Home to more than 4,400 restaurants, the most per capita of any major U.S. city, San Francisco is a top global culinary destination. And, situated some 50 miles from Napa and Sonoma, it’s no surprise that the locale has a dynamic wine scene.
“The city is a melting pot of wine consumers,” says Jienna Basaldu, a sommelier at Angler restaurant and instructor at the San Francisco Wine School. “We’ll look around the restaurant and see wine on every table, and such an array—from an orange wine or something funky to a bottle of Coche. It’s pretty rad.”
Sarah Garand and Jaime Hiraishi, co-owners of Wine Down, agree. “When we first opened, many people gravitated toward common California varietals like Cabernet, Zinfandel and Chardonnay,” says Hiraishi. More recently, however, they’ve noticed more people “asking about lesser-known varietals and AVAs beyond Napa and Sonoma, a quest made easier when so many California producers are making wines like Mourtaou from Tessier Winery or Carbonic Carignan from Sans Wine Co.”
It’s that eagerness to go beyond the classics that continues to ignite wine experts across the city, including Courtney Olson, a sommelier and wine consultant. “Locals are more open to exploring some of the most up-and-coming areas of our great state, including the Sta. Rita Hills, Santa Cruz Mountains and Sierra Foothills,” says Olson. “It’s an exciting time for the entire city.”
Restaurants with Standout Wine Lists
When David Barzelay was laid off from his law firm in 2009, he turned to the kitchen. What started as an occasional dinner party for friends and family soon became a perennially sold-out pop-up series for the public. This movement paved the way for his team’s Mission-based brick and mortar, where they continue to serve communal-style New American menus today. The 1,700-bottle wine list aims to shine a light on overlooked varieties—for example, more than 150 Zinfandel offerings that range from 10–60 years in age. More than a dozen wines are available by the glass, too.
In 2016, restaurant industry veterans Paul Einbund, Konstantino Antonoglou and Gavin Schmidt joined forces to debut this 60-seat spot in Potrero Flats that specializes in New American fare and hyperseasonal ingredients. Think crab porridge with carrot and lemongrass, grilled pork with apple and delicata squash, kabocha agnolotti with black trumpets and kale, and a showstopping duck that undergoes a 10-day smoking process before it hits the table.
The 1,000-bottle wine list pays special attention to under-the-radar, organic and small production options. Madeira fans are in luck here, too, as the team offers nearly 20 kinds.
Fans of State Bird Provisions are in good company at this restaurant, where chef-owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski continue their handiwork by way of whole animal butchery and a focus on local fisheries and farms—not to mention their very own biodynamic farm, from which they source 30% of their produce. Those philosophies extend to their wine list, a selection of more than 500 bottles rooted in small-production, organic and biodynamic finds. Wine Director Adam Robins offers input on pairings with a variety of seasonal plates, which might include asparagus with smoked barhi dates, local black cod with yellowfoot mushrooms and duck with Thai basil and peanuts.
This Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant strives to provide memorable, elevated meals without breaking the bank. Trestle’s $39 four-course prix-fixe dinner menus include a starter, pasta, main and dessert, with options like beet risotto, green garlic soup, crispy duck confit and coconut custard. The wine list is approachable, too, with more than 40 bottles on offer.
Specializing in classic French cuisine since 1979, this Market Street fixture has received a multitude of awards, including James Beard wins for Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Chef and Outstanding Service. The restaurant has a loyal following for its daily-changing menus, which include dishes like house-cured anchovies, spaghetti neri and, of course, the lauded wood-oven-roasted chicken. There’s also a carefully curated wine list that includes 150 selections from France, America and Italy, plus several by-the-glass options. Burgundy is the star of the show here; look for it in rarer forms like those from Domaine Roulot.
Wine Bars Worth a Visit
This restaurant was inspired by Chef Dominique Crenn’s home salon and the friends she hosted there. Chandeliers, bookshelves and warm colors aim to transport guests to 1930s Paris, as does the emphasis on all things Champagne. Two pages of the wine list are dedicated to bubbles, including a couple of magnums from the likes of J. Lassalle and Vouette & Sorbée for extra-special occasions. Guests can peruse more than 300 bottle selections, most from producers who work their own land to honor their terroirs, like Olivier Collin, Pascal Doquet and Agrapart.
At this 500-square-foot, freewheeling Hayes Valley hangout, the team is quick to befriend guests over small plates and hip-hop tracks. Domestic wines dominate the menu, with a special focus on smaller, up and-coming producers, many from California. Saddle up at the bar for some snacks and sip through any of the dozen options available by the glass. The selection grows on Wednesdays, when a rotating winemaker visits for tastings.
It was over post-work drinks when Jaime Hiraishi and Sarah Garand first conceived of their ideal wine bar: one with consistently fun vibes, great wine and reasonable prices. A few years later, that dream came true with Wine Down, a bar in the Yerba Buena neighborhood, with wall art of inspiring women, a gold glitter bathroom, locally made murals and fun throwback tracks. All of the wine here is on tap (save for the Champagne), and chances are, the team knows the producers personally, a perk for those seeking a story behind their glass. Considering their business-launching history with happy hour, the team does it right here—look for specials on carafes, snacks and select glasses every weekday from 4pm–6pm.
This Dogpatch wine bar aims to offer something for everyone at the party. “As a master sommelier, I think it’s my responsibility to represent quality wines from around the world,” says Wine Director and Managing Partner Rebecca Fineman, MS. “We will always offer a vintage Champagne by the glass and a Premier Cru Chablis, but we also have a pét-nat from Portugal and a killer Riesling from Oregon. I don’t think you have to be just one thing.” Such is the philosophy around the clock here, as evidenced by a list of more than 800 bottles, with 40 of them offered by the glass. There are also dishes like pull-apart bread and latkes with caviar. If you want pairing guidance, call upon any server—every one of them is a certified sommelier.
Expect no-frills fun and plenty of character at this Mission District wine bar, housed in a former record shop on the ground floor of an 1885 Victorian building. Vinyl records set the score for an evening here, while the kitchen serves yellowtail crudo with cucumber or pappardelle with beef sugo and the 100-plus bottle wine list includes nearly 20 by-the-glass options.
The team behind this Hayes Valley wine shop has one goal: to offer guests the same wines found on the list at any of the restaurants under The Absinthe Group, including Absinthe, Bellota and Comstock Saloon, so that their patrons could continue to enjoy those bottles over and over. More than 3,500 bottles line the shelves here, with an emphasis on European wines, especially from Burgundy and the Rhône. Pick your bottle and then take it outside to the backyard garden.
After years of working with Italian importers in San Francisco and Manhattan, Ceri Smith wanted to open a shop with restaurant-caliber wines. In 2006, she launched Biondivino, a wine shop devoted to the indigenous grapes and small producers of Italy. “Scores and points don’t matter to us here, but authenticity and a sense of the winemakers’ land and work does,” says Smith, who offers nearly 400 selections from across Italy, along with a selection of small, grower Champagne. Visit for weekly winemaker and importer tastings or virtual wine classes, which focus on everything from Italian reds to blind tasting.
Education, consumer tastings and classes are what it’s all about at this SoMa shop and wine bar. Opened by Cara Patricia and Simi Grewal in May 2019, the bar’s selection ranges from 250–300 bottles at any given time, but rotates frequently and spotlights Champagne, Beaujolais and Burgundy. While under-the radar names are a draw (think Guillaume Sergent and Mee Godard), the team also strives to make the purchasing process approachable, with an entire section dedicated to bottles under $25. Keep an eye on the calendar for events, from importer tastings and winemaker roundtables to deep-dive classes led by local sommeliers. And then, there are bottle release days when the venue hosts sommeliers for a takeover and special wine flights—the ultimate weekend wind down.
More than 1,500 selections are available from global boutique brands at Ferry Plaza, a wine shop in the heart of San Francisco’s iconic Ferry Building. For a more focused selection, head to Mission Bay Wine & Cheese, the team’s location just two miles south, which offers 500 bottles with a similarly international scope. Keep an eye on both stores’ calendars for Flight Nights, when a rotating winemaker guides guests through their works.
Opened in 1976 by Todd Zucker and Clyde Beffa, this shop specializes in wines from around the globe, but especially those from Bordeaux, Italy and Champagne. Older and rare bottles are on offer, too, and procured by an international buying team who searches far and wide for the globe’s best finds. Keep an eye on the schedule for wine and spirits tastings, and head online to check out the dedicated wine auction site.
Last Updated: September 28, 2022