A Portland Palate

Willamette Week section editor talks wine

Originally from Akron, Ohio, Martin Cizmar is currently the arts and culture editor of Willamette Week, an alternative weekly newspaper in Portland.

Cizmar graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from the University of Akron; three years later, he earned a law degree from UA. He began his journalism career at the Akron Beacon Journal, eventually leading to Phoenix New Times, where he was the music critic.

Published in 2012, his first book, “Chubster: A Hipster’s Guide to Losing Weight While Staying Cool,” chronicles how he lost 100 pounds in less than a year.

Cizmar lives in Portland with his wife and their two dogs.

How were you first introduced to fine wine?

I have really fond and vivid memories of going to Heineman’s Winery, which is on an island on Lake Erie, as a kid and being very impressed with it. It’s an odd and ancient little place with a tourist cave that grows a bunch of weird and intensely foxy American grapes like Delaware, Niagra and, of course, the famed Catawba. I remember thinking that Napa Valley wineries must be like larger, newer versions of that. We used to carry the bottles of pink Catawba juice around in paper bags like winos, and thought we were very, very cool.

Do you remember the first wine that really wowed your palate?

Gruet Grand Rosé — it’s a sparkling rosé from New Mexico, which I was gifted while living in Virginia. It’s really fruity, but also has a nice bite, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure it out and being amazed by the different things going on.

Willamette Week recently named Enso as Portland’s “2014 Bar of the Year.” Why choose a winery among the city’s countless number of drinking establishments?

Everyone here is really bullish on urban wineries, which we think Portland can really lead the world on, and after touring the city we were most impressed with what Enso is doing. Not just the wines —Enso makes some very nice stuff, but they’re also noticeably young in their craft — but in the whole experience. It’s exactly the model for a place you’re excited to sip, socialize and maybe learn a little. No offense to our friends out in the deep Valley, but once the grapes are ready, there’s no reason to stay out in the sticks without public transport or bike-ability. Urban wineries make a lot of sense—Enso really points that out.

In your opinion, how does the urban wine experience compare to touring wine country?

Well, I’ll start by saying that I have very little experience. I’ve been to pretty much every winery in Virginia and Arizona, where I lived, hit a few spots in California, but never been to a winery in Europe. That said, I was pretty surprised at how much of the tasting and touring in Oregon happens away from the fields, anyway. There are so many small wineries that don’t have tasting rooms, for obvious reasons, and some of the big names don’t want people tromping around their fields, also for obvious reasons. Unless it’s a special weekend that leaves tourists hitting a few spots spread over a few small towns, several of which are not especially scenic. If you’re really into Pinot Noir, obviously, this is a worthwhile pilgrimage. But I think it’s hard on more casual wine drinkers. Portland’s urban wine scene offers an experience that’s totally different than that, and, really, anything happening in the country. We’re actually ahead of San Francisco — and, given their real estate prices, we might stay there!

Where is your favorite place to grab a glass of wine and something to eat in Portland?

I eat everywhere, but I usually drink beer. Le Pigeon and Apizza Scholls are my favorite restaurants in town. I’m really fond of the new St. Jack on 23rd — especially the bar side.

Whether made in Portland or anywhere in the world, what is your favorite red wine? White?

I don’t drink enough red to have an opinion that should be of interest to people in this state. As for white, this is maybe crazy, but I really loved Montinore’s 2012 Reserve Müller-Thurgau. 

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