So it’s a warm and sunny spring Saturday afternoon and, craving a refreshing beverage, you head to the refrigerator to fetch a nice, cold beer. But alas! The fridge is empty!
Fear not my friend, before you raid your laundry money for more swill, you can (assuming you are of the appropriate age) quench your thirst for strong drink for free. That’s right, FREE. And not only that, you can do it in style.
Many of Portland’s wine shops and grocery stores offer free wine tasting every Saturday afternoon, giving even the most cash-strapped among us the chance explore the diverse and fascinating (but sometimes expensive) world of wine. If you have ever wanted to learn about wine or experience a part of the growing wine industry that lies just south of our little city, this is a great way to do it.
Don’t be intimidated by vino’s pretentious image or think that you don’t know enough about wine. True to Portland’s laid-back demeanor, most wine shops in town have friendly, helpful staff who are always glad to see someone taking up a new interest in fermented grapes and always eager to answer questions and make recommendations.
Most tastings are done in an informal, drop-in style, so don’t feel obliged to show up when they first start or stay until they end. The FoodDay section of The Oregonian, printed every Tuesday, lists many of the upcoming wine events in and around the city so, with a bit of advanced planning, you can hit several places in one day for your own virtual wine country experience.
It’s advisable, however, to purchase a bus ticket if you intend to do this because, while those one-to-two ounce samples seem small, they can add up fast.
It should be mentioned that there is an implied etiquette with most of these tastings that participants should purchase something from the store, but in my experience if you are friendly and gripe frequently about your destitute state, most places don’t mind if you don’t buy anything, or even if you become a regular. If you do feel so inclined to purchase something, however most places are more than happy to recommend a good bottle in the $10 and under range.
Here are some of the best places to put some free wine in your mouth:
Northwest Best Fred Meyer
100 N.W. 20th Place
While a grocery store may not be the classiest of locales for your virtual wine country tour, Fred Meyer gets points for unpretentious consistency. A simple table by the wine section offers samples of a few budget-end selections, so if you find something you like, it usually won’t be too hard on your wallet.
Don’t bother asking the staff any questions, though, they’re often just regular store staff who have been assigned to the station, and they have been known to give untrue information.
Free tastings from 3 – 7 p.m. every Saturday.
13 N.W. 23rd Place
The wine bar in the center of the upscale Northwest deli usually only has a couple of selections to try for free (they always have a few for a small fee, though), but they are carefully chosen, often local and always interesting.
Representatives from the winery are often on hand to answer questions, which definitely adds to the “virtual wine country” experience.
Free tastings most Saturdays from 12 – 3 p.m.
In Good Taste
231 N.W. 11th Avenue
Located in the heart of the Pearl District, this cooking school/gourmet shop has the trendy feel that has come to be associated with it’s neighborhood.
Tastings around the shop’s neat little kitchen bar, surrounded by racks of utensils, feature interesting wines from around the world.
Free tastings are from 1 – 4 p.m. every Saturday.
Great Wine Buys
1515 N.E. Broadway
This unpretentious shop located near Lloyd Center has a young, friendly staff and some of the most interesting free tastings in Portland, featuring affordable selections from around the world.
The easy going, diverse crowd that turns up every weekend is always up for a good conversation. This is also one of the best places in Portland to find a great bottle for $10 or less. The staff is never short on recommendations.
Free tastings are on Friday nights from 5 – 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 2 – 5 p.m.
Liner and Elsen
202 N.W. 21st Avenue
Considered to be one of the elite wine stores in Portland, this place definitely caters to an older, upscale clientele, but if you are willing to brave it you will certainly learn a lot about wine.
The staff is friendly, and because they specialize in old world, upper-end wines, they always have interesting, classy stuff in their tastings, often pulling from little-known labels from Burgundy, Spain or Germany.
Free tastings are on Satudays from noon to 6 p.m.