It used to be that nearly every gallery and storefront in downtown Boise greeted visitors with hors d'oeuvres and a glass of wine on First Thursday. Not so after Alcohol Beverage Control cracked down. But you can still enjoy a free taste of wine or buy a very reasonably priced glass at a number of wine bars or wine-oriented shops.
8th Street Wine Company
There is always something special happening at this BoDo fixture located on the corner of Eighth and Broad streets, and while you may have to brave your way across Front Street to get there, it's worth the trip. Marcy French runs the wine shop and offers a wine class from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on the first Saturday of every month. Give them a call at 208-426-WINE to sign up. French also offers a free tasting every Thursday between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., with a different theme each week. For July's First Thursday, it's barbecue wines, hosted by the very knowledgeable Keith Nyquist of Wild West Wines.
The restaurant side of 8th Street Wine Co. has wine flights every Monday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. (Northwest wines will be featured July 7). They offer a Sunday wine amnesty during which you can bring in your own bottle (or buy one from their shop) without paying a corkage fee. Happy hour runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day, during which the featured red and white can be had for $4 a glass, along with half-price small plates. And while it doesn't have anything to do with wine, if you are into tacos, they offer them every Tuesday for just two bucks.
The Basque Market
If you've never been to the Basque country in northern Spain, then you probably don't know about txikiteo (the "tx" is pronounced "ch" as in "church"). It's their version of bar-hopping but it's more about camaraderie than drinking. For just a few euros, you get a small glass of wine at a dozen or more different establishments, catch up on the day's news and, as the evening progresses, join in on Basque songs. One of the best things about it is the food.
They call them pintxos—we call them small plates or tapas—and they are among the most sublime eating you'll ever discover. Tara McElhose-Eiguren at the Basque Market (on the Basque Block) crafts some of the best pintxos I've tasted; mouth watering morsels that range in price from 25 cents to $3. You have to try her layered tortilla, which is a traditional tortilla de patatas on the bottom with a specialty tortilla containing anything from roasted garlic to spinach or mushrooms on the top. McElhose-Eiguren also makes a delectable bite she calls a pinwheel: homemade puff pastry stuffed with seafood or cheese. And, of course, no pintxos evening would be complete without at least one croqueta.
You'll need something to wash it down with, and for around $4, you can score a glass of red, white or rose. The market also offers Pagoa Basque beer and Estrella Galicia Spanish beer for just $2.99 a bottle. On First Thursdays, they have pintxos from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and most other Thursdays, McElhose-Eiguren offers a cooking class or a wine course. Call the Basque Market at 208-433-1208 for details.
Location, location, location ... situated on the corner of Eighth and Idaho streets, "the Grape" definitely has it. This is one of Boise's original wine bars, and owner Pug Ostling is one of the deans of the downtown wine scene. For First Thursday, they have something special planned. Historian Todd Shallat will give a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation entitled, "Chinese Anthony and the Legend of Eighth Street: True Stories of Boise's Eighth and Idaho." A professor at Boise State, Shallat is a nationally recognized historian and a Carnegie Foundation professor of the year. His presentations are always knowledgeable as well as entertaining due to his humor and enthusiasm. He'll be speaking at 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. To go with that event, the Grape will start pouring samples of a variety of wines from Idaho at 5 p.m. A lot of great new wineries have exploded on the scene in the past year, so if you haven't tried a taste of Idaho in a while, now's your chance.
In addition, Grape Escape sponsors Tuesday Night Flights, offering a taste of five different wines for just five bucks (sometimes a dollar or two extra when the wines are more esoteric). That kicks off every Tuesday at 5 p.m. If you're looking to punch up your Sunday brunch, check out Grape, Jam and Eggs: food, jazz and wine from noon to 3 p.m.
Piazza di Vino
Tucked away on Ninth Street between Bannock and Idaho streets, Piazza di Vino doesn't have quite the visibility of the Grape. But they do have a nice patio outside, a cool bar inside, and an art gallery upstairs with tables, chairs and comfy seats where you can sit and enjoy some food and wine. Each month, Piazza features a different artist downstairs. This time it's photographer Larry Porritt, whose work emphasizes scenes from France. So, this First Thursday, Piazza di Vino will be pouring free samples of French wine and offering specially priced bottles. The event is 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Monday through Saturday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., you can create your own wine flight from their extensive list (over 30 wines by the glass). For just $10, you get to pick a generous sample of three different wines (a two-ounce pour), and they'll throw in an appetizer to match your choices. You can also sign up for their wine club, which meets the first Monday of every month. For just $25 per event, you'll get to taste from six to 10 different wines while you graze a big buffet of hors d'oeuvres. Members can also buy bottles of the wine they liked at a very deep discount. The upstairs gallery is available for special events seven days a week. Call 208-336-9577 to make arrangements.