a bar card with beginning veggies from the chef’s own acreage and a destination-worthy 100-layer lasagna. Aloof off Southeast Division Street, SE Wine Collective, already home to some of the best agitative new wineries in Oregon, broadcast the banquet card at its Oui Wine Bar Restaurant with a tasting card advantage from chef Althea Grey Potter. Weekends see North Portland breakfast atom Sweedeedee adapted into Sardine Head, a “natural wine dive bar” with oysters, little angle and muscadet aggressive by Brittany, the Celtic arena in France’s Northwest.
Related: 10 new Portland wine confined and wine-focused restaurants
Taken together, you can see a beginning arena that ability some day abound to resemble Spain’s tapas culture, breadth Portlanders ability jump from stop to stop for a bottle of wine and a baby bite.
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“A lot of those 20-somethings that were into beer and affair 10 years ago are hitting their 30s, and wine is the analytic change of drinking,” says Arden co-owner and sommelier Glasser. “That’s a big allotment of the army that we see in the Pearl District, 30-somethings who assignment for Nike or Intel or Adidas. And wine is a allotment of their culture.”
This new crop of wine confined didn’t appear out of attenuate air. Kir, a absorbing wine bar with a chalkboard wine account and Euro-style baby plates that bankrupt in 2013, was advanced of its time. Before Les Caves, Vejr caked a abundantly accustomed wine account at Alu. About a decade ago, burghal wineries brought abnormal wines and accidental aliment options to axial Portland, a accustomed dispatch bean to what we’re seeing today. Several wine shops accept confined with arresting bottle lists. And Dame, the attractive accustomed wine bar abreast Northeast Portland’s Beast, alone kicked off the trend locally in 2016. But none sat at the circle of aliment and wine absolutely so calmly as Canard or OK Omens.
New wine-focused openings aren’t slowing bottomward yet. Abutting up is Bar Norman, a accustomed wine bar from Dana Frank, the brilliant sommelier who helped put Dame on the map.
At Bar Norman, Frank will serve accustomed wines from a ablaze automated amplitude on Southeast Clinton Street. Expect white walls, buzz tables and chairs and a hi-fi arrangement set up in the loft. Aliment will be a mix of bar candy to start, including a Spanish ham leg on the bar, with a best card including braised stews, angle broiled in paper, or clams in white wine and adulate advancing after this year. About 25-30 wines, including pours from Frank’s husband, Scott’s, Bow & Arrow label, will be accessible by the bottle from a chalkboard menu, some starting in the $8-$9 range. And a retail boutique will advertise bottles with a reasonable $10 corkage to stay. “The abstraction is accessibility,” Frank says.
“There’s this association with a wine bar that it’s bendable applesauce and charcuterie plates and overstuffed appliance and book clubs in the corner,” she says. “Then you accept all these adolescent bodies bubbler wine at air-conditioned places in Los Angeles or London or Paris asking, ‘How do we accompany that aback to Portland?'”
In 2018, they did.
— Michael Russell
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