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Wine bars are entering their heyday here

The era of the wine bar has definitely arrived in Jackson County.

It began two years ago with the opening of The Winchester Inn's wine bar in Ashland. Now, we're now up to four. Liquid Assets of Ashland came along last August and Corks of Medford in September. The latest is 38 on Central, opening in Medford in November.

A common theme in wine bars is the stocking of a wide variety of wines and the ability of consumers to sample several in quantities smaller than a full glass. And, as Denise Daehler-Piotter, co-owner of Liquid Assets, says, "A wine bar is place where people come to enjoy wine and each other's company." And stay for a while, if they wish.

Beyond that, the four local wine bars differ in interesting ways:

All four serve food, but in varying styles and quantities, ranging from appetizers to a full dinner menu.

Some present lists of all the bottles they have. Others encourage you to browse the shelves.

Some offer specific flights of three to four wines. Others let you choose two or more flights from a list. Many flights feature 2-ounce pours, others 3-ounce. Prices vary from $5 to $30 for a flight of three wines.

All except 38 on Central are also bottle shops.

Here's a closer look:

38 ON CENTRAL WINE BAR and restaurant, at 38 N. Central Ave., suite 110, Medford, is open from 4 to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, with dinner served from 5 to 10 p.m.

This is the largest of the four, with seating on two levels. The elegantly remodeled space is accessible from the downtown Medford parking garage, as well as the front door.

Wine bar manager N. Will Smith says his focus is on local and West Coast wines. A printed bottle list that changes from time to time has about 200 wines, many from the Northwest. It does not offer specific flights but rather lists about 20 wines you can order in 3-ounce pours, so you can create your own flight.

Three-ounce pours start at $2.75, with most in the $3 to $4.50 range. Another 20 or so are available by the 6-ounce glass.

On the food side, there is an upscale dinner menu and appetizers. Also in progress is a "Taste of the World" promotion - a different part of the world as the theme each month with appropriate food and wine. In January, it's the Piedmont area of Italy, home of Medford's sister city, Alba. In February, it'll be New Orleans, La.

The place has a full bar, but Smith says, "We want to be a wine destination." Meet-the-winemaker dinners and winery tours may follow.

LIQUID ASSETS, at 96 N. Main St., Ashland, is open more hours than any of the others, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily (food served until midnight). The space doubles as an art gallery.

There's no printed bottle list, but racks displaying scores of wines greet visitors upon entering. They are grouped by region. The Oregon section has some local labels but is more notable for Oregon labels that may be less familiar to some folks, like Penner-Ash and Owen Roe. The latter, based near Newberg, has a fine Cabernet Sauvignon on the market made from grapes grown at Ironbird Vineyard in the Applegate Valley.

The list of wines by the glass and flight changes weekly. When I visited, nine whites were offered, 12 reds, starting at $7 a glass. A "create your own flight" of three 2-ounce pours cost $15.

You can buy a bottle at retail price and be served it there for an extra $5. Food selection includes appetizers, side dishes and light entrees.

EARLIER COLUMNS HAVE COVERED the other two wine bars, Corks and The Winchester Inn. Here's a brief recap:

CORKS WINE BAR AND BOTTLE Shop, 235 Theater Alley (next to the Craterian), Medford, has hours of 1 to 8 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and 1 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. You can get wine by the flight, glass or bottle. The selection of local labels is extensive.

Flights consist of three 2-ounce pours, with whites for around $5, reds for $8. The wine bar offers several of each from which to choose, with the selection changing every week or two. An appetizer menu is offered.

THE WINCHESTER INN WINE BAR, 35 S. Second St., Ashland, is open from 4:30 to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and 4:30 to 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Wine is served by flight, glass or bottle.

Flights consist of four 2-ounce pours and range from $8 to $30. Unique and other special flights are offered on weekends. Numerous special events take place, including winery barrel tastings every Thursday.

A light menu is served in the wine bar. The inn's full-service restaurant is in the same building. It hosts wine dinners from time to time.

Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor and columnist. E-mail him at clevelinda@msn.com.