When I first moved to San Francisco, the Mission was grunge, Frank Jordan had just become mayor and finding a place where you could get a decent glass of wine meant flying to New York. Frustrated, I ended up opening my own place in 1994, Hayes and Vine — not the first wine bar in The City, but perhaps the one that set the trend for those that have come since.
Fast-forward to 2012. The Mission has become a hipster enclave; three mayors later we have Ed Lee; and there are so many places where you can find an exciting selection of wines by the glass, as well as by the bottle, that I am only too happy to sit on the other side of the bar.
My criteria for a great wine venue have become tougher over time. Having a well-chosen, well-priced wine list; a knowledgeable and amicable staff; and proper glassware are mandatory, but so is originality. There are places that have good wines, yet many resemble one another in selection.
Now the good news: Even with a tighter filter, there are a number of wine bars and restaurants that satisfy my sniff test — so many, in fact, that I am going to split this topic into two parts, with this column focusing on restaurants and next week’s column devoted to wine bars.
Let’s start with St. Vincent, which opened this summer. David Lynch, the former wine director at Quince, has nailed it here. He assembled a thoughtful wine list with selections such as the 2011 Monasterio de Corias Cangas Tinto Joven ($9 per glass) from Asturias, Spain, and the Louis Métaireau Muscadet Grand Mouton ($11 per glass), a mainstream producer that a lot of the trendy buyers would not touch. Sophisticated but not intimidating, from the ambience to the wine selection this is the best place to explore wines that has opened in a few years.
Nopa gets lots of props for its food, but for me this place is all about the extraordinary wine list that wine director Christopher Deegan has assembled. These days, assistant wine director Arron Sweeney is helping with the by-the-glass selection, and it continues to be a great ride. In the red wine department, don’t miss Nino Negri’s 2008 Chiavennasca Inferno Valtellina Superiore ($12 per glass). But the best deal — perhaps in the entire city — is the 1983 Anheuser Riesling Auslese Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl ($12 per glass), which hails from the Nahe region of Germany.
Since its inception, when it was on Valencia Street, Slanted Door has taken a fork in the road with an extensive selection of riesling and, for a good while, not a single chardonnay. While there are now more wines from other areas, the Ferry Building resta
urant’s focus has remained the same under wine director Chaylee Priete. The 2010 Reinisch Rotgipfler ($11 per glass) from the Thermen region in Austria is but one of the wines here that you will be hard-pressed to find in other spots. Reds are more difficult to pair with Slanted Door’s Vietnamese cuisine, but high-acid, fragrant wines such as the 2010 Thurnhof Lagrein Merlau ($10 per glass) live up to the challenge.
Honorable mention also goes to A16, Absinthe, Heirloom Café, Restaurant Gary Danko and RN 74.
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.