Personally I believe one of wine’s most alluring qualities is its almost uncanny ability deliver the unexpected. This point was demonstrated this weekend as I embarked on a trip to Portland, Oregon to attend a Teachers Education Program from the International Sommelier Guild, intended to prepare me to become an instructor for their introductory wine programs.
At the end of the first day of the conference everyone was still a little shy and as such we mostly went our separate ways for the evening. Figuring it would be a waste to spend a perfectly good Friday evening in the great city of Portland watching CSI in my hotel room; I stepped out of the front door of my downtown hotel and headed off with little expectation. After scouring the streets of the city’s North-West for a fine wine store I never did find (and which turned out to be one block North of where I was aimlessly wandering) I decided to hop a bus to the east side of town to check out a wine bar called “Noble Rot” that had been recommended.
As I stepped off the bus I wondered if I had been lead astray as it seemed I had been dropped off in a bit of a down-trodden and industrial area. As it turns out Noble Rot is indeed a funky spot, located on the 4th floor of a rather bland looking building. As I stepped off the elevator I was greeted by a breathtaking view from the floor to ceiling windows and a feeling of excitement as I breathed in the energy of the bustling room. It’s always in interesting scenario flying solo in a busy night spot and I am always a little worried I will come off as a transient weirdo. A spot quickly opened up at the busy bar and I pulled up a stool near another gentleman who also appeared to be alone for the evening. Relieved I was not the only dateless wonder in site I ordered a glass of Riesling from local winery Love & Squalor. As the fresh notes of apple and peach hit the dance floor of my palate to the tune of refreshing acidity I started to settle in and peruse the food menu. Moments later I looked up to see my fellow classmate Keith (who was also a fellow Canadian working as a Sommelier in the acclaimed “Le Crocodile” restaurant in Vancouver) walking through the door accompanied by his lovely companion Allie. It turns out Keith and Allie had also made the trip to Noble Rot after being told there would be an hour’s wait down the street at another local gem, “le Pigeon”.
Keith and Ali pulled up beside me at the bar and as the drinks started to flow we were introduced to the other lone ranger at the bar who turned out to be a local long-shore man named Tariq (I never did get the spelling of his name, so it may also have been Tarick or some other variation). As the wine started to work its magic a great conversation ensued with each of us detailing our most memorable moments in wine and Tariq acting as our guide to the hidden gems in the surrounding wine regions of Oregon. Noble Rot offered several interesting themed wine flights, each of which was comprised of three wines sharing a selected theme. Tariq opted for a flight featuring three different wines from famed producer Altesino in the region of Montalcino in Tuscany. Keith and Ali decided to keep it local enjoying a flight of three Oregon Pinot’s and just to be different I opted for the South African flight featuring three Bordeaux styled blends (mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) from some of the areas top producers.
I was graciously invited to join Keith and Allie down the street at Le Pigeon and after some insistence that I wasn’t crashing their date we said goodbye to Tariq and headed down the block. Le Pigeon was once again packed and brimming with an incredible energy. The tattooed and baseball cap wearing chef’s complimented the unconventional menu and atmosphere nicely. We decided to order a flurry of appetizers and took advantage of the great selection of wines by the half bottle ordering a bottle of Vouvray to start. The dishes started to arrive each one was more interesting and more delicious than the rest. A crispy pork belly atop fried green tomato’s was delightfully rich, while seared frogs legs nestled amongst basil and tomato gnocchi was almost too good to be true. As our second half bottle arrived, this time a delicious Oregon Pinot Noir, we were treated to yet another interesting combination of a whole baked peach stuffed with ground beef heart on a bed of green beans and harissa. One of those crazy combinations that sounds odd but is so damn good!
With our bellies full and a warm rosy glow on our cheeks we headed out we hit the streets of Portland to finish the evening. With a text message to another classmate we set out for a rendezvous at what would turn out to be our final location. As our cab pulled up in front of the Nines hotel in downtown Portland the crowd gathered at the entrance gave us an idea of what we were in for. We walked past the “normal” hotel elevators to the final elevator with a sign reading “departure” over it. We glided past the velvet rope and as it was already well into the evening we were able to catch the next lift going up. As the elevator doors opened and a large doorman in a black suit greeted us, we were swiftly whisked up to the 15th floor. As we stepped out into departure we immediately realized the name was fitting. In that short ride we had somehow been transported from Portland to LA. A sleek mix of chrome, blue lighting and white leather couches led out onto the 15th floor rooftop patio. With the Portland skyline surrounding us and a soft summers breeze brushing past we toasted an incredible evening with a rather large glass of pink bubbly. With the laughter of new friends and a pleasant buzz in my head I realized this was one of those moments that make’s life worth living.
It’s odd how often some of our greatest experiences are born out of the unexpected. Live life in the present and even the small things become gifts. Never underestimate the power of wine to bring people together and when life throws you lemons, make a party with it.