Heres to grape expectations
For those reluctant to fork over $180 for a precious taste of Krug Grand CuvŽe NV Champagne, Peter Liem is happy to open a bottle of the stuff and pour you a two-ounce sip for $15.
This willingness to pour unusual, expensive (and inexpensive) wines by the glass is one aspect that distinguishes Vigne among a newly crowded peerage of wine bars.
Open for two weeks, Vigne occupies a small slice of storefront in the Pearl District's Gregory building. Done up in midcentury modern furniture with cultured stone flanking a glass-enclosed wine cave, the sleek design is at one with the lean-and-clean aesthetic that dominates the neighborhood.
Vigne grew out of an informal wine-tasting group of which Liem, a wine retail and wholesale professional, was a founding member. Two fellow members, Jeremy Karp, a chef who has cooked at Wildwood and the Dundee Bistro, and Brian Martin, whose background is in wine marketing and retail, became Liem's partners.
Their strengths are varied: Liem possesses extensive wine knowledge, Karp handles the food end, and Martin contributes wine and business savvy. But they're united by their passion for introducing others to exciting wine.
Given Vigne's swell digs and stunning cellar, the partners are well aware that Portlanders may perceive Vigne as chichi and intimidating. They are quick to try to blot out that notion.
'We want to have a place that's inviting, that's not just for wine geeks,' Liem says. 'Our focus is on wine by the glass, with 40 wines that represent a wide range Ñ 10 whites, 10 reds, sparkling, dessert, port, sherry and Madeira. Our idea with the glass program is to get people to try new wines and to make it very affordable.'
He explains that at many restaurants it is standard practice to price a glass of wine at what it costs to buy the entire bottle at wholesale. 'The net result is, you never get a very high quality wine or good value,' Liem says.
'We try to price very aggressively and open bottles that other bars or restaurants wouldn't. We don't make as much off individual glasses, but we just want to encourage people to try different wines. You can come in and have five or six tastes of incredible wines, and it's not going to break the bank.'
And there certainly are interesting wines to try Ñ all served in Riedel glassware Ñ from a pear-sweet Elio Perrone Moscato d'Asti ($6 per glass) to prestigious Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes ($34 per 2-ounce serving).
The glass selections rotate weekly, and the cellar is ever expanding. Vigne also offers a flight Ñ four 2-ounce tastes organized by theme Ñ that changes every Thursday and costs $10 to $25; currently, barbera wines are featured.
Vigne doesn't have a full kitchen, but a rotating selection of well-chosen cheeses (also served in 2-ounce portions) is available, along with a charcuterie plate, olives, a Pearl Bakery bread basket and varying p‰tŽs made by Castagna's Kevin Gibson.
If you visit Vigne, don't be alarmed if you don't recognize a single wine on the list. You won't find any merlot or chardonnay, but you'll be met by an intelligent server who wants to help you select a wine that suits your taste. You don't need to know everything there is to know about wine to walk through Vigne's door; the education can begin once you take a sip.
Vigne is at 417 N.W. 10th Ave., 503-295-9537; hours are 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas).