The Wine Siren by Kelly Mitchell

Five Key Ingredients to a Great Wine Bar. The Winner is…

VIDEO Interview at Compline Wine Bar

In the Heart of Downtown Napa: Compline Wine Bar & Restaurant


Walking into a wine bar, I often feel a bit of a thrill.  It’s like treasure hunting. Occasionally blind-sided by bad taste, poor concept or even worse, uninspiring wine. You see a variety of different takes on what a wine bar should be. From dark dank and empty to packed establishments, they  run the gamut.  But when you have a winner, one that checks all the boxes and delivers on a multitude of levels, it’s a different ball game. Napa’s latest addition to the downtown restaurant scene next to the new Archer Hotel.  This promising wine bar (I hesitate to call it such because it is much more) has a wonderul proposition for locals and tourists alike.

Compline is about the organic experience of enjoying food and wine together. Ryan Stetins, Co-Founder

The scene at Napa Valley's Compline Wine Bar
The Scene

Compline (pronounced kom-plin) is the creation of two Sommeliers. The meaning behind it? Prayers at the end of the day. Originating in the 6th century the word was first used by St. Benedict. Co-founder Matt Stamp is a Master Sommelier, one of just 236 in the world. Stamp has already left his mark as a Master Sommelier. He finished first in the inaugural Top Somm competition in 2014. He further honed his Somm skills at Yountville’s French Laundry and Redd. His business partner, Ryan Stetins worked for the famed chef Charlie Trotter.  Compline is a nod to the history of wine.

Compline's retail wine store within the restaurant.
The retail side of wine

Often people focus on the aromatics and not the experience of tasting the wine.  Matt Stamp, MS, Co-Founder

The Compline concept includes four key ingredients. A dive into education.  An opportunity to meet your urge to splurge. A talented & innovative chef. And finally, one interesting, globally-diverse wine list.  You can buy the wines you are tasting. The wines priced at or below $35.00 a bottle are a match for most budgets.  Hand-curated by Stamp & Stetins, the wines on the Compline list are not available at your local grocery store. You can also buy interesting books on the topic of wine here.

Take a look at the inside of Napa's Compline Wine Bar
The bar & restaurant at Compline

Speaking of learning about wine, the education piece is fascinating.  You have three great learning verticals. “Jump Start” is a primer course designed to get you comfortable with wine tasting. Designed for those who love wine culture or are new to the Valley.  You will get salient points behind the wine including structure & acidity. You’ll learn the important aromatics and textures of wine. It even goes into detail about the influences of external finishes. For example, how putting wine in a barrel might transform the taste of wine. Want to get a better handle on the intricacies of terroir of Napa Valley and the varietals? Take the Saturday course called Gateway Napa Valley with Ryan Stetins.

For wine afficianados who want to plunge into wine on a global level Compline offers a course called, “World Tour”.  Classes are 1.5 hours long and include a tasting of eight wines. Some of the featured topics are the Dry Wines of Germany, Wines of Madeira, and even Santorini.  Tickets are available online individually or in a set of 3 or 6.

At Compline Napa Valley, all servers are well trained Sommeliers
Sommelier Service - All Servers are Sommelier

What pairs better with wine than fantastic food? Chef Yancy Windsperger has created a wine inspired menu. He’s worked with in top restaurants from Morimoto’s to Jose Andres’ The Bazaar (most recently at Napa’s own La Taberna). The menu changes on a regularly based on season and the wine selection.

The duck fat fries at Compline are the best in Napa Valley
No better pairing than champagne and duck fat fries.

Sample menu items:

Mushroom Confit Salad, with frisee salad, confit kind trumpet mushroons and a sunny side up egg.

Duck fat fries served with house-made Aioli  (the best I’ve had to date in the Valley)

Devil’s Gulch Pork with roasted & well seasoned delicata squash, onion and champagne bread sauce. The pork literally melts in your mouth.

Burger The meat is high quality beef ground to perfection. Model Bakery Bun with aged white cheddar. It was perfectly cooked and a solid example of what a great burger should be.

Compline Napa Valley's Devils Gulch Pork Pairs Perfectly with a great Pinot Noir
Devil’s Gulch Pork

The food at Compline is high quality and well prepared. The wine list is tantalizing. There is something for everyone and if you like variety and quality, its there.  The vibe is energetic and casual. It’s comfortable. The service is solid. The sommeliers who provide the in-house service come from all over the world. Sommeliers take pride in their service and their knowledge. You couldn’t be in better hands.

What to look for when evaluating a wine bar.

  1. Wine Lists: A familiar and unfamiliar side to the by the glass wine list. I love to try new wines, new varietals and different vintages of the same wine.  Choices. They are critical. A well-vetted wine list gives people a chance to explore their palate. It should also open the door to a variety of  new wines.  This is a global industry, representing it well is not always an easy task. For success I believe it’s a necessary one.

  2. Concept: It should be intriguing. There should have enough going on within including specials or seasonal updates on the menus. Whether it’s the comfort factor, vibe factor, or food & wine factor, all need to work well together.

  3. Staff:  A well-trained staff is critical. They should have a working knowledge of the wines they serve and beyond.  Knowledge about the regions & other comparable wines is critical. They don’t have to have to all be Somms but being well educated on what the menus and wine lists is a must.  There is nothing like asking what kind of wine an establishment has and told “We have white and red”. Or asking about the types of varietals and getting a blank stare.

  4. Fun Factor: This is a tough crowd to cater to. Making guests feel welcome, cared for and provided for in the way of food and wine keeps them coming back. Give them a solid place to chill. Learning experiences help break down barriers. They make the wine industry a better place. It also creates an aura of devotion. The goal is to create a solid flow of returning footprints.

  5. Food: It needs to pair well with the wine on the menu.  A variety of textures, flavors and a focus on freshness. Much in the same way of a great wine, allow the food do most of the talking without burying it with ingredients. The menu should have something for everyone. Tantalizing the palate, and creating mouthwatering pairings. When food and wine is this good you hardly have to think about pairing them.

Napa's Compline Wine & Restaurant has a cozy lounge that opens to an outdoor dining area.
The lounge is deliciously relaxing and opens to outdoor seating.

Compline quite simply, meets and in some cases exceeds the 5 Key Ingredients in a Wine Bar. In closing, I recently traveled to a wine destination I’d never heard of before, Bierzo, Spain.  I went to Compline shortly after the trip, one of the wines on the list was from Bierzo. Compline is not going to give you an everyday experience. It gives an experience you often have to hunt for and this time it’s right in downtown Napa.

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Five Key Ingredients to a Great Wine Bar. The Winner is...

2 Responses

  1. Well-thought out piece. It certainly raises the bar for wine bar operations and serves notice to the public that bland lackadaisical operations need not be the norm.My only contention, however, is your contention that the wine list be world focused. My own venture will be serving wines exclusively from the West Coast, principally California, Washington, and Oregon, with possible inclusion of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, the Guadalupe Valley in Baja Norte, and Jerome Valley across the border in Arizona. I have an inventory of over 4,300 labels I have vetted so far, which is comprised of well over 200 distinct varietals. More than enough diversity and complexity for even the most sophisticated palate.

    1. Hi Marc,

      I think the wine list needs to express diversity. Whether it be varietals or regions, offering people a chance to expand their palate and wine experiences. Too much and it becomes overwhelming for the customer. 4300 bottles is a lot of inventory to manage. With over 200 varietals you are in good shape. I agree. The list doesn’t have to be global, but the offerings on some amazing wines from less explored regions offer attractive price points and open a door on culture.

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