The Place: NapaStyle, South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bear Street, #202, Costa Mesa, (714) 825-0445; www.napastyle.com.
The Hours: 3 p.m. – closing every day. Normal operating hours mean that on weeknights, they close at 9 p.m.; Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays are 6:30 p.m.
The Deal: All tastings are half off. Before 3 p.m., a single taste is $7, and a tasting consists of 3 wines at $15. Samples of snacks sold in-house are included.
The Scene: Let us be the first to state the obvious: This is neither a restaurant nor full-service bar. This is a retail store at South Coast Plaza. A non-traditional happy hour of sorts for wine country lovers. The only outlet of the Michael Chiarello brand in Southern California, it is known as their enoteca, or wine tasting bar. You will most certainly find ladies who lunch, Aston Martin owners, and the occasional Food Network fanatic. Flanked by several home stores, this tasting differentiates them from the rest.
The Sauce: A selection that changes monthly; there are always four whites, four reds, a couple of sweets and a Prager port from St. Helena. Our favorite this visit was the '08 Haraszthy-Howell Mountain Zinfandel, a varietal that Chiarello considers very drinkable, “Zinfandel is the Golden Retriever of wines; it likes everything.” Our Zin drank as smoothly as a glass of water.
The Food: Per James Franklin, store manager, guests typically sample their bread spreads (Tuscan artichoke, spicy red pepper, and olive & white bean) and bruschetta toppings (salsa Genovese, Sicilian eggplant caponata, and pepperonata rustica) with crackers or baguette. Every now and then, they include Pane Vino breadsticks. They even serve pricy Marcona almonds. And this is all factored into the price of your tasting.
The Verdict: An unexpected respite from the typical noisy dining establishment, NapaStyle greets, wines and dines you quicker than you can say Sauvignon Blanc. Window shopping with a wine glass in hand is a persuasive concept that we clink to. Bonus points for finger foods. Where's the picnic blanket?
The Grade: A-