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Wine rubes get pours minus the pretension

James Fogarty freely

acknowledges that he doesn't know everything about wine. It's a risky confession for someone who opened a wine shop just two weeks ago. But like a good teacher, Fogarty hopes to illustrate that the learning is never finished Ñ especially when it comes to a topic as thorny as wine.

'I want to cater to those who don't know a lot about wine but want to learn, and I want them to feel comfortable,' Fogarty says. 'In pursuing my own interest in wine, I've been to wine tastings where the people weren't friendly, and it wasn't fun.'

Open for two weeks, Cellar Wine Gallery is a straight-up retail shop, not a wine bar, not a bistro, though it does double as a showplace for art. Fogarty, a Portlander for two years now ('I love it here!'), has a background in restaurants and is a self-taught wine guy. His desire to make wine accessible to laymen fuels Cellar Wine Gallery.

'I think people enjoy learning about wine, but it's difficult because it's hard not to feel like a total idiot if you walk into a wine shop and ask for a merlot,' Fogarty says, pronouncing the wine murr-lott (the ending 't' should be silent). 'If they laugh at you, you're going to be intimidated.'

So what tack should neophytes take?

'It's important to find out what you like. It doesn't matter what supposedly goes with what food,' Fogarty assures. 'The best wine for you is the one that you like.'

That is precisely the purpose of tastings at any wine shop or winery: for quaffers to discover their preferred varietals (wines made chiefly from one type of grape, e.g., pinot noir, chardonnay) and blends. Anyone can stop by Cellar Wine Gallery during business hours for an informal tasting or attend a Friday or Saturday evening tasting focused on a particular region or grape. (Fogarty is still drawing up the schedule but last week featured Chilean and Argentine wines.) The shop's stock is an international mix; Fogarty says he carries bottles from nearly every wine-exporting country.

Once you develop some favorites, you won't necessarily have to shell out big bucks to bring a few home. Fogarty says 60 percent of his bottles are priced in the $10 range. A typical tasting will include two bargain wines, a reserve bottle retailing for $30 to $40 and one that falls somewhere in the middle.

Cellar Wine Gallery, 2047 E. Burnside St., 503-236-6185, is open 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Alice in Big Easy land

Who cares if Krispy Kreme heads to the 'burbs when we've got beignets in close-in Southeast?! New Rabbit Hole proprietress Brenda Laam has injected the so-so restaurant with some Big Easy savoir-faire by offering espresso and beignets, those lovely little fritters dusted in powdered sugar and served hot, weekday mornings.

The Rabbit Hole currently opens at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, but manager Matthew Puetz says they will soon be open for the early-bird crowd, too. No major changes to the dinner menu yet.

The Rabbit Hole is at 203 S.E. Grand Ave., 503-231-2925.

Contact Christina Melander at

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