If I get together with my friend in his crappy apartment kitchen, we drink beer. If I’m on another friend’s patio watching the sunset as the lights of the city come up, we drink wine. Beer is like a comfortable old sweatshirt that’s been washed a hundred times. Wine is like a velvet dinner jacket that fits you to a tee. Beer is your favorite football team on TV. Wine is a Monet exhibit at the museum.
This is a long way of saying that when judging wine bars, the setting can be just as important as the vintage on offer. The best environments seem to enhance the enjoyment of wine (and vice versa). With that in mind, I’ve hunted down what I believe are the best of the Bay Area’s wine bars. I steered clear of restaurant/wine bars (of which there are many), and chose those places where the food (cheese plates, olives) is in mostly small plate form and offered as a complement to the wines. A wine bar should be all about the wine. Only three? I know, but I’m very picky, and only included those I would go out of my way to visit. I hope to discover more and add to this list as I go.
The Barrel Room
620 Post Street
Loved this place when it was the Hidden Vine, and happy to see former employees Sarah Trubnick and Nikki Goddard opened The BR in the same location when the old place closed. It’s the same cozy room, with a fireplace and seating in various nooks and crannies, located down an alley (Cosmo Place) a few blocks from Union Square. The owners keep it fun, offering featured wine flights from various regions around the world, including off-the-beaten-path locales such as Croatia, Portugal and Hungary. But it’s all good.
The Wine Room
520 Ramona Street
Stepping into the Mediterranean-styled Wine Room just off University Ave in Palo Alto is like a trip to a Spanish bodega. It’s rustic throughout, from the tile floors, stucco archways, French doors and windows and country living room furnishings. Wines on offer are from established regions, such as France, Spain and plenty of California, but none of the usual suspects, which is refreshing. Stay here long enough and you may start slipping into a Catalonian accent.
300 Turney Street
Good and interesting wines offered by a knowledgeable British owner. Just name your preference and the staff will produce a flight to pique your taste buds. But it’s the environs that will keep you coming back. Set on the water near the Sausalito marina, the bay views and nautical décor make Wellingtons an ideal happy hour spot for enjoying the important things in life (i.e. good wine, good friends, not work).