For those of you touring Napa Valley wine country, it’s sometimes nice to spend one day in one place, without a car, but still get the complete food and wine experience. There are others of you visiting San Francisco who only have a day or two to spend in wine country. Downtown Napa has more than 20 tasting rooms, wine bars and wine lounges to get a taste of Napa Valley wines, at your convenience. While the local wine tasting rooms owned by Napa Valley wine producers pour their own wines, the new concepts offer Napa Valley as well as international selections, often with great food to match and later hours.
The Wine Bars and Lounges
1313 Main is a ‘fine wine tasting bar’ that offers 2 oz. and 5 oz. pours of desirable local and international wines that are hard to find by-the-glass, and nine inventive flights of wine that change on a regular basis. The modern venue has two tasting bars and lounge areas with a comfortable, open floor plan. 1313 Main Street serves appetizers and small plates, with well-known Napa Valley chef Sarah Scott acting as culinary advisor. Open daily 11:00 am to 10:00 pm, til midnight Friday and Saturday.
Bounty Hunter is a Downtown Napa classic, in a ca. 1889 building off Main Street (the Semorile Bldg., on the National Register of Historic Places) and the interior captures that time with dark panelling and dramatic high ceilings. Inside, it’s casual and pub-like with a wide selection of local and international wines including their own highly regarded Blind Justice, a 100% cabernet sauvignon from Tokalon Vineyards. They became famous for their beer can chicken but they also cook up “smokin” ribs, pulled-pork and kobe beef burgers. Open daily 11:00 am to 10:00 pm, til midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Carpe Diem Wine Bar off Main Street “siezes the day” with lounge seating as well as tables to relax with friends over wine and food. The wine selection is about 50/50 local and international in part due to the fact that 90% of their customers are from the Napa Valley and therefore, look for variety, says partner and Wine Director Steve Distler. Steve named the establishment Carpe Diem to commemorate his bold decision to drop his NYC job and drive cross-country to the Napa Valley three years ago and he hasn’t looked back since. Their appetizer and small plates selection is substantial, including nibbles, cheeses, charcuterie, flatbreads, as well as salads and entrees. Open Tuesday – Saturday 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm, til 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday.
Oxbow Wine Merchant is a casual venue in the main hall of Oxbow Public Market. It has a great selection of local and international wines hand-picked by savvy Master Sommelier and partner Peter Granoff. There is a rarefied selection of artisanal cheeses available to pair with your wine, or just walk a couple of steps to Hog Island Oysters. Open 9:00 am – 9:00 pm everyday.
Private Producer Tasting Rooms
Tasting rooms in Downtown Napa are often local producer wine tasting bars either exclusively, such as Ceja Vineyards, or on a collective basis, such as Vintners Collective. Most of the tasting rooms are on or off First Street, on both sides of the Napa River. This is a great way to learn more about specific producers in the valley with the convenience of staying in a central location. For a list of independently owned wine tasting rooms and map of locations, check out the Buzz Downtown Napa Tasting Room Association website.
The Hotels and Restaurants
The local hotels and restaurants are naturals for relaxing wine bars at all hours, with great “bar food” a part of their restaurant chefs’ repertoires, for example, Westin’s Bank Bar and AVIA Hotel’s Riddling Rack. Ask your hotel if they have their own wine tasting opportunities, such as regular vintner pourings at Westin’s Bank Bar between 5:00 and 7:00 pm.
For restaurants, hang out at Norman Rose Tavern or pair Oenotri’s Italian wine selection with their house-cured salumi – they’re open late Fridays and Saturdays, and after Uptown Theatre events. If you want to taste by the riverside, Angele‘s outdoor patio is always inviting or go to Fish Story. Fish Story has a large bar area with indoor and outdoor seating and a happy hour between 2:30 – 6:00 pm where they offer as appetizers, oysters on the shell, popcorn shrimp, blackened cod fish tacos, fried pickle chips and more, for $5/plate. They have a great local and international wines-by-the-glass program including wines on tap.
For more information
The Downtown Napa merchants offer a wine tasting card for $25 that entitles the holder to 10 cent wine tastings by the glass at a dozen participating tasting rooms and bars. Purchase them at the Downtown Napa website or any of the participating establishments.