Wine, Bubbles and Bites – Happy Hour at Market St. Helena

There are no shortage of options for happy hour in the Napa Valley. Most establishments run a happy hour between 4pm-6pm. There are a couple that deviate from this time frame and Wine, Bubbles and Bites is one such happy hour.

Wines, Bubbles and Bites at Market St. Helena runs from 3-6pm Monday-Thursday, also offering their full menu with larger plates. If you prefer an early happy hour, this is your place. Market is located on Main Street in downtown St. Helena and is a gathering place for both locals as well as tourists visiting the wine country. It has an elegant ambience with a casual feel. The 19th century bar rescued from the grand ballroom of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel adorns the old stone wall in the original 120 year old building. The staff is always prompt and friendly, so I feel comfortable coming in to grab a bite to eat at least once a week.

I rolled in around 3:20pm with my giant Nikon camera, determined that I was going to try three courses with each of the three happy hour wines. I must admit, I am a bit of a wine snob and usually order the non-happy hour wines but the three I tried were surprisingly good. Some of the offerings on the Wines, Bubbles and Bites menu were: Market Chopped Salad, Mini Fish Tacos, Sliders, Sesame Soy Chicken Salad, Green Zebra Tomatoes, Cajun Garlic Parmesan Fries and Ahi Tuna Tartare. All the bites run at $8 and the menu itself seems to cater to a variety of tastes.

Course One

Pol Clement NV France - Market St. Helena
Pol Clement NV France – Market St. Helena

For my first course I chose oysters on the half shell paired with the Pol Clement Brut NV France. The type of oysters change from time to time. Today’s selections were Buckley Bay from Vancouver Island and Hammersley from Washington state’s Puget Sound. I chose 3 of each and sipped on my sparkling which was surprisingly balanced with notes of pear and apple and a citrus finish.

Each of the happy hour wines are $5 a glass which in this town is a bargain. The oysters arrived on a plate of crushed ice with cocktail sauce and mignonette. The plate was artistically decorated with long strands of seaweed. The Buckley Bay oysters seemed a little larger of the two. It also had a saltier finish than the Hammersley oysters which were mild and meaty. Both were creamy, fresh and chilled to perfection. The cocktail sauce was not over spicy and the mignonette was tasty.

I love bubbles and oysters, with that said, I am no oyster aficionado. I tend to prefer the extra-small, sweeter oysters and so far I think Kusshi oysters are my favorite, which are also served on the Market happy hour every so often. For me, I liked the Hammersley because the Buckley Bay were just a tad too large, but that is just preference.

Buckley Bay Oysters from Vancouver Island
Buckley Bay Oysters from Vancouver Island

Course Two

For my second course, I chose Crispy Calamari paired with 2014 Ocaso Torrontés from Mendoza, Argentina. The wine arrived first and I was amazed at the flavors. I sensed a buttery, oaky bouquet with flavors of caramel on the front, a hint of tropical fruit on the mid palette and a long finish. Would it have the ability to stand up to the richness of the calamari?

Crispy Calamari with Avocado Tomatillo and Chipotle Aioli
Crispy Calamari with Avocado Tomatillo and Chipotle Aioli

The calamari was beautifully presented. The fresno chilis gave it vibrancy and the two dipping sauces complemented the colors in this plate. The batter was very light and when I picked up a portion, I felt no greasiness whatsoever. I didn’t even need a napkin to eat this calamari. Also included in the basket were Nopales or shaved cactus and bell peppers. The calamari was cooked perfectly and was not chewy in any way. The peppers and cactus were sweet and the fresno chilis gave it just the right amount of heat. The avocado tomatillo had a nice tang whereas the chipotle aioli brought a richness to the dish. My Argentinian wine held up well and neither the wine nor the dish were overpowering. At this point I started feeling the effects of two courses and decided to switch to the regular menu for something lighter as my last food course.

Course Three

For course three, I went for the last happy hour wine on the list, a 2013 Gouguenheim Malbec also from Mendoza, Argentina. I paired it with the heirloom tomatoes and balsamic drizzle off the main lunch menu. I also added a side of Point Reyes Blue Cheese for a little extra richness to go with the malbec. The Gouguenheim malbec had licorice and cola on the nose as well as some anise. I’m not particularly familiar with Argentinian wines but for the price tag, I really enjoyed both.

Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Drizzle and Point Reyes Blue Cheese
Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Drizzle and Point Reyes Blue Cheese

I loved the freshness of this dish. The quality of the heirloom tomatoes in this town is off the charts. This dish was perfectly presented, with vibrant reds and yellows, mixed with greens and ambers, while the bright blue cheese stood off the plate. The sweet tomatoes complemented the blue cheese which wasn’t too heavy. The drizzle worked well with the malbec and fattiness of the cheese toned down the acidity in the wine as well as in the tomatoes.

This is probably one of the best heirloom tomato dishes I have had in a while. All in all, I walked out with a bill under $40 for three wines and three dishes, two of which were seafood. Not a bad deal for the Napa Valley. I recommend checking out Wines, Bubbles, and Bites at Market St. Helena!

Enjoy… Wine Ho

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