The joy of discovering wines you never knew you loved
When it comes to wine, you might call Alex Marchesini and Kelsey Glasser true citizens of the world. Sure, they’re ardent fans of Oregon and Washington wines, but Northwest labels make up only a small part of the eclectic inventory at Thelonious Wines (516 NW 9th Ave, 503-444-7447, theloniouswines.com), which the young pair of former sommeliers opened in July 2016. In this handsome bi-level shop and wine bar, the focus is on bottles you’re unlikely to find elsewhere, from a 15-year-old Grand Cru Bordeaux to a bright, ready-to-drink bubbly from a small winery in Tasmania. Thelonious feels a bit like the private wine cellar that belongs to your discerning, well-traveled friends—only everybody is welcome here, and every bottle is for sale.
Marchesini notes that when they prepared to open, many locals warned them that to survive in Portland, they’d have to carry plenty of cheap wines. But the owners went a different route. “There are two things that we focus on that you don’t often find in the same wine shop,” he says. “A selection of high-end culty wines, and a good number of bottles priced in the high teens to mid-$20s range.” What all of their wines share in common are exceptional quality and interesting provenance.
Outgoing and unpretentious, Glasser and Marchesini are passionate about wine and food, but snobs they are not. They listen carefully to their customers and clearly love watching patrons delight in trying wines they’ve never experienced before. The stock of about 150 labels changes often and features a mix of Old World and New World wines, including some notable Willamette Valley and Columbia Valley options, from Washington’s highly sought-after Quilceda Creek cabernet sauvignon to a 2010 pinot noir from Patton Valley Vineyard. “It’s one of the great vintages of the decade for Oregon pinot noir,” says Marchesini.
“We try as much as we can to find rare wines from more obscure regions,” he adds. Case in point: the bar recently featured a refreshing, racy white blend from Slovenia’s Črnko winery, and the shop carries Pais en Tinaja, a distinctive red produced with hand-pressed grapes grown on 200-year-old vines in Chile’s Maule Valley. These are the sorts of curiosities that the shop’s engaging owners love talking about, and why customers keep coming back—not just to discover new wines but to hear the colorful stories behind them.
On both floors of Thelonious, you can sample wines by the glass (available in 3- and 6-oz pours, or flights of any three 3-oz pours for $15), full bottles for a $10 corkage fee, and light appetizers, such as smoked salmon, Marcona almonds, salumi from CHOP Butchery, and regional and international cheeses. The intimate upstairs area, outfitted with tables fashioned out of vintage wooden wine crates, is especially inviting. But on warm evenings, consider enjoying a flight of unusual wines from far-flung lands while seated at a sidewalk table, the perfect spot to watch the sun fall gently over the Pearl District. – Andrew Collins | Photos by Stuart Mullenberg