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Country Tastes in City Limits

At the Intersection of Wine Country and San Francisco, Wine Bars

There are times when, for a San Franciscan, the 60-minute drive to Wine County seems like a bridge too far. That’s when San Francisco’s growing list of wine bars comes in quite handy. The City offers a number of great wine bars and tasting rooms, each providing a unique ambience befitting the array of vintages they serve. It’s the best way to experience the country without leaving the city.
San Francisco wine bars range from cozy and intimate rooms, to sleek and expansive emporiums. Most feature a wide and varying list of by-the-glass wines and typically have experts on hand—in the form of servers and bartenders—for recommendations and to provide notes on the fly. Whichever your taste, there’s a place in the city to find sipping satisfaction. Here are a few highlights:

The waterfront monument to all things culinary, San Francisco’s Ferry Building is one of the great success stories of urban redevelopment. In addition to being the locale of a top-notch twice-weekly Farmer’s Market, the main hall is a Mecca for food and wine. Jumbled among the mix of restaurants, cheese purveyors, bread makers, and chocolatiers is the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant (One Ferry Building, at Market Street; 415-391-9400), a magnetic wine bar and store that carries an extensive selection of California wines as well as a thoughtfully chosen variety of labels from around the globe. The place gets jammed on weekends but cools off somewhat during the week, when it’s easier to peruse the extensive by-the-glass list or to select a bottle from the retail shelf and open it on premises for a quite-reasonable $6 corkage fee.

The California Wine Merchant (2113 Chestnut Street at Steiner Street, 415-567-0646) is a Marina District pick-up joint doubling as a wine-education center. The noisy, frivolous vibe belies the serious-minded selection of quality by-the-glass wines—mostly all California varietals. Eat first because it’s all wine all the time here; a modest selection of cheeses and chocolates are the only noshes. The best time to plan a visit to the Merchant is during one of the regularly featured tasting events, usually hosted by winemakers espousing the virtues and subtleties of their wines.

Also in the Marina is Nectar Wine Lounge (3330 Steiner Street at Lombard Street, 415-345-1377), a great place for a before- or after-dinner glass or to simply sit and learn about some obscure late-harvest Riesling. There are some 40 wines on offer in an ever-changing variety culled from a cellar of more than 800 labels. The staff is impressively knowledgeable given the expansive variety.

In hip Hayes Valley, Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen (1666 Market Street at Rose Street, 415-437-1770) has heated up recently as one of the great new spots to learn about and enjoy wine. In addition to a wonderfully eclectic selection of wines, Cav is also touted for its food menu, which is planned in conjunction with the wine director to ensure everything clicks.

Among the recent additions to the San Francisco wine bar scene is Yield (2490 3rd Street at 22nd Street, 415-401-8984), in the up-and-coming area known as Dogpatch. The intimate, handsome bar specializes in small-batch vintages from organic and biodynamic vintners. The friendly staff is well versed in the subject and eager to tell you about something you’ve never tried before.