On Buying Wine:

The key is to find a wine shop where you feel comfortable-both physically and in being able to communicate with the owner or salesperson there. Tell him or her, "I don't care about wines with big names; I'm interested in smaller producers." Buy an assorted case (to get the normal 10-15% case discount), and make notes when you try each wine-day, food, impression, whether you liked or didn't like it. Then go back to the same store and the same salesperson, and tell her what you liked and didn't like. This gives her a better idea of your palate, and should yield better recommendations.




An Ashland wine bar hopes customers find something new each time they visit -- including a great glass of wine

The impressive array of bottles isn't a new Ashland wine bar's only asset. A casual yet chic atmosphere at Liquid Assets aims to appeal to everyone, said co-owner Jim Piotter.

"We're not a pretentious wine shop," he said.

Chocolate leather chairs and butterscotch suede sofas invite guests to relax with a glass of pinot or port. Local artists' photographs and prints call patrons to wander through the space, which opened earlier this month on North Main Street.

The conspicuous absence of a wine list encourages browsing through bottles from Oregon, Washington, California, Australia, Europe and beyond.

Shopping labels rather than scanning lines of text, Piotter said, reveals the "personality" behind each of Liquid Assets' some 175 wines, like Sonnet Wine Cellars 2005 Rosé with Shakespeare sonnet 11 printed on the back. Whether for $18 or $200-plus, tasting novices and sophisticated palates alike will find the right bottle, Piotter said. A corkage fee of $5 makes trying a high-end wine more affordable than it would be in many restaurants, he added.

"You wouldn't go out to a super-fancy dinner every week," Piotter said. "But you could come in and have a glass of wine."

Liquid Assets has been in the works for about three years, since Piotter and his wife, Denise Daehler-Piotter, took a trip to Ashland. The pair had been working at Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Phoenix, Ariz., but wanted to bank their combined experience in the service industry on a new business. Southern Oregon's landscape, climate and culture felt like "home," they said.

"Because food and wine is such a passion in our lives, we wanted to have a place to convey that passion," Piotter said.

Trained as a chef at Le Cordon Bleu, Piotter envisioned a light menu of "tasting plates" to accompany Liquid Assets' main product. Starters, salads, desserts, pâtés and cheese plates will change seasonally as fresh ingredients are available, Piotter said. Priced between $4 and $13, selections encourage customers to try something new free of the commitment to an expensive meal, he said.

Despite a decidedly French flair, dishes highlight local food products. Rogue Creamery Oregon Blue Vein from Central Point stands up to French Saint Nectaire, Pierre Robert and Bucheron. The chocolate truffle sampler comprises confections from Lillie Belle Farms, of Jacksonville.

"We look here first," Piotter said.

Local wineries also get their due. Medford's RoxyAnn 2005 Pinot Gris appeared on last week's by-the-glass menu among California sauvignons and French chardonnays. The week's featured flight lets tasters try three different wines for $12. For another $2, the more adventurous can create their own flight from about 20 selections.

If oenophiles can't find a favorite vintage, Liquid Assets will take a special order. Case purchases receive a discount. Private tastings, wine seminars, changing art displays and live music are part of the plan to offer customers something new on each visit, Piotter said.

Located in the new Shasta Building, at 96 N. Main St., Liquid Assets is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Food is served until midnight. Call 482-9463 (WINE) for more information.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

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