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July 21, 2015

7 Places in San Francisco Where the Wine is as Good as the Food

When it comes to drinking well, San Francisco is right up there with New York and any European city you can name. So many restaurants in the Bay have superb wine programs. It’s a dilemma figuring out which ones are most deserving and for every one discussed below, another could easily be mentioned. Places that specialize in specific regions or countries have been left out because that is a post unto itself. Ultimately, it comes down to quality first, originality and diversity within in its scope and these seven set an extremely high bar.

Absinthe Brassiere and Bar (398 Hayes St.)
When it comes to French wines, Absinthe has the most comprehensive and high quality selection in San Francisco. Champagne, Burgundy and the Jura are particularly strong with options for classical wine geeks and those who want to go down a more esoteric path. Additionally, there are droves of terrific bottlings from Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain and California so while it might be a French style bistro, you can still cross the border. www.absinthe.com

Alta CA (1420 Market St.)
Alta has a sophisticated wine list, plain and simple. It is largely natural, meaning wines made without synthetics of any sort, save for maybe a little sulfur. This is not a guarantee of quality but general manager and wine buyer, Ben Hetzel, has ensured that every choice is at the least notable. Even the more classical selections, such as Tripoz Macon-Loche ($16), a white Burgundy take a step outside of the box.

Commonwealth (2224 Mission St.)
Commonwealth calls itself a “progressive American restaurant” and the same could be said for the wine list only it has a fascinating international assortment. The list is chock full of small production, artisan and often organic wines from near and far with producers that are on the verge of stardom. Not least, the wine pairings with the tasting menu are stellar and if you want to take control of the wheel and change lanes, the by the glass selection is an awful lot of fun.  

Hillside Supper Club (300 Precita St.)
Hillside Supper Club is a Bernal Heights neighborhood haunt but wine industry professionals from all over the Bay Area show up here to check out its wonderfully idiosyncratic and reasonably priced list. How many places serve Albilla (Bodegas Ponce “Reto,” 2013 - $12gl/$46bt), an extremely obscure Spanish white wine grape, by the glass, let alone offer it by the bottle? The 50 wine strong selection is impeccably chosen, with an eye towards diversity and food pairing. If you want to drink like a wine savvy local, Hillside is the place to go. 

NOPA (560 Divisadero St.)
NOPA is uber popular and the wine list is but one of the reasons; yet what a reason it is. As is true of most of the best wine lists in the Bay Area now, sustainability and minimal additives are emphasized. However, it is not as full on geeky as some of the others, making it more accessible to a broader range of diners. Those who portend to be in “the  know” might think it is a little safe. On the contrary, it’s courageous to include well-known names that are making honest, solid wine. And, given its size, somewhere between 250 – 300 list, anyone who wants to have an adventure can get lost for hours. 

The Slanted Door (One Ferry Building)
The Slanted Door helped make Riesling cool and that was no small feat but the wine list at this famous institution is about so much more. Beyond the aromatic white varieties, it has one of the most diverse sparkling selections you’ll find, plus an abundance of grapes and wine regions condensed into a manageable 140 wine offering. www.slanteddoor.com

Zuni Cafe (1658 Market St.)
As is the case with the restaurant itself, Zuni’s wine list is always reliable. French and California centric, you can always count on seeing a good representation of wines from Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and both up and coming and blue chip local producers. 

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