Monday, October 27, 2008

SF Wine Bar Tour

Well, every once in awhile one must break from work and family and go be anonymous somewhere while quaffing and shopping for wine. Brent (hubby) and I did just that this weekend. It's been almost 3 years since Savvy Cellar opened and many new wine concepts have opened since in the SF Bay Area. Thought it was about time to check some out so off we went on a Sunday wine bar crawl.

We used Yelp as our source of wine bars. Two immediate observations:
  1. Less than 1/2 the places we wanted to visit were open on Sunday
  2. We searched specifically on "wine bars in San Francisco" - most turned out to be wine shops with small tasting bars (tucked in the back) with limited menus
First stop was Cask in San Carlos. Opened fairly recently. Modest size but very attractive space. Definitely a wine bar with some nice food options (and a couple of beers). Had a tasty cheese plate, attractively presented along with an unremarkable white wine flight (3 wines) - only the riesling was drinkable. No education or background on any of the wines was offered. Wine list was not interesting or distinctive enough to make me want to return. However, if I lived in San Carlos (e.g. didn't have to drive home after drinking wine), I would frequent Cask periodically.

Next stop was SOMA and Terrior Natural Wine Bar & Merchant. Terrior was our most interesting stop. Alternative, grungy interior made for an interesting setting. Two french dudes run the place - one was working and was helpful, though not talkative, in offering menus. They specialize in small lot, hand-crafted (some organic) European wines. Not much in the way of retail labeling or bar service but an eclectic place to hang. We had a yummy Lambrusco and Cremant d'Alsace. For more on Terrior, see Vinography review.

Just a few blocks away in SOMA was the Wine Club. Once I entered the non-descript side door, I immediately recognized it as the same as the one in Santa Clara. We helped ourselves to a self-serve tasting - basically an honor system as you get your own glass and then keep track of what you poured on a little chit sheet to pay at the cash register once complete. If you are a wine geek (like me) and don't care about comfortable shopping surroundings or straightforward merchandising, this is your kind of place. Jump in and go for a treasure hunt - not great for the average consumer, although best retail prices around. We are on a cheap bubbles kick and picked up the following:
  • Lambrusco Graspaross di Caselvetro 2007 $9
  • Schild Estate Barossa Sparkling Shiraz 2005 $25
  • Domaine J. Laurnes Cremant du Limoux
  • Graham Beck Brut (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir), South Africa
Next up was William Cross Wine Merchants on Russian Hill. First impression was yet another average neighborhood wine shop, but once we got situated at the tasting bar in the back and began chatting with Jeremy who worked there, our impression changed for the better. Not only was he knowledgeable (and geeky smart about wine), he was very helpful. As we shopped we saw a modest but interesting, primarily European, collection. Picked up a Bugey Cerdon Rose and Petali di Rose Cagliola (2006) - you know it's a good wine shop when a certified sommelier who has her own wine business buys wine there!

Last stop was Swirl on Castro. Great location in the heart of the Castro, Swirl is shop for wine, beer and spirits. In fact, spirits often is more than 50% of their monthly business. Our servers were drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon - don't see that at a wine shop everyday! They try to specialize in small lot and cultish wineries rather than major brands. We hung at the small tasting bar in the back - Brent sampled a 1/2 glass of a nice viognier and I chugged a delicious syrah. Only strange moment came when the servers and I disagreed as to whether a Napa Zinfandel (Howell Mtn) they sampled me on was corked. I guess the customer is not always right.

So what conclusions (competitive insights) did we garner from our little excursion?
  1. There is no shortage of concepts and wine outlets - we are blessed living in the SF Bay Area
  2. All of the places we tried offered something unique
  3. If I lived in any of the respective neighborhoods (San Carlos, SOMA, Russian Hill, Castro), I would frequent these joints
Now, I gotta get back to work . . . until our next SF wine bar tour (part II) coming very soon!

1 comment:

DENICE said...

Such an interesting article, I enjoyed a lot. On a side note I reside in California. I want to gift wine to my girl on her birthday. She loves wine like anything especially Red wine. I heard about wine clubs . They offer a wide variety of gifts for wine lovers to suit all tastes and all budgets. So any opinion about them is greatly appreciated.