Maybe it's San Francisco's proximity to America's most esteemed viticultural areas. Maybe it's all but inevitable in a cosmopolitan city so into food and drink. Whatever the reason, San Francisco is indeed a wine-bar town. It started in the 1970s, when the London Wine Bar opened its doors in the Financial District. Now there are more than 15 wine-dedicated venues distributed around the city, and new places open every year. Here, we reveal the city’s finest newer wine bars.
1954 Hyde St.
San Francisco 94109
Telephone (415) 928-2633
Open Monday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Bacchus might be the smallest wine bar in the city. It has two couches too petite to share with anyone but the closest of friends and just 10 bar seats, so don’t expect elbow room. Intimacy here is de rigueur, which works out fine for much of the clientele, mostly couples. There are 15 wines by the glass and about 70 bottles, distributed among the world's major viticultural regions. Pinot Noir, Rhône varieties and Cabernet blends make up the majority, with a number from high-profile producers, such as the Clarendon Hills Grenache Clarendon Kangarilla 2003 ($88) and the Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Washington 2002 ($140). A modest cheese plate is available, as is takeout sushi from next door.
California Wine Merchant
2113 Chestnut St.
San Francisco 94123
Telephone (415) 567-0646
Web site www.californiawinemerchant.com
Open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to midnight
It's close quarters here at night, as casually dressed locals gather at the long wooden bar. There are few frills: bottles stand upright on plain wooden shelves and the menu offers only cheese, bread and chocolate truffles. But the price is right. The wine bar doubles as a store, and bottles can be consumed on site for retail price plus a $10 corkage fee. Nearly everything is from California, with an intriguing array of allocated bottlings that includes the Pax Syrah Sonoma Coast Griffin's Lair 2004 for $70 (retail) and, also for $70, the Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain Richard Dinner Vineyard 2004. There are 30 wines by the glass.
At CAV, about 300 wines are available by the bottle, with 40 modestly priced selections by the glass.
1666 Market St.
San Francisco 94102
Telephone (415) 437-1770
Web site www.cavwinebar.com
Open Tuesday to Thursday, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to midnight; Sunday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Sleek, contemporary CAV has the city's most eclectic (some might say eccentric) cellar. About 300 wines are available by the bottle, with 40 modestly priced selections by the glass. Spain, Italy, Germany, France and the United States are well-represented, and many options have significant bottle age. Consider, for example, the Karthäuserhof Riesling Auslese Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg NR. 15 1990 ($75) or the Bodegas Valduero Ribera del Duero Gran Reserva 1995 ($65). The menu offers "bites," "plates" and 19 cheeses, and the braised short rib with truffled polenta ($10 for a small plate, $20 for the large) is a delicious red wine match. CAV offers most of its wines for retail purchase at one-third off the list price.
Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
1 Ferry Building, Shop 23
Telephone (415) 391-9400
Web site www.fpwm.com
Open Monday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A stellar wine selection and convenient location make Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant a prime destination. Some 1,100 wines at retail can be consumed on site for an additional $6 corkage fee. Cheeses and meats served with baguette are available, but the more intriguing route is a to-go order from one of the many Ferry Building purveyors—say, fish tacos or a burger from Taylor’s Refresher. Thirteen tables are scattered around the busy bar. There are usually about 15 wines by the glass, available in a 2-ounce taste, 5-ounce glass or 375ml carafe. But it's the bottle options that are the most tempting, such as the Clos du Mont-Olivet Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2003 ($43, retail).
The Hidden Vine
1/2 Cosmo Place at Taylor St.
San Francisco 94109
Telephone (415) 674-3567
Web site www.thehiddenvine.com
Open Tuesday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Down an alley and down some stairs, the Hidden Vine rewards a sense of exploration. It’s a dimly lit space, with room for maybe 40, filled with a pleasant mishmash of furniture and funky art that creates a quirky, welcoming ambience. There are 35 to 40 wines offered by the glass, and about 80 more by the bottle. It's an eclectic list focusing on California, with assorted contributions from France, Italy and Spain. A different wine region is featured each month; in July it was Argentina, with a $10 flight of four wines from the country thoroughly described by the affable owners, who make you feel at home. Charcuterie and cheese, served with baguette and a tasty homemade chutney are available for those who want a little something with their wine.
45 Rose St.
San Francisco 94102
Telephone (415) 703-0403
Web site www.hotelbiron.com
Open Daily, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Hötel Biron has a moody allure; the dimly lit space on the alleyway behind Zuni Café would look equally at home in Greenwich Village or on Paris' Left Bank. It features edgy art on exposed brick walls and an equally edgy clientele lounging on couches and crowding around the small copper bar. About 45 wines are offered by the glass, and twice that by the bottle. A selection of eight cheeses, with olives, nuts, dried fruit and baguette, is also on offer. Wines from France, the United States and Italy cover much of the list, with by-the-bottle options such as Domaine Aux Moines Savennières 2004 ($48) and Feudi di Santa Croce Aglianico Cruenzo 2000 ($30).
3330 Steiner St.
Telephone (415) 345-1377
Web site www.nectarwinelounge.com
Open Monday to Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Sunday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Since opening in 2004 in the upscale Marina district, Nectar has staked claim to being San Francisco's premier wine bar. It has a contemporary style, with eye-candy decor and clientele, and a deftly executed menu featuring wine-friendly small plate preparations ($6 to $14). But most of all it has the cellar—50 wines by the glass ($7 to $15) and about 800 by the bottle. The knowledgeable staff will find something for everyone, with options ranging from Krug Brut Champagne 1988 ($295) to Elderton Shiraz Barossa Command 2000 ($98) to Roar Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands Rosella’s Vineyard 2003 ($78).
Wine Bar & Shop
2 Embarcadero Center
San Francisco 94111
Telephone (415) 391-0758
Web site www.winebarsf.com
Open Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to Midnight; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.
Located on the edge of the Financial District, Wine Bar & Shop is a popular choice for after-work gatherings. The decor is modern, with an under-lit onyx bar and dark-green hardwood floors. There are about 50 offerings by the glass, such as Groth Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2005 ($8) and Le Clos du Caillou Côtes du Rhône VV Cuvée Unique 2004 ($9). Prices on the 400 wines by the bottle (easily perusable on the store shelves) are retail plus a $12 corkage fee. The food menu includes a selection of seven cheeses, charcuterie and an antipasti plate.