San Francisco's 10 Best Wine Lists

Categories: Wine

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dinnerseries
San Francisco is one of the best places in the world to drink young wines, particularly those with attitude, from many different places. Sommeliers here are passionate and their wine lists reflect it.

We don't have many older wines on lists because restaurants turn over so quickly that they don't build up cellars -- plus our diners are savvy enough to cherry-pick gems. We also don't have strong California-centric lists like you find in Napa Valley. Our sommeliers have an almost irritating lack of allegiance to the state.

But their international curiosity has the great benefit that this is a fantastic city to learn about the world of wine by drinking it, one glass at a time.

If Wine Spectator wrote this list, it might focus on restaurants with the most Napa cult Cabernets and first-growth Bordeaux. But this is San Francisco, not Dallas: Meals here are lighter and more vegetable- and seafood-driven, and diners as a whole are more wowed by "unique" than "famous." I've chosen 10 wine lists that represent both the restaurant and the city, and I have paid close attention to value.

To those who inevitably say, "How could you leave off Restaurant X? It's a top 10 for sure," I probably agree. Tough choices had to be made, and I left off some personal favorites, in a few cases because the wine director changed and I can't be sure what the future holds. Moreover, in six months new restaurants will open that also demand consideration. But right now, for the SF Weekly reader, these are the Top 10 Wine Lists in San Francisco.

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10. Piccino
1001 Minnesota (at 22nd St.)

Piccino's wine list brings to life what red-staters think of San Francisco. We know what's good for you, and we're not afraid to tell you -- some tiny-production wine made by a like-minded radical. The list is nearly exclusively made up of wines that fall under the broad rubric of sustainability, and you have to really know the wine world to recognize more than a half-dozen of the roughly 50 producers. Fortunately, the staff is good about making recommendations. It's nice that about a third of the list is available by the glass, and all of these, save the bubblies, can be had in a 375 ml carafe for half the bottle price. Spend $50 here and you can have two carafes that will expand your horizons.

9. Range
842 Valencia (at 19th St.)

Range has almost the archetypal San Francisco wine list. It leans heavily but not dogmatically toward natural producers and elegant wines rather than fruit bombs. It casually mixes countries in a list that ascends from lightest grape variety to heaviest, putting wines from Spain, California, and France next to one another. The list is strongest in about the $60 range, but you can drink well under $40 and get your money's worth at $80. And with about 25 whites, 40 reds, and 10 bubblies and pinks, it's long enough to offer variety, but not so long that you'll spend forever deciding.

8. Aziza
5800 Geary (at 22nd Ave.)

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Aziza

It's unlikely, given the culture, that there's a restaurant anywhere in Morocco that has as good a wine list as San Francisco's leading Moroccan restaurant. This is a greatest-hits list for wine geeks: Most names on here are from winemakers most respected by experts in their region. The list's strengths are in French and Italian wines, but California natural wine producers are well represented.

7. Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant
330 1st Street (at Folsom)

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Jen Siska
Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant

How convenient is this: If you like the wine you drink at this restaurant and wine shop, you can take another bottle home -- for $10 less. The passion of the proprietors is great as long as you play along. Here's a recent quote from the list, about a featured wine from Columbia Valley: "This might not be the wine for everyone, excepting those who can taste great wine when it's given to them. If you don't like this, we have something more expensive we think you might like." That said, this is one of the cheapest places to drink well in the city, with many good choices under $35 in the restaurant.

Location Info

Venue

Map

Piccino

1001 Minnesota St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

Range

842 Valencia, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

Aziza

5800 Geary, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

Local Kitchen & Wine Merchant

303 First St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

A16 Restaurant

2355 Chestnut, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

The Slanted Door

1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

First Crush

101 Cyril Magnin St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

Bar Agricole

355 11th St., San Francisco, CA

Category: Music

Nopa

560 Divisadero, San Francisco, CA

Category: Restaurant

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7 comments
Tyler Thomas
Tyler Thomas

Great list, but I think I would have put Acquerello over A16.  Narrowed it to ten in the first place must have been a great challenge!

Wblakegray
Wblakegray

It was a challenge. A top 20 would have been easier. Just shows how great SF's wine lists are as a group.

Sam Cronje
Sam Cronje

Hard to get excited about food and wine when my belly is full from Easter dinner, but that's a pretty solid list and I would say it's pretty relevant and contemporary. I hate when folks put together top 10 lists of best wine lists in San Francisco and they just keep repeating the same 10 lists...good in their own right, but it's nice when writers keep up with the newer offerings, instead of falling back on what's expected. As much as I love Fifth Floor and RN74, there are other newer lists out there that also deserve some attention. 

Raley_roger
Raley_roger

Awesome list. Though I would have made Piccino number one. Stellar wine list and so easy to navigate and so far I haven't had any bad or even mediocre wine recommendations there. Totally dig Slanted Door, but would have put them closer to 9 or 10....mostly because of the service. I agree that the list and food are great, but the service doesn't feel as familiar or friendly as it used to be. Haven't been to First Crush but now I feel I must, because we have similar tastes for the other top 9 restaurants. Thanks for a good read. 

jason skull mcarey
jason skull mcarey

I don't care what you or anybody else says, I want some wines on a list that are good and cheap, 20-25 bucks. There are plenty of good decent wines that wholesale for 10 bucks that could be served for that price and maybe, just maybe middle class diners coulld afford to drink wine with dinner..

Allen
Allen

Kind of agree with Jason. Would be so cool if a boat load of somms got behind cheaper wines. There are some killer wines out there, if you know where to look, that even at a pretty hefty mark up would still end up only being about 30 bucks on the list and the very most. Frustrating when so many wine lists only offer one or two cheaper wines and they're usually not very good. 

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