Ungrafted Raises the Standard for Neighborhood Wine Bars

A glass of bubbly at Ungrafted. (Sarah Chorey)

by Sarah Chorey

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Neighborhood wine bars abound in the Bay Area—and because San Francisco is so, well, San Francisco, there are many truly good options for snooty sophisticated wine drinkers to choose from when the yen strikes to crack a bottle of something nice, even if it is only a Monday night.

So if you're going to open a wine bar in the city, you better make it good. Enter couple Rebecca Fineman and Chris Gaither, a pair of sommeliers who've anted up and raised the bar with Ungrafted, their new spot in the Dogpatch.

Take a seat for an elevated drink at the long copper bar.
Take a seat for an elevated drink at the long copper bar. (Sarah Chorey)

Between the two of them, Fineman and Gaither (who met at a wine exam) have worked at Spruce, Ame, Octavia, and Gary Danko; she's a Master Sommelier, in fact—one of only 249 in the world and among just 25 women Master Sommeliers in the United States. Impressive much?

When it came to pouring out ideas for Ungrafted, a few key things mattered most: a carefully curated selection of wines, seriously delicious food pairings, and a laid-back atmosphere that would appeal to the local community making it a chill spot to hang out.

SF-based MH Architects were tasked with remodeling the Third Street space that once housed Poco Dolce Chocolates. You'll find an industrial-sleek glass-walled wine cellar and a mezzanine seating area that overlooks the space—a gilded mural of twisting tree branches adds a bit of elegant whimsy.

Gilded art by Twin Walls Mural Co. are already Ungrafted's signature photo op.
Gilded art by Twin Walls Mural Co. are already Ungrafted's signature photo op. (Sarah Chorey)

So what's pouring? Think unexpected labels at terrific values. "We are very hands-on when it comes to choosing wines for our list," says Fineman. "We taste a lot of wines. Our main two criteria are deliciousness and bang for the buck—wines that taste a lot more expensive than they are. For wines by the glass, we are additionally on the hunt for the wines that taste great when they are first opened, without needing an hour to air out."

The scallop ceviche is a well-balanced, light bite with a few slices of spicy chile, pickled shallots for a hint of acid, and crunchy nori chips.
The scallop ceviche is a well-balanced, light bite with a few slices of spicy chile, pickled shallots for a hint of acid, and crunchy nori chips. (Sarah Chorey)

As for the really good food, Ungrafted has employed the talents of chef Robert Vallejos (B Patisserie, Spruce and Manresa), whose menu of both small and entree-size plates leans on French techniques with street food–inspired flavors, all designed as ideal accompaniments to the vino.

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Dip your mother-of-pearl spoon into Tsar Nicolai caviar served with mini arepas and crema, or go for the fresh scallop ceviche served with crunchy nori chips. On the heartier side of things are a pretty decadent buttermilk fried chicken with a biscuit (we challenge you to recall the last time you ate that in a wine bar) and octopus adobo.

We didn't see this coming: fried chicken, topped with creole spices and paired with a thick buttery biscuit, is available in two pieces or four.
We didn't see this coming: fried chicken, topped with creole spices and paired with a thick buttery biscuit, is available in two pieces or four. (Sarah Chorey)

Nervous about choosing that perfect wine pairing? The couple rallied their network and hired a full team of sommeliers; in other words, Ungrafted has arguably the most knowledgeable wine team in town. Let them show you the way with great recommendations.

"Chris and I meet guests all the time who tell us that they are afraid to speak to a sommelier because they don't want to be pressured into spending more than they'd like," Fineman says. "We always tell them that that is exactly the reason they should be taking to a sommelier. We know the list better than anyone, and can easily find the wine you'll want to drink for the price you'll want to spend."

Skip traditional dessert wines like port or sherry and cap your night with a glass of Rivesaltes Ambré Domaine Fontanel—a rich, caramel-y wine with notes of dried apricots and candied orange peel.
Skip traditional dessert wines like port or sherry and cap your night with a glass of Rivesaltes Ambré Domaine Fontanel—a rich, caramel-y wine with notes of dried apricots and candied orange peel. (Sarah Chorey)

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Want to dive deeper? Pop in for Monday night blind tasting flights where you can sample a variety of wines and take tasting notes with your server. Private group tastings are also available. Rather swirl and sip in the privacy of your own home? Pick up some bottles to go in the informal shop.

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