The Riddling Rack Is A No Brainer

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riddlingrack.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

Cold wet weather makes me want to hole up at home with a bottle of red wine and some truffle mashed potatoes.  Home is easy, it's warm, it's reasonably attractive, and it almost always has some really good wine on hand.  But when I dragged myself out on a random weeknight for pre-dinner drinks at the AVIA Hotel's Riddling Rack, I discovered another comforting nook in town with these same attributes--one that's also way cooler looking, and has vintage Dom Perignon by the glass.  
The Riddling Rack is a relatively new development in downtown Napa's AVIA Hotel.  Earlier this year, creative visionaries transformed the east side of the hotel lobby into an urbane, sophisticated tippling zone, with tall leather barchairs surrounding a glass encased riddling rack bartop.  Tons of  Champagnes, cavas, proseccos, crémants, and other sparkling wines by the glass and bottle (including some big name items for those big deal occasions) more than live up to the riddling rack name, but bubbles are not the only game in town.  Small production still wines, beers on tap, and an entire alternative cocktail menu made with sake, cane rum, agave wine, and rice-infused vodkas provide lots of alternatives to suit every mood and price range.  Try the cool and relaxing "Spa Treatment" made with Charbay green tea aperitif, ginger syrup, cucumber, lime, and mint; or check out a racy twist on the classic with the "Spiked Arnold Palmer," where fennel lemonade, AVIA blend iced tea and Petrov Reserve triple distilled vodka meet and mingle.

popcorn.jpgFantasy wine bar snacks like popcorn, olives, cheese and charcuterie plates, burgers, turkey clubs, and Portobello fries with truffle aioli are available to soak up the libations, and you can always ask for the AVIA Kitchen menu if you want some more dinnertime options.  I thought the organic truffle popcorn served in a takeout container ($5) made a perfectly seductive aperitif, earthy and aromatic, but still very light and entirely non-greasy.  In a(nother) truffly miracle, this popcorn paired just as well with the smooth O'Brien Family "Seduction" meritage as it did with the Dom Perignon.  Other popcorn choices were salt and pepper, parmesan, or the works (all flavors combined).  There's a reason all wine-pairing gurus recommend corn with Chardonnay, and now here's your chance to try a lighter, more ethereal version of this classic match with some blanc de blancs.

The space's warm wood and Napa-style welcome keeps the modern environment inviting rather than austere, making it easy to settle in and just hang out for a while.  And, since the hotel amenities available to bar patrons--free wi-fi, garden deck seating upstairs, and the aforementioned full restaurant service--trump my home niceties by a mile, I anticipate spending a lot more time there this winter.  This one's a no brainer.

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