Continuing with last week’s theme, finding good wines by the glass has changed dramatically since the days of Hayes and Vine, the wine bar I co-founded in 1994. As both a wine drinker and wine professional, I love going to other people’s establishments, where I can learn something. Like restaurants, some wine bars are better than others, but there is a Bubba Smith-size handful of them that are doing a great job. Let’s take a tour.
In the Marina, I’ve always been a big fan of Nectar Wine Lounge. Owner Chris Potter has a little something for everyone. He has not succumbed to the pressure to be totally esoteric, as others have, yet there is plenty for wine geeks to enjoy, such as Bleasdale Vineyards Uncle Dick: The Red Brut ($12 per glass), a sparkling shiraz from Australia. At any given time, there are four different flights available to go along with more than 40 wines by the 2-ounce taste size or glass.
Blanc et Rouge is my downtown spot. Like Nectar, the list balances mainstream wines with off-the-beaten-path selections, with the 2007 Hilberg Pasquero Vareij ($12 per glass), a barbera-brachetto blend from Piedmont, Italy, being a personal favorite. Wine buyer Andrew Fidelman and his partners, chef Laurent Manrique and Christopher Condy, are opening up a restaurant with a southwestern French focus. I’m looking forward to checking that out.
For an afternoon wine break, the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant is my watering hole. Its wine bar often highlights the more obscure picks — Fubbiano’s 2010 Vermentino ($8 per glass) from Lucca, Italy, being one — but also has old standards such as the Green & Red Zinfandel 2007 Tip Top ($10.25 per glass). Another plus is that you can order a 2-ounce taste or glass. Proprietor Debbie Zacharias and wine-buying manager Drea Dedona make the selections, and so far it’s been nothing but an afternoon delight.
Terroir in South of Market is the best place in The City to find organic and natural wines. Some might think it’s a little too out there, but wines such as the 2011 Sarazinière Macon Bussière ($11 per glass), a white Burgundy, are now as easy to spot as a Prius. A more esoteric offering at the moment is Clos Saron’s Out of the Blue ($15 per glass) from the Sierra Foothills, which is made from a 127-year-old cinsault vineyard. The by-the-glass selections are stellar, but be prepared to pay up to $20 or more for some of the offerings. This is more a reflection of the high-caliber wines that proprietors Luc Ectoran and Dagan Ministero make available for tasting, which in itself is a treat.
While on the natural or organic wine tip, check out Punchdown in downtown Oakland. It offers an international range of wines by the glass and many are reasonably priced.
Hotel Biron, an industry favorite, has come a long way since its earlier days and I always find a bunch of stuff that I want to try. Kudos also go to Bacchus Wine Bar in Russian Hill, which is barely large enough to fit a minyan but is cozy and has a good range of selections.
Pamela Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.