Bay Area Bites Guide to Wine Bars in San Francisco and the East Bay

A wine tasting flight (Doniree Walker/Flickr)

Sure, plenty of people think summer is all about beer. But when the fog rolls in, it starts to feel like time for a glass of wine. (And, really, when is it not time for a glass of wine?)

Wine bars have been popping up everywhere in the last few years, to the point that the trend has almost become passé. That doesn't mean wine isn't still delicious, but it does mean it can make it hard to find the good spots. Are you looking for local wines? International wines? Sustainable wines? Wines by the bottle or by the glass?

You can find it all in the Bay Area. We are, after all, a wine region. But if you're not sure where to start, here are some of our favorites in San Francisco and the East Bay. This is, of course, not a comprehensive list of Bay Area wine bars. If we forgot your favorite, add it in the comments below.

Scopo Divino
Scopo Divino (Wendy Goodfriend)

San Francisco:

  • Scopo Divino (Pacific Heights): Scopo Divino opened in July, but the classic wine bar is already drawing fans. There are 35 wines available by glass -- with a focus on the name-brand varietals from the regions best known for them -- and another 1,000 bottles in the collection. You can also become a monthly member and get discounts, if you plan on drinking there regularly.
  • Amelie (Nob Hill): More of a wine lounge, Amelie draws a crowd for its daily happy hours and inexpensive flights. Pick three samples for $10-15 (depending on the wines). The international list is extensive, with French tendencies, and the food is delicious. The small space gets crowded on weekend evenings though, so make reservations before you go.
  • Hotel Biron (Hayes Valley): Not actually a hotel, Hotel Biron is down a small alley off Gough Street. Though not as secret as it perhaps once was, the wine bar/art gallery still cultivates a speakeasy style and decor. There are about 50-60 wines available, many by the glass, as well as artisanal beers, coffee, and cheese plates.
  • Yield (The Dogpatch): With a focus on sustainable and organic wines, Yield opened 10 years ago in what was, at the time, an underserved neighborhood. Now, it's a popular spot for a low-key drink with a menu of local wines that change regularly, interesting vegan and vegetarian plates, and half-off carafes during happy hour. (It's sister wine bar, Pause, which opened in Hayes Valley in 2011, is also worth checking out, but expect a bit of a flashier scene.)
  • The Hidden Vine (Downtown): The Hidden Vine started out in a genuinely hidden spot, but it was so popular the wine bar moved to a larger location in the financial district. Now, it's a hot spot for the professional crowds, who love the hundreds of bottles of wine, small plates and salads often made with ingredients from the nearby farmers market, and the hidden inside courtyard that houses a bocce ball court. Note: There's a $100 minimum for an hour of bocce, so get to drinking.
  • 20 Spot (Mission): It may be called a wine bar, but 20 Spot is probably just as well known for its food. The menu goes beyond your usual cheese and charcuterie. Expect oysters, deviled eggs with smoked salmon, and octopus with potatoes. Actually, don't expect exactly those things; the menu changes regularly. And, of course, there's also nearly 100 bottles and a selection of wine and beer available by glass in this ground floor of an old Victorian.
  • Birba (Hayes Valley): Yes, there are a lot of wine bars in Hayes Valley, but the small neighborhood spot Birba was a welcome addition when it opened in the spring of 2015. It's a tiny bare space, with concrete walls, but the feel is laid-back. You'll find a wide range of primarily European wines, and a few cocktails and beers. You can even order a gift box, which you might want to do for some of the particularly one-of-a-kind bottles. Try the tapas and sandwiches, and save room for the salted caramel pot de creme.
  • Terroir Natural Wine Merchant (SoMa): When it opened in late 2007, Terroir was something new and unheard of at the time: a wine bar that offered only natural wines, made with no pesticides, herbicides, or sulfur. Since then, it's become a bit of a pioneer. While the focus is on French wines, the spot also has added California varietals over the years -- always unique, tasty, and at times obscure. The spot is kitschy and welcoming, with shelves filled with hundreds of bottles.
  • InoVino (Cole Valley): Owned and run by Tuscan sommelier Claudio Villani, InoVino unsurprisingly focuses on a fleshed-out list of hundreds of Italian wines and Tuscan-inspired food. The place has space for about 30 people at tables, counter seats, and spots out on the sidewalk. Not sure where to start? Try a flight of three pours, a half carafe, or go to the apertivo hour, where bites are paired with wine and cocktails.
  • California Wine Merchant (Marina): Maybe the name gives it away, but California Wine Merchant is the place to go if you're looking for small-batch California wines. Since it opened in 1974, the shop has offered hand-picked Golden State wines for sale in its retail shop. When it moved locations in the 2000s, that was the perfect time to add a casual wine bar to the set-up. The bar is primarily a bar, with just a small selection of food offered. Glasses range from $7-$25, and you can join the wine club to have California wines shipped to your house regularly.
  • Jamber Wine Pub (SoMa): What is a wine pub? Well. It's less snooty than your stereotypical wine bar, and here it means everything's on tap. Jamber offers California wines all on tap; pick from four different sizes. There are also beers -- also all from California, also all on tap. Comfort foods, often made with local farmers market ingredients, flesh out the pub-like feel. Try the mac n' cheese pizza, the tater tots, or the meatloaf sandwich. Be extra sustainable (and avoid drunk driving) by biking to the wine pub and using the bike racks out front.
Wines line the shelves at Ordinaire
Wines line the shelves at Ordinaire (Courtesy of Ordinaire)

East Bay

  • The Punchdown (Oakland): The original Punchdown lost its lease in uptown Oakland back in 2013. But when it reopened in January this year, it was bigger and better than before. The new space has retail, a cold storage, a kitchen, and, of course, a bar. The menu has been expanded to include soups, hot sandwiches, and a dinner special each night. But the focus remains on natural wines from biodynamic vineyards with minimal interventions.
  • Ordinaire (Oakland): Started by a PhD student at UC Berkeley, Ordinaire is quirky and eclectic and all about natural wine. There are typically about a dozen wines available by glass, and another handful on tap. You can also purchase a bottle from the retail shop -- where the price is written in chalk above the label -- and drink it in-house for a $10 corkage fee. There's also cheese, charcuterie, and sardines.
  • The Barrel Room (Oakland): OK, yes, the Barrel Room started in the Tenderloin and that spot is still much loved. But try the Rockridge location on College Avenue, which is a bit more understated. The wine bar changes the regional focus of its offerings every three months, but there are always about 50 wines available by glass from all over the world.  The food and spirits are not exactly an afterthought either -- there's a full dinner and lunch menu that would make your mouth water -- but the focus is first and foremost on being a traditional, low-key wine bar.
  • Rock Wall Wine Company (Alameda):  It's a winery, not a wine bar, but Rock Wall Wine Company's tasting room at the former Naval Air Station is worth a visit. Run by father-daughter duo, Shauna and Kent Rosenblum, the winery offers flights of five wines to be enjoyed as you sit on the patio and admire the view of San Francisco across the Bay. Scolari's Good Eats has a spot next door, so you can order food to go with your wine. And extra bonus: Rosenblum Cellars, which was sold by Kent in 2008 and has turned its warehouse into a unique tasting room, is just a few block away.

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