I have a wine problem: I like it, but I’m a slow drinker. I’m also cheap, and outside of one’s usual friendly brunches and datey drinks, I generally cook and eat alone. This means if I buy a bottle, I’ll probably get one glass out of it before it starts to turn. My stopgap solution is to keep decent box wine on hand in my pantry next to the Clabber Girl tin and Abuelita cocoa disks, and it works—box wines are basically vacuum-sealed, so they keep—but it’s a decidedly un-glamorous solution. I’m hoping Jeffrey Weissler can help.
Weissler’s the proprietor of proudly geeky Portland wine store Pairings Portland, a small corner bar and shop located on Northeast 24th directly across the street from micro-restaurant pod the Ocean. I found out about him from a publicist who more typically alerts me to nerdy music and book events, which is the only reason I even considered writing about it (I find most wine writing to be basically unreadable). Once I’m in the door, Weissler gets up from the bar, where he’s pouring wine for the shop’s sole customer, and greets me with a firm handshake. For a wine shop guy, Weissler’s welcoming, and prone to goofy phrases like “psycho stupid awesome.” He smiles a lot. It’s also clear he and his three employees have put real work into making this place feel welcoming instead of pretentious.
While most bottle shops leave me feeling like a cheap philistine timidly asking for the rosé while trying not to visibly gape at the price tag, Pairings is instantly comfortable. Right down to an educational wall mural that explains how the wines in the shop are made (80 percent of the inventory is organic and yeast-free), the vibe is one of a kindergarten classroom for adults who would be scared off by less-friendly environs. The shelves are lined with bottles from themed flights—Wonder Woman, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead. It’s gimmicky, sure, but arguably no less gimmicky than tannin talk. The wines are also more in my price range. The average glass is $9, and there’s an entire shelf of wines under $15–“For the overeducated and underemployed,” reads the shelf label. I want to come back off the clock with a book and drink Buffy the Vampire Slayer wine in the corner.
All this accessibility is precisely the point. Weissler and his employees seek to demystify wine knowledge for people who aren’t studying for a sommelier test (a real thing), by describing wines through concepts and characters people are already familiar with—hence the flights named after characters from movies and TV.
“Wine [geek speak] fucked it up for the entirety of Planet Earth,” he says. How to unfuck it? “What’s a language that maybe we all speak? Adjectives.” Categorizing wines this way, he says, “lets us [take] all kinds of crazy wine that the average consumer wouldn’t ordinarily try and now we’re gonna pair it to something that you have.”
It’s easy to see how this works: I don’t know shit about a grenache, but I know who the Night King is, so I know that the wine Weissler’s paired with that character is probably cold and kind of aggressive. “Tannin does not build community,” says Weissler. “Wine should build community.” A wine shop where I don’t have to feel bad that I don’t even know what the plural of tannin is? I’m convinced.
Weissler says that he started this place “broke as a skunk” and has committed to the pairings concept down to the shop’s logo, which includes a bottle, but also a chicken, a pawprint, a TV, and a cupcake. “People either get it and love it, or you see it and you’re intrigued,” he says. The shop also aims to carry wines from grapes that are organically and holistically farmed, and fermented without added yeast. Which means? “This wine might drink best on day three,” he says. Could this be a solution to my box-wine conundrum?
But before we get to that: a sipping lesson! Weissler pours me a tiny glass of white wine, and explains that it’s possible to aerate the wine while you’re drinking it to pick up on all of its flavors—this requires a weird sort of circular-breathing while drinking type action—but you can also heighten your wine-drinking experience just by chewing it like food. I can handle the latter!
While I chew my white wine, Weissler discusses the shop’s upcoming pairing events: Thor and Star Wars are on the docket, as is an HP Lovecraft flight to coincide with the HP Lovecraft Film Festival at the Hollywood Theatre (Cthulhu wine included) and... astrology week. I am instantly very curious about Aries wine. Before I can ask, Weissler asks when my birthday is. He then gives me a numerology reading on the spot, telling me not to push myself so much when things are difficult, but to “love the process and the questions.” He also shows me yet another shelf—the numerology wines.
When I ask about my box wine conundrum, Weissler reiterates that the wines he sells can taste the best on day three or four. He also isn’t above box wines. He says Pairings even used to stock one, and now has a keg wine on offer. As for the bottles, he offers this sage advice to slow drinkers like me: “Keep it in the fridge and warm it up to drink it. No-yeast-added wines—they unfold that way.”