This business is now closed
As I took my first sip
of 1834 Madeira
I was sent tumbling
head over heels back
to the time of Andrew Jackson
The Indian Removal Act looming clear
James Degas peeked from the womb.
The Civil war not yet on the horizon,
the Brooklyn Bridge exploding on the scene
I thought to myself
What would this maker think
To know my life today
As I consume his drink
You know the old saying ‘You had me at hello’? This was true the first time I opened the doors and walked into Vigne (Pronounced ‘Veen’) wine bar in the Pearl District. I’d had a long week and noticing the door as I walked passed I took a chance and walked inside. A few hours later I was drinking 1834 Madeira and formulating bad poetry.
The bar is beautiful. The lights are low, and the entry is dominated by a glass floor-to-ceiling cellar. Nice stonework frames details and brings warmth to what would otherwise be a sterile room. Row upon row of Reidel glassware hangs above the bar. The custom-designed furniture in the 60’s modern style is arranged invitingly. Light fixtures are also 60’s modern and tie everything together.
Three partners started the bar in 2002. One has since been forced out leaving Bryan and Jeremy running the show. They have an extensive inventory running strongly into the European market. Though there are wines from other areas available, it is obvious where their knowledge and passion run. These guys live for Bordeaux, Rieslings, Champagnes, Ports, and Madeira. I would be willing to place a bet that they know more about them than anyone in the area. They occasionally have stunning 17th-century Madeira, and Ports from as far back as the 1950s.
A large selection of wines is available by the glass though they can be a bit overpriced. Pours are available in a 2oz. or a 4oz. glass. There is also a huge selection of bottles available to drink in a comfortable environment. Over time they have added a fair amount of bar food: salads, potatoes, and some desserts. All are excellent.
Their collection covers thousands of bottles, many from highly sought-after vintages. Even more, bottles that won’t fit into the bar fill a large locker at Portland Wine Storage. They frequently take trips to Europe or other countries to buy more wine. These are serious oenophiles who are more than willing to debate the merits of an obscure Riesling to the late hours of the night. These guys know more about the types of wines they specialize in than any other wine bar in the Portland area. Notice I said ‘specialize in’ for that is the rub. Though their cellar contains wines from all over the world, they haven’t tasted many of them, some are over their prime, and it is apparent from the discussion that they are considered second-class citizens to Jeremy and Brian. This is not the place to go for advice on California or Australian wines.
A good friend of mine loves Vigne. He literally spent thousands of dollars at the bar enhancing his knowledge where he was weak – Bordeaux and Rieslings. One day he overheard a conversation between one of the owners and a patron. “Anyone who doesn’t like these doesn’t know anything about wine,” the owner said, “should stick to California garbage for people who don’t know better”. Wow, they have the Bordeaux attitude to go with their wine. Having just been told he was stupid, my friend walked out the door never to return. Other friends went with him.
I am passionate about wine. Wine can make an average meal good by complementing and enhancing flavors. My cellar contains a large collection from all over the world including California. I’ve even had (gasp) a few good Merlots. When I was just being introduced to wine as a child my father once poured me a glass at dinner one night. “Do you like it?” he said. I nodded and asked if I could have some more. It was a very wonderful 68 Boudreaux. He taught me to look at the color, to notice the finish, the way the wine hung in the glass, and the complexity of flavors. The next week he again offered me a glass of wine, this time a low-end California Cabernet. “Do you like it, he asked?” A precocious 17-year-old, I replied that it was even better than the one from the week before. My sister started to laugh but was cut off by an icy look from Dad. “Wine,” he said, “is all about taste. Not who has the best sense of taste, but what tastes best to you. If you drink wine and think it is the best thing you have ever had, it is. No one could or should ever try to take that from you”.
The flights are often educational though frequently contain some lesser wines. Special tastings frequently sell out; get on their mailing list so you know about them in advance. They also have an off-sale license.