In the 19th century, Portland was the end of the line for pioneers trundling west on the Oregon Trail. Today’s trailblazers converge for the abundant seafood, rainbow of locally sourced produce and wines from around the world as well as Oregon’s 23 AVAs. Supported by an easygoing population of taste-obsessed locals – many of whom have fled San Francisco’s skyrocketing prices over the past decade – a variety of new wine bars, caves à manger, bottle shops and wine-focused restaurants have joined Portland stalwarts over the past decade, transforming the largest city in Oregon into a must visit for wine aficionados.
An abundance of drizzly ‘liquid sunshine’ in winter and spring means planning a visit during summer or early autumn is the best bet for exploring this trendsetting city of flavour geeks, where it comes as no surprise that restaurateurs and sommeliers are open to experimenting with unexpected wine and food pairings. Locals and visitors alike are drawn into the city’s leafy neighbourhoods to kick back at these hyper-local, welcoming places with some of the most innovative, personal wine lists in the country.
For an insider’s overview of Portland’s weird and wonderful wine world, head to Flor, a downtown bottle shop in the Pearl District, for a conversation with owners Sergio Licea and Andrew Fortgang over a glass of their rotating selection of wines by the glass (or from the bottle you‘ve just purchased). ‘Everyone is welcome here, from novices to collectors,’ says Licea, of the ‘intimidation-free zone’ the Oregon wine luminaries opened in 2021.
Over 500 carefully-curated wines sit on open shelves ready for browsing, while a communal table and swanky lounge area await patrons who want to sip, sit and relax while the downloadable Floral Notes music playlist, which is updated each month, sets the perfect indie vibe.
Oregon wines are well represented, but extensive industry connections allow the owners to source little-known selections from France (about half the stock) followed by Italy, the US and Spain.
Licea says: ‘I’m always on the hunt for good value, fantastic unicorn bottles that will be the trophy wines of tomorrow.’ Speaking of which, the backroom temperature-controlled wine vault contains plenty of top bottles from the best producers in Burgundy, Barolo, and the Northern Rhône.
825 NW Glisan St.
503 206 4736
Sister restaurants Le Pigeon, a 35-seat restaurant with upscale French-inspired fare, and Canard, a casual bistro where American classics get a French twist, highlight the unconventional deliciousness of Portland both on the plate and in the wine pairings. When Le Pigeon opened in 2006, it put Portland on the culinary map. Today, the refined five-course dinner-only menu evolves with the seasons. It’s worth springing for the wine pairing to discover the cellar’s special bottles.
Next door at Canard, French bistro meets American diner in comfort food such as the duck stack: buttermilk pancakes slathered in savoury duck gravy, topped with a fried duck egg (and a slab of foie gras, if you dare). Other favourites include steamed bun burger sliders inspired by the White Castle burger chain. If all this umami-rich food is too much, opt for Pacific coast oysters and a glass of Muscadet. But definitely save room for the soft-serve passion fruit ice cream sundae with a glass of Eugen Müller Riesling. At both unpretentious places, award-winning Chef Gabriel Rucker has built original menus that Portlanders crave, and sommelier Andrew Fortgang (who also co-owns Portland’s Flor wine shop) serves a bevy of unusual French and Oregon wines.
Canard: 734 East Burnside St.
971 279 2356
All day (call ahead for exact hours)
Le Pigeon: 738 East Burnside St.
503 546 8796
Housed in the historic downtown Sentinel Hotel, the upmarket Domaine Serene Wine Lounge draws wine lovers for its classic Oregon Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays produced by Domaine Serene vineyards (located in Oregon’s Willamette Valley Dundee Hills AVA). But since the owners have a winery in Burgundy as well, this quiet spot where locals meet for an after-work glass of wine is also ideal for comparing old and new world styles.
The wine lounge offers traditional Oregon selections such as the Domaine’s Evenstad Reserve Chardonnay and Pinot Noirs from their six different Oregon vineyard estates alongside wines from their Château de la Crée in the Santenay region of the Côte de Beaune (10 hectares of prime vineyard blocks in Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Chassagne-Montrachet, Santenay and Maranges). And although the wine lounge deserves a visit, we would pass up the slightly tired Sentinel Hotel for the sparkling Kimpton Hotel Vintage nearby, where the updated rooms are named after Oregon wineries, there’s a nightly wine happy hour with live music for guests, and quarterly wine tastings feature local winemakers.
1038 SW Alder Street
503 850 7001
An earthly paradise for zero-zero and natural wine geeks – or just those seeking to understand what the fuss is all about – this hip, tiny bar and adjacent bottle shop are the project of Victor Martinez, a Berkeley philosophy major who realised, while working in law, that his life’s passion was wine.
After a wine degree from UC Davis and a stint in vineyard management, he now reigns as one of the coolest natural wine experts on the West Coast. ‘I’m interested in the edgier side of natural wines, and I’m not afraid of VA,’ Martinez says with a friendly smile, grabbing a bottle from the clear Lucite cooler.
Sit at the cobalt blue bar and chat, or outside at the sidewalk picnic tables. Then head next door to Ardor where the bottle shop’s simple, clean design is inspired, Martinez says, by the hole in the wall places he loved in France and London. An ideal place to let yourself be guided on a journey through the wild world of new wines from Oregon and California to Europe, New Zealand, Australia and even Mexico.
4243 SE Belmont Street
971 420 6278
The hushed, adult atmosphere of this comfortable fine-dining restaurant in a historic building anchoring a corner in the upscale Mount Tabor neighbourhood reflects the restrained, yet complex, nature of Chef Katy Millard’s sustainable, seasonable approach to her craft. Her cuisine du marché has received many accolades and an appearance on a 50 best restaurant list in 2021.
The nightly tasting menu – perfectly complemented by wine pairings from the 450-bottle cellar managed by Millard’s husband and business partner, sommelier Ksandek Podbielski – fuses the chef’s life journey from Zimbabwe to Alabama, Michigan and top kitchens in France and San Francisco.
Podbielski’s extensive experience working in Oregon vineyards and traveling the world inform his cellar choices. For example, he has a whole wine list page devoted to Oregon Pinot, but also highlights other Oregon varietals – for example, Nebbiolo and Aligoté – as well as international wines such as Croatian Plavac Mali and grower Champagnes. The standout from our tasting meal? Roasted rack of Oregon lamb with a glass of claret-like Pinot Noir Rosé de Riceys 2017 from Elise Dechannes’s biodynamic vineyards in the southern Champagne region.
6839 SE Belmont St.
(Corner of SE 69th and Belmont)
503 384 2483
In-the-know locals wallow in chef Kevin Gibson’s refined, balanced cooking and his 2,500-bottle strong wine cellar – one of the best in town (which includes many trophy bottles from Burgundy and Champagne that, according to Gibson, are consumed regularly). In fact, many of Portland’s chefs and somms have been mentored by Gibson in the nearly 40 years since he arrived from Iowa. In 2013, Gibson gave a minimalist overhaul to a former comic book store, converting it into a fresh, friendly space with open kitchen overlooking a sweet block of the East Burnside neighbourhood.
If mouthwatering pairings such as duck breast with tart cherry salsa and a bottle of Joseph Voillot Volnay Premier Cru Les Champans 2011 or wild nettle quenelles with morel mushrooms in Meyer lemon cream and a sip of Morgen Long Willamette Valley Chardonnay 2020 sound good, book your table. ‘We’re just ourselves,’ says the modest éminence grise of Portland hospitality, ‘but I do get a lot of thank yous after folks dine here.’ (Gibson suggests clients get in touch in advance if they wish to reserve a special bottle.)
2215 East Burnside St.
firstname.lastname@example.org (no phone)
A feast for the eyes and palate, this small, eclectic gourmet grocer, delicatessen, pastificio and bakery is a Portland institution for its picture-perfect presentation of products from around the world, plus local produce almost too gorgeous to eat. Enjoy the newly-expanded wine room featuring wines from Europe, Oregon, and Washington State – plus a bar featuring wines by the glass – and shop here for self-service lunch, grab a glass (or bottle) of wine, and head to the Providore patio for a bit of Portlandia people watching.
2340 NE Sandy Blvd
503 232 1010
Chef Cathy Whims, a seven-time James Beard Award nominee, launched Nostrana in 2005 with the goal of highlighting flavourful, regional Italian cuisine. Locals prefer the bar to the patio or large dining room, and so did we. Following the lead of our enthusiastic bar seat mate, who was bringing an out-of-town visitor to her favourite restaurant for the first time, we ordered a wood-fired, hand-tossed pizza with sausage and honey along with Whim’s renowned radicchio salad and washed our meal down with glasses of house Barbera d’Asti Vietti ‘Tre Vigne’ 2019 (bottled especially for Nostrana) and Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Crowley ‘Flashback’ 2011.
The seasonal pastas, meat and fish dishes are equally enhanced by off-the-beaten path Italian and Pacific Northwest wines chosen by industry veteran Austin Bridges. But his talent really shines next door at Enoteca – Whims’s legendary wine bar – where the postmodern design counters Nostrana’s comfortable traditionalism. The Portland restaurant crowd gathers around the quartz-topped bar after work for the convivial 11pm happy hour when bottles are half price and energy is high.
1401 SE Morrison St., Suite 101
503 234 2427
Re-energized by an understated, millennial-chic renovation in 2021 (open kitchen, cozy bar, gorgeous patio) and packed with a cool clientele, it’s safe to say that the OK Omens experience captures the appreciation of eclectic, adventuresome eating and drinking that makes Portland so distinctive. Since 2018, drinks at the wine-focused restaurant, known for its large selection of Rieslings and emphasis on both natural wines and integrity-driven classics, have been carefully overseen by Brent Braun, a sommelier to watch.
Just reading the menu is fun, thanks to the by-the-glass pairing suggestions such as: ‘Scorchingly dry German Riesling that tastes like licking a steel beam and then taking a shot of coconut lime juice, drink with Torito Salad.’ We thought this was spot on, and the luscious romaine and fried chicken salad tasted even better with a plate of house-made gougères warm from the oven. When Braun suggested a glass of 2017 Camin Larredya Jurançon to top off our meal (along with the butterscotch basil yuzu dessert) our taste buds were blown away. At weekends, watch for special wine flights, such as the recent throw down between Oregon natural wines and Gamays from France’s southern Loire.
1758 SE Hawthorn Blvd.
503 231 9959
A neighbourhood wine bar and retail shop in NE Portland, Bar Norman is a must-visit institution when it comes to wine. Opened in 2018 by nationally-recognised sommelier Dana Frank – an expert on natural and biodynamic wines – Bar Norman features a big chalkboard with the current wine list, roughly 25 on any given day.
From the urban beach shack-style front patio, doors open onto the white-walled front room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The back room, with a nine-seat bar, communal table and DJ booth is just beyond. Frank’s husband, Scott, spins vinyl most Friday nights. But he’s also a winemaker using Oregon juice, whose subterranean cellar is nearby. His label, Bow & Arrow, pays homage to the refreshing, simple wines of France’s Loire Valley with interpretations on varieties such as Melon, Chenin Blanc and Gamay.
Bar Norman: 2615 SE Clinton St.
Bow & Arrow: 3115 NE Sandy Blvd
Bursting onto the Portland scene in March 2022, Bar Diane lives up to its goal of ‘making wine fun’. From fresh strawberry pie with a glass of sparkling Beaujolais Gamay Noir to the playful, clean design, to the secret back patio that’s perfect for first dates or long conversations with old friends – this most instagrammable of Portland wine lounges is the ultimate feel-good destination. A rotating selection of simple food (shrimp cocktail, fish of the day, hanger steak, cheese plate) supports the natural wine menu featuring a sparkling, white, red and orange by the glass plus a well-curated bottle list that’s heavy on Loire Valley picks because, as co-owner Kevin Gouy says, ‘that’s the heartland of French natural wines’.
Whether you pop in for Meet the Maker Saturdays, Sparkling Sundays or Magnum Mondays, this neighbourhood spot will make you feel like a Portland insider. As our server put it, summing up the general feel of the Portland wine community, ‘This is a local place, not a BS bougie place’.
NW 21st Avenue between Irving and Hoyt
971 255 1387
One of the most unique wine bars in Portland, if not the country, Les Caves is an 18-seat tasting room that opened in 2017 in a dim, dive-y basement space dating to 1910. Finding the place is half the fun (it’s down an alley; look for the rusted metal gate at the corner of 17th and Alberta) so by the time you’re in, you’re primed for a special experience. You won’t be disappointed. Sip on wines from around the world or trust the bartender by ordering the Winesman’s Pick for a glass (or half-glass) of the bar’s choice – get ready for some unique surprises, because the goal here is to hone in on grapes you might not be familiar with (needless to say, they don’t serve many local Pinot Noirs).
If you can climb a short ladder, reserve the ‘Couch’ – a private, candlelit alcove cut into the wall with a comfy sofa where you can peruse the Missoula Floods map and reflect on how Oregon’s wine country was formed. A 20-seat outdoor porch space (also hidden from the street) opened in August 2021. Hungry patrons devour house-grilled cheese sandwiches on sourdough – the only food served.
719 NE Alberta St.
503 206 6852