The new year is off to a strong start in Portland. This week two wine-forward concepts are uncorked. Organically and biodynamically farmed wines take top shelf at Maine and Loire in Munjoy Hill and Congress Street’s new UnWined Lounge kick out the jams.
Empire staters Peter and Orenda Hale left a restaurant career in the dust to bring wines such as muscadet, anjou and cheverny to a beer-mad city. They opened their vino emporium Tuesday on a rapidly gentrifying Washington Ave.
The styles at Maine and Loire “are easy to enjoy; wines that have as little pretension as the people who make them. Maine & Loire is a playful nod to two places which are dear to our hearts,” their website declares. France and Pine Tree State activate!
First tasting is Jan. 31, 63 Washington Avenue, Portland. Hours are 12 to 8 p.m.
On Friday Unwined Lounge on Congress Street, run by hospitality veteran Jared Rice, opens too. “The idea is to create a relaxed atmosphere where people feel comfortable. There won’t be any riffraff or a rowdy bar scene here,” said Portland’s newest nightlife entrepreneur.
Taking over a sleek, elongated space, formerly Madhouse Studio, Rice of Lisbon hopes to fill a niche in a city where every culinary whim is swiftly being met. “I’ve been wanting to open a restaurant forever,” said Rice, who currently works at the Double Tree Hotel in SoPo and has studied wine at Napa Valley vineyards like Beringer and Stags’ Leap.
He brings his wine knowledge to the city’s Art’s District with a concept that’s coffee-shop-meets-wine-bar. “Unwined is about service. I want people to say ‘wow, this is a great experience,'” he said inside his new lounge dominated by couches with nary a bar in sight.
Why remove the counter, which has become the friendly hotspot for everyone from my mother to Millennials?
“We want to emphasize service and wait on you,” said Rice, who discovered that amid Portland’s dynamite food scene, service all too often falters. “My entire staff will know these wines intimately.”
Wine by the glass, priced from $5 to $19, will be delivered to guests chilling on leather couches or side tables. Upscale vino, such as Duckhorn will be available by the bottle. Wine spritzers (the teetotaler’s fave) are not shamed here. “We want people to feel comfortable ordering them,” said Rice, determined to bring this low-alcohol sip back.
Hard, local cider from outfits like Ricker Hill and Urban Farm Fermentory will be available along with local ale. Food will be minimal, yet unlike Portland’s other wine bar MJ’s, there will be more than a few nibbles to consider. Salads, sandwiches (small plates) and cheese and charcuterie boards will prevail in this casual, barless zone.
Located next to Speckled Axe and steps from MECA, Unwined is poised to be a causal alternative, custom made for those moments when a double espresso just won’t cut it. “Our main goal is to become a local attraction. A place you visit before you go out to dinner, or afterwards to relax,” he said.
Cheers to that!
Unwined Lounge, 569 Congress St., opens right before Christmas. Hours are Mon.- Thurs. 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 3 p.m. to midnight and Sunday brunch.