Our world has given rise to countless pairings, both inspired (buttered peanuts and jam) and unfortunate (construction sites and Optional Helmet Day). Today’s Groupon offers one of the better ones: $35 worth of local, organic bistro fare and beverages at Thirst Wine Bar and Bistro for $15. Thirst was Citysearch's Best of 2009 pick for wine bars.But it turns out there is actually a science to smelling wine, and a corresponding aroma wheel with a full spectrum of scents in categories both familiar (fruity, floral, spicy) and odd (microbiological, oxidized, pungent). A few smart people actually aren’t making it up when they talk smart about wine. They understand the aroma wheel. They’re tasting those amazing things they’re talking about. And that’s because a few smarter chefs know how to pair wines perfectly with food to make you taste undertones you’re embarrassed to admit vocally. Those mahogany cinnamon hues are real my friend. They taste exactly like the time you put cinnamon on your mahogany bannister and went to town. That great moment can be relived, and even topped, by the food and wine available at Thirst. Thirst understands the Aroma Wheel, Occam’s Razor, and the Pythagorean Theorem. That background has enabled it to create a simple, isosceles triangle of wine, food, and thirst-reduction.
Alu offers sips and suds to please all palates. Its extensive menu boasts a variety of domestic stouts, IPAs, ales, and imported lagers as well as 22 different wines by the glass. An easily navigable wine list—organized into categories including food-friendly wines, biodynamic reds, and bubbles—eliminates ordering guesswork for even abecedarian oenophiles. The more adventurous can attempt a libation from the inventive cocktail menu such as the Julius Caesar (Aperol, Licor 43, fresh OJ, homemade triple sec, simple syrup, orange flower water, and cream, $9) or Holiday Fruit Cake (Sailor Jerry spiced rum, fresh OJ, Fee Brothers barrel aged bitters, Chinotto, palm syrup, and candied cranberries, $7).
Every year, chef Pat Jeung travels the world, bringing back exotic recipes and culinary alchemies from the farthest reaches. He also selects from the nearest reaches—he grows his own free-range vegetables, grass-fed fruits, and humanely picked herbs on a 30-acre farm in the Columbia Gorge.
Each step of Ryan Sharp’s winemaking process embodies the small-batch ethos. Within the Eastside headquarters of ENSO Winery—Wine Press Northwest’s 2013 Oregon Winery to Watch—he mixes several winemaking techniques, yielding complex flavors inside miniature fermentation bins. He mashes grapes in miniature crush equipment and ferments whites and rosés in steel-jacketed tanks no larger than a fully grown mannequin. He sources grapes only from the West Coast, giving himself a framework for his experiments with varietals such as pinot gris, pinot noir, zinfandel, and counoise. As part of his craft-oriented operation, he never makes more than 100 cases at a time of the wines from his ever-evolving roster.
At ENSO's Urban Winery & Tasting Lounge, rustic wooden chairs gather under bare light bulbs and tin lampshades, surrounding a tasting bar crafted from old wooden timbers. Guides stationed at the bar pour tastes of ENSO- and Resonate-label wines, explaining how to decipher each wine's flavor notes. These wines—along with two rotating draft beers and libations crafted by 10 other local urban wineries—complement plates of marbled artisan salamis cured by Olympic Provisions, blocks of raw and aged cheeses from Steve’s Cheese Bar, and sweet and savory pies from Pacific Pie Co.
When they first opened, Primrose & Tumbleweeds sold 47 types of wine by the bottle. Today, their selection has increased to more than 4,000 wines, with regional pride fueling its growth—the store features a gigantic sampling of wines made in Oregon and the Northwest. Such a sizable inventory might seem intimidating, but the staff has settled on a few surefire methods for doling out sips: daily tastings, an ever-changing "Today's Pour" menu, and a weekday happy hour that runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., not to mention live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
Even though wine is the main event, the venue is no mere wine bar. More than 250 craft beers and 75 hard ciders round out the list of libations, in addition to small-batch spirits that are distilled locally. The food menu proves just as changeable as the drink specials, with seasonal dishes such as bratwurst simmered in Guinness and the remains of a local snowman. The kitchen's ingredients are typically local, and the prep, hands-on. For example, homemade soups full of mushrooms and Hungarian spices complement sandwiches piled with turkey, brie, and whole-berry cranberry sauce.