To some people, the ultimate measure of a wine bar is the regular presence of winemakers, sipping reds on their precious days off. That's a fairly common sight these days in Portland, Ore., where the city's down-to-earth yet sophisticated vibe is drawing local producers and younger wine drinkers into common ground. The city has recently seen the launch of about 10 wine bars, many of which are marked by impressive lists and ambitiously hip interiors.
One, the quirkily named Noble Rot (after the mold that is essential for creating Sauternes and other great dessert wines) has quickly become a local favorite for its refined, but not stuffy atmosphere.
Opened in May 2002, Noble Rot pours nearly 60 wines by the glass, all served in Spiegelau crystal and priced from $4 to $13. The frequently changing list includes dessert wines, Ports and Sherries, and several flights are offered each day, showcasing different (often off-the-beaten-path) regions from around the world. "We always include a Willamette Valley flight," said co-owner Courtney Storrs with evident pride.
Noble Rot also sells bottles at retail, which are available to take home or to drink there for a $7 corkage fee. Racks of wine are displayed throughout the bar, encouraging customers to wander about for a look before making a selection. The roughly 450-label inventory of bottles provides broad coverage of most regions of the world, but is particularly rich in Oregon. Numerous wines are priced at under $30 (including the corkage fee), but the list is also studded with tiny-production Rhônes such as A. Clape Renaissance Cornas 2000 ($52, including corkage) and local cult Pinot Noirs from J.K. Carriere, Brooks, and Patricia Green.
Noble Rot is the brainchild of Storrs and Kimberly Bernosky, who managed a busy craft-brewing pub before starting her own Portland wine shop, Beaumont Wines (now closed). There, she met Storrs, a fellow wine fanatic who had spent several vintages as an assistant to the winemaker at Oregon's acclaimed Brick House winery.
Storr's husband, Leather, a chef, caterer and local food writer, provides a sure hand on the stove, turning out an array of small hot and cold plates (priced from $4.50 to $10) from the compact kitchen. You can watch him in action from the 20-foot polished fir bar (salvaged from a cargo ship that sank in 1921) that takes up one side of the long, high-ceilinged main room. A spacious, low-lit back salon provides more table seating along with displays of bold local art. Weather permitting, the glass garage-style front door is opened wide, and guests can sit outside at sidewalk tables.
If you need help, the staff will make thoughtful food-pairing suggestions. One night, a bright, apricoty 2000 Kuentz-Bas Gewürztraminer ($10 a glass) was recommended to complement a fresh spinach salad with coconut, mango and peanuts in a chile-lime vinaigrette. And a sturdy 1996 Caprili Brunello di Montalcino ($11) was suggested as a counterpart to braised beef short rib and an onion tart.
2724 S.E. Ankeny St.
Portland, OR 97214
Telephone: (503) 233-1999
Hours: Monday—Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight