A Taste of Eugene

Wine Press NorthwestSeptember 1, 2014 

Route 5 NW Wine Bar in Eugene, Oregon offers guests a tasting tour through the wines of the Pacific Northwest.

“Sometimes people don’t know where they want to visit in wine country,” explains Kirsten Hansen, Wine Director. “At Route 5 they can taste wine from different AVAs.” (American Viticultural Areas).

Hansen and Route 5’s talented, knowledgeable staff create fun and educational experiences for guests. In addition to the bottle shop selection, a rotation of about 20 Northwest wines (mostly Oregon and Washington) are available by the splash, glass, or flask. Visitors can customize flights. For instance one might compare Pinot noir from McMinnville, Dundee Hills, Ribbon Ridge, and the Willamette Valley. Hansen then takes personal preferences, puts together tour suggestions, and sends guests off with a picnic. The menu at Route 5, a selection of meats, cheeses, salads and sandwiches, is also sourced from the Pacific Northwest with vendors like Rogue Creamery and Olympic Provisions on the menu.

Hansen reflects on what else makes Route 5 special: “We feature small producers and newcomers. Some bottles are usually only available at the winery and we don’t just carry current releases.” Indeed there is a 1985 Pinot noir in the section devoted to vintage wines from Eyrie Vineyards. Monthly educational dinners and pairings offer a fun way to learn more about enjoying Northwest wines.

The most recent special pairing dinner series celebrated the “pioneers” of Oregon’s wine industry. These dinners explored the state’s unique heritage with icons like Dick Erath and David Adelsheim. The next series, “Hometown Heroes” beginning in September, will feature Eugene winemakers. The dinners at Route 5 are great opportunities to learn about wines from the winemakers themselves in a relaxed, unhurried format.

Route 5 is part of the Fifth Street Public Market. The market is a collection of locally owned shops and restaurants. One shopkeeper calls the market “the jewel of downtown Eugene.” Several restaurants offer something for every taste and budget, from french fries to foie gras. In the central courtyard the sun shines down on the fountain, walls are painted with murals, the piano and retro phone booth somehow don’t seem out of place. Outdoor dining tables are found on each level. Families and couples of all ages sip coffee or eat ice cream among planters brimming with colorful blooms. Jazz subtly plays in the background. The European theme successfully transports visitors.

The Inn at the 5th, a AAA Four Diamond Award-Winning hotel, provides convenient lodging in the Public Market. One could easily spend a girls’ getaway or romantic weekend. The Inn’s complimentary shuttle service in a Mercedes Benz or Sprinter shuttle travels a four mile radius. Reserve ahead, and this can be easy transportation to nearby urban wineries: Capitello Wines, the Oregon Wine L.A.B, Territorial Vineyards and Eugene Wine Cellars.

For a day of wine tasting at any of the 17 regional wineries, there are several local shuttle service companies for hire.

Before striking out for nearby wine country, consider a stop at Marché Provisions. Just as Route 5 highlights the Northwest, Marché Provisions brings the best of Western Europe and the Mediterranean. Hansen’s hand, directing the wine program here, is evident. Browsing is easy.

The French wine section is divided into Bordeaux, Champagne, Rhone etc. The same is true for other major wine producing countries such as Spain and Italy. European oils, vinegars, and tapenades can be found. Breads, pastry, ice cream, salads, sandwiches, and wood fired pizza are made on site. Hansen leads casual monthly wine classes at Marché Provisions featuring pairings with “snacks.” The next series, beginning in September 2014, showcases varietals across regions. Participants will, for instance, taste and compare Cabernet Sauvignon from several regions around the globe. There are also complimentary wine tastings at Marché Provisions each Saturday.

The Marché restaurant, across from Route 5 is a blend of France and the Pacific Northwest. Dining space is divided between the casual Le Bar and the white table cloth experience of Marché. The restaurant, founded by James Beard Award nominee Stephanie Pearl Kimmel, showcases Northwest ingredients using French cooking traditions. Creative Director Jessica Blaine explains the Marché philosophy, “Celebrating the season with great food from local farmers is a wonderful way to experience life on the plate.” Executive Chef Karl Zenk oversees the menus at Marché and Le Bar, Marché Provisions, and Route 5 with consistent quality and dedication to sustainable, artisanal producers. “We get a lot of our ingredients from the local farmer’s market,” says Zenk listing farmers by their first names. Of course, some of their ingredients aren’t farmed, but foraged. Have no fear, their foragers are licensed.

Monthly dinners are held at Marché to highlight seasonal food and wine pairings of classic French regions. These dinners include education about regional flavors and history. Sommelier Phillip Patti visits each table describing the wine pairings. Upcoming topics include Bordeaux, Alsace, Beaujolais, and Champagne. The regular wine list at Marché is also divided by grape or style with French and Pacific Northwest options. This makes comparisons like Chardonnay from Burgundy and Willamette Valley easy to navigate.

Locally owned retail stores offer a break from food and wine. Everything from home decor, jewelry, clothing boutiques and toys can be found in the Public Market. It may not work off any wine and cheese calories but a “Blissful Package” at Gervais Salon and Day Spa sounds like a nice vacation addition. Near the Public Market are pubs, more restaurant choices, and the Oregon Gallery featuring Northwest photography and crafts.

For weekend evening entertainment, Eugene’s wineries offer many opportunities for toe tapping and wine tasting. Fritter away a Friday evening among the vines with live music at Sweet Cheeks Winery’s Twilight Tastings or Domaine Meriwether’s Sparkling Nights. Many urban wineries, such as Capitello Wines, the Oregon Wine L.A.B, Territorial Vineyards, have live music on Fridays and are a short distance from the Public Market. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays June through October 11, guests gather on the patio between Route 5 and Inn at the 5th for live music. Chef Zenk fires up the grill, offering a special menu, cooked to order.

Whether Eugene is a travel destination or a stop enroute, there are ample opportunities for a taste of the Northwest. For more information on upcoming events visit southwillamettewineries.com. For information on wine classes and dinners visit route5wine.com and marcherestaurant.com.  JADE HELM is the primary author of Tasting Pour, a wine blog. Based in Oregon she is a Diplomate of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust of London and a Certified Specialist of Wine, Society of Wine Educators. Visit tastingpour.com

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