Il Pomodorino

If you love wine tasting and you love Italian wines (that would include us), you should definitely visit Tuscany.  And if you visit Tuscany, you should definitely spend some time in Siena, a city where the best of the Renaissance seems to be just yesterday.  If you go to Siena, you should definitely wander around at night.  And if you want to have some fun while you’re wandering around, you should have some pizza at a restaurant called Il Pomodorino.

Il Pomodorino in Siena.  Photo courtesy of

Power Tasting is not in the business of restaurant reviews, so we’ll simply say that you can get very good pizza at Il Pomodorino.  That’s a lot like saying you can get very good steak at Whole Foods.  It’s true, but it’s hardly exclusive.  There are a lot of places in Italy where you can get very good pizza and we’re not getting into the question of where to get the best pizza.  But we’ve never had more fun eating pizza than we did at this spot in in Siena.

For one thing, Il Pomodorino is always full and everybody else seems to be having a good time.  There are lots of families and therefore a fair number of children.  Dinner times, by American standards, are rather late in Italy.  We always wonder how the kids are going to make it to school the next day, but they do seem to make it.  There are also young lovers out on a date, older folks still convivial after a half a century, and the occasional tourists.

Unlike many other places in history-rich Siena, there aren’t that many foreigners dining at Pomodorino.  That may be because it’s a bit difficult to find the place if you’re starting from the center of town where most of the hotels are located.  Getting there from the famous Piazza del Campo at the very middle of Siena necessitates walking through some pretty dark streets and back alleys.  For the real Sienese, who mostly don’t live in the touristy areas, it’s not so hard to get to Il Pomodorino.  For them, it’s just down the hill from the big stadium, so maybe the crowds at the restaurant are just post-game celebrants.

The atmosphere at Il Pomodorino just draws you in.  When the other patrons hear you talking English, they’ll ask you where you’re from.  No matter where you live in the States, you’re bound to find out that someone at a nearby table has a cousin living there.  So you’re almost a member of the family already.

The view from Il Pomodorino.

While you can eat inside, you really want to join the party on the terrace outside.  Perhaps even more important, you are treated there to a spectacular view of the heart of Siena.  The dome and the roof of the Duomo (cathedral) and the Campanile (bell tower) are the most obvious sights, but the tiled roofs over the homes add to the viewing pleasure.  Just below you is the home and shrine of Italy’s patron saint, Santa Catarina.  So even if you’re not in a party mood, Il Pomodorino is worth it, just for the vista.

If you want to feel Italian and not just a visitor to Italy, we suggest you have a meal at Il Pomodorino.

Just Stopping By

For most people, travelling to Wine Country is a trip, one that often involves a flight and a rather lengthy drive.  If you’re going to go through all that, you surely want to justify your exertions by visiting several wineries, if only to get a feel for what that region can make.  However, some fortunate people live close enough to a wine-producing area that they can spend a few hours wine tasting whenever they want.  Or they can just stop by a winery for an easygoing half-hour or so, with some nice wine to add to the pleasure.

If you happen to be among those happy few, you may already have taken advantage of nearby wineries.  We have met some people in our wine tasting adventures who have told us that they live so close that they often hop on their bikes and come over on particularly pleasant weekend afternoons for a taste or two.

As residents of New York City, we can’t take advantage of “just stopping by” wine tasting.  Even a trip to Long Island’s North Fork entails at least two hours on the expressway.  But on a few occasions, we have had the chance to be the “locals”.

A vineyard in the Île d’Orleans.

We have a home in Québec City, which is a fairly populous metropolis.  But it’s also only minutes away from the Île d’Orleans, which is unquestionably countryside, the source of much of the fruits and vegetables for the city.  It is also the home to a half dozen wineries.  Many a summer weekend we drive over to the island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River to buy corn and tomatoes or just to breath some rustic air.  It’s no big deal for us to stop by and try a glass or two at one of the wineries.  To be honest, none of the table wines are particularly notable, but some of the ice wines (it gets awfully icy in Québec) are quite good.

Etude Winery.  Photo courtesy of the winery.

A few years ago, business required us to spend a few months living in Sacramento, only an hour from Napa Valley in one direction and Amador County in the other.  There were of course some weekends when we visited multiple wineries, with others when had non-wine reasons to be in Napa Town.  The road back to Sacramento took us right by Etude Winery, one of our favorites, where we are members of their wine club.  The servers became used to us stopping by for a few pours of their top wines, which we enjoyed in big Adirondack chairs on their terrace.

Finally, we once took a lengthy vacation in the Languedoc.  When it was market day in the village of St. Chinian, we’d drive in for our pain and fromage. And as long as we were there, why not stop by a winery?

If you are or ever will be that close to Wine Country, make sure you just stop by a vineyard or two.

How to Have Fun While Wine Tasting

There is, of course, an elemental problem with this article.  That is, if you don’t already know how to have fun, nothing we say is going to help.  On the other hand, if you already think wine tasting is fun, then we are happy to provide some tips on how to add to your fun whenever you are in Wine Country.

  • Have a fun attitude.  That advice may seem obvious, but there are a number of reasons to go wine tasting – having fun is only one of them.  Your objective may be educational, which may be satisfying but isn’t necessarily fun.  Or you may be in a buying mood.  If you are tasting wines for the purpose of buying a case or two, you ought to be paying attention, not being devil-may-care.

Good times at Domaine Chandon.  Photo courtesy of Haute Living.

  • Go where the fun is. Now this is a matter of taste.  If you think it’s fun to be in a crowd, drinking more than tasting (not our idea of a good time) then go to a popular winery on a holiday weekend.  This mostly applies to the major California destinations.  We’ve never encountered a partying crowd in Europe, but we have in Australia and South Africa.  In our experience, Domaine Chandon and Miner, both in Napa Valley, fit this bill.
  • Book a sit-down tasting. This alternative is a bit more restrained, but you still get to meet some (usually) nice people while you taste.  Best of all is a tasting where the winery also gives you some bites of food so you can truly experience what the wine might taste like at your dinner table.  Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Alexander Valley is our favorite in this regard.

Reims Cathedral.  Photo courtesy of Viator.

  • Make time for a really nice lunch. In general, wherever fine wines are made there are excellent restaurants nearby. So instead of making the objective for the day to visit wineries, grabbing a quick meal in between, consider a day built around a lunch at a top restaurant, with a bottle of the local wine, of course.  This describes wine tasting almost anywhere in Europe.  We have particularly warm memories of meals on the square in Montalcino, in front of the cathedral in Reims and on Main Street in St. Helena.  But, be careful how much alcohol you consume during the day.
  • Do something else. Just because you’re on a wine tasting trip doesn’t mean you have to only taste wine.  If you’re near the shore, declare a beach day.  This works in Santa Barbara, Tuscany and Languedoc.  In some places in California, France and Switzerland, you can taste wine one day and go skiing the next.  And almost everywhere has some interesting landmarks, sights and cities.  Leave yourself some time to take them in.
  • Visit wineries for reasons other than wine. Some wineries are landmarks in themselves.  Two examples are The Hess Collection in Napa Valley and the wine museum at Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux.  Winemaking is an art, so why not mix in some art with your wine tasting?


Duckhorn Vineyards is one of Napa Valley iconic wineries, best known for its Merlots.   In 1994, they began to expand the number of wineries and labels under which it produced wine, the names of which are all related to our little quacking friends.  The first of these was Paraduxx ( which today occupies a rather unique niche in the valley’s winemaking.

All their wines are blends, except their rosé.  That in itself is not so exceptional; many wineries mix their grapes, but most stick either to Bordeaux or Rhône varietals.  Paraduxx follows the Australian example: Blend anything with anything else and if it tastes good, bottle it.  So you’ll find bottles of Paraduxx wines that contain Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, Syrah and Viognier (like Côte Rôtie) and even one made of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Tempranillo and Merlot.

Enjoying an outdoor wine tasting at Paraduxx.

The people at Paraduxx want to make visiting their winery a fun experience.  Of course, they want you to come and taste their wines.  But they’d also like you to bring your kids and your dog. (Both need to be well-behaved but only fido needs to be on a leash).  They invite you to relax under trees or umbrellas in their courtyard or on their veranda and stay a while. [Our description of Paraduxx is based on pre-Covid experience.  We sincerely hope that this, like so much else, returns to the way it was in before times.  Today, dogs are still allowed, but no person under 21 years of age.]

The setting at Paraduxx would seem to lend themselves to people who are more interested in a pleasant day out, including good wine to be sure.  A picnic would be perfect, but Napa County’s rules limit the number of wineries that allow picnicking.  However, they do sell plates of charcuterie.

The tasting room at Paraduxx.

The sort of experience offered at Paraduxx may not be to everyone’s tastes.  For our part, we never bring children or pets with us and our objective is to gain a serious understanding of the wines offered by each producer we visit.  And for those like us, you can enjoy wines outdoors or in the winery’s well-appointed tasting room.

One tasting feature we like at Paraduxx is that they pour you glasses of all the wines on offer, provide you with tasting notes and then they leave you alone to enjoy them.  A server will stop by periodically to answer any questions you may have.  He or she usually uses the occasion to urge you to stay a while.  There is, however, a feature we are not as fond of.  They ask you to pay for your tasting as you enter, before tasting their wines.  Of course, we recognize that wine tasting in Napa Valley is a commercial enterprise, but it still feels wrong to ask you to pay ahead of tasting and it leaves a bad impression.

The fun atmosphere at Paraduxx does not preclude serious wine tasting.  Come try their rather individualistic wines and have some fun too, if you wish.