While many wine bars like Bar Avignon and Kir Wine Bar are gaining in popularity and exposure, wine shops often fly under the radar of the public. Big retail stores like Fred Meyer’s, Zuppan’s, New Seasons and even Trader Joe’s carry the major international and domestic producers, but the small shops often have unique and rare, artisanal wines. Portland’s wine shops also feature excellent Friday night tastings, perfect for date nights or trying new wines.
Liner and Elsen Wine Shop, 2222 NW Quimby Street – One of the older wine shops in Portland, L & E started in 1990 and features a large selection. Service has improved recently, and you can special order bottles of older vintages, like the 1970 Bordeaux my wife gave me for my 40th birthday.
Tastings: Every other Friday and all Saturdays, L & E often has importers and distributors pouring high quality offerings for $10-$15.
Best Feature: The free Saturday tastings from 12-5 pm of primarily international wines.
Vinopolis Wine Shop, 1025 SW Washington Street– Hands down the largest selection in town. The downtown location is certainly not intimate as it resembles a warehouse, but usually has the best prices in the area when comparing similar bottles. Customers are often left alone to peruse, and if you want recommendations make sure to find Kurt as he does a great job matching your palate with the right wine. They also feature “internet only” specials for newsletter subscribers.
Tastings: The staff usually has a few bottles open on Fridays and Saturdays, and they will occasionally hold a special event, last year they had a high-end champagne tasting for $40 which included Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug and others.
Best Feature: Great choices with some of the best prices in town, and Kurt’s ability to find the “perfect” wine for you.
City Market/Pastaworks, 735 NW 21st Avenue, (also in SE and N Portland) – The Italian focused bottle offerings are fairly extensive considering it’s located within a small grocery store. No wine service to speak of, but a perfect neighborhood shop to get quality wine. Prices can be somewhat higher than other shops, as you are paying for convenience.
Oregon Wine’s on Broadway, 515 SW Broadway Avenue – While more wine bar than shop, OWB features an extensive Oregon Pinot Noir collection along with irreverent bartenders, Madonna and Prince on iTunes, and a general good time. Patrons generally work downtown, and the place is buzzing around 5 pm so get there early to grab a seat at the bar. The recently added a “Dirt” tasting featuring wines with terroir, say “hi” to Oregon wine maven Erica Landon who is often the tasting host.
Other shops of note: Zupan’s has a large selection (usually more expensive than the wine shops), and Trader Joe’s is always a crowd pleaser (see Food Dude’s 2011 survey) with some decent bargains and large production wines. If you want a “secret” Oregon stash, ask the staff at Phil’s Meat Market to let you see the cellar downstairs.
Storyteller Wine Co., 5511b SW Hood Avenue – Primarily an internet shop, Michael Alberty sells via his appropriately named newsletter (he writes great stories about each wine he sells). This is a brick and mortar shop as well, and the Friday night tastings are the best in town (and are usually free). If you enjoy wine writing and great wines, sign up for his weekly newsletter here.
Best Feature – Most of the Friday tastings are free, and are consistently filled with high quality wines with the wine makers present pouring the wines.
E & R Wine Shop, 6141 SW Macadam Boulevard – Next to Vinopolis, E & R has arguably the best choice in town, with spectacular special tastings. Service is good once you “crack” the generally introverted staff, which assembles a comical and enjoyable newsletter as well.
Best Feature: Phenomenal special event tastings, including an annual Kermit Lynch Import tasting (with Kermit attending at times), plus the three-day “Pinot-Oregon” tasting featuring the best of Willamette Valley.
Other Shops of note: Sip D’Vine and Korkage feature weekly tastings, with live music at Korkage.
Cork Wine Shop, 2901 NE Alberta Street– Until recently, Cork had another shop in NW Portland but they consolidated at their Alberta location. Cork features a great choice of under $20 wines and champagne, plus classes and tastings. Prices are good if you are a Club Member.
Best Feature: Weekly tastings ($10-$15) and the best classes in town as owner Daryl Joannides travels extensively over the globe seeking out wines for the shop.
Great Wine Buys, 1515 NE Broadway Avenue – A nice selection of Pacific Northwest and European wines, GWB has very good prices and knowledgeable staff.
Best Feature: Special tastings have included: “Cult” Washington wineries, Champagne, and Oregon Pinot Noir verticals, and they have varied weekly Friday night tastings ($10-$15) as well.
The Hop and Vine, 1914 N. Killingsworth Street – Featuring craft beers and wine, they have a diverse choice of international wines not seen at every shop. Excellent prices, and the “Century Wine Club” has their wine tastings on select Thursdays. NW Whites wine blogger Ryan Reichert will be teaching wine classes here this spring.
Other notable shops: Everyday Wine, Gem Wine Shop, and even specialty shop Foster and Dobbs all have weekly Friday night tastings.
Mt. Tabor Fine Wines, 4316 SE Hawthorne Blvd. – A staple on SE Hawthorne for many years, this shop features quality Friday night tastings ($15) that usually include French or Oregon wines.
Best Feature: Some tastings have relatively rare European selections that are hard to find.
Garrison’s Fine Wines, 1401 SE Morrison Street– Perfectly located a couple of doors down from Nostrana, the shop features Friday night flights ($12-$18) from all over the world. Garrison’s also has a cellar of older sought after wines, a rarity in Portland. James Beard nominee Cathy Whims from Nostrana has been seen at tastings here (she recommended a delicious $20 red).
Portland Wine Merchants, 1430 SE 35th Avenue- This shop always has an eclectic, changing stock on hand, so you often will not find the same bottle twice! The owner Rory often brings in warehouse close-outs, and there are often great values that are not available anywhere else. Some of these wines have not sold, usually due to poor marketing/labeling, etc., but can be very good and often under $10-$15. Friday tastings ($15) are casual and are from 4:30 until about 7 pm.
Vino, 137 SE 28th Avenue- Bruce moved the shop from the popular Sellwood location to just across the street from Ken’s Artisan Pizza on SE 28th, and the regulars did not miss a beat! The loyal patrons of the Friday night tastings ($10-$15) pack the house for high quality offerings. The shop has surprisingly good choice for the size.
Woodstock Wine and Deli, 4030 SE Woodstock Blvd.- The best feature of the shop is the neighborhood feel with great $10 Friday night tastings. They will often have a blind tasting or a “Best under $10” tasting where the wines are rated and published.
Other shops of note around town: New Seasons has a good selection if you know what you are looking for (albeit 10%+ more expensive than most shops), and Fred Meyer’s has a surprisingly wide international choice with excellent prices.
[Note: I didn't have a chance to round-up pictures, but if any of the shops listed in this article would like a photo added, I'd love to do so. Feel free to send one to me via the contact page]