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Sommeliers of the Year

Where to Drink Wine in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

Where to Drink Wine in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

Chez Panisse in Berkeley Photo © Aya Brackett

Ceri Smith of San Francisco’s Tosca Cafe is one of Food & Wine’s 2014 Sommeliers of the Year. Here, 10 top spots to drink wine in the Bay Area.

1. Chez Panisse
Sommelier Jonathan Waters (Jonno) is amazing. He is so positive and enthusiastic and he just makes everyone happy to be around him—especially when he speaks about wine. His ease in his approach is so natural, you become captivated, as if someone’s reading a magical story to you; every bottle is transformed into a mythical unicorn right in front of your eyes. 1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley; 510-548-5525; chezpanisse.com

2. Commonwealth
At a dinner here recently with Friulian winemaker Sandi Skerk, sommelier Francesca Maniace put together a carefully crafted pairing of beautiful wines. I loved that she didn’t just pair dishes solely to Sandi’s wines but actually created an experience to support the dishes that the chef had prepared. 2224 Mission St.; 415-355-1500; commonwealthsf.com

3. Bi-Rite Market
Wine buyer Trac Le just nails it across the board. I like that he stocks wine from small importers that have character (both the importers and the wine) and that he focuses on wines with heart and soul from around the world, always in keeping with the idea that great wines do not have to cost a fortune. 3639 18th St.; 415-241-9760; biritemarket.com

4. Bar Tartine
Sommelier Vinny Eng is happy. He is happy because he likes to play, and what he likes to play with is wine. I’ll never forget a dinner at Bar Tartine with other “wine people,” when Vinny came to the table with a bottle in a brown bag and with a cheeky smile, poured the wine and said: “What is it?” I immediately burst out, “It’s definitely Italian… Nebbiolo! Definitely Nebbi—no, wait. Different fruit...” His eyebrow raised a little, the others pitched their guesses and I blurted, “Etna! It’s Etna.” Both eyebrows up this time, he said: “From whom...?” I guessed wrong. And then I felt really silly. It was almost like not recognizing my best friend because it was one of my absolute favorites, the 2001 Calabretta Etna Rosso. 561 Valencia St.; 415-487-1600; bartartine.com

5. Oliveto
Owner Bob Klein has an amazing cellar of vintage Barolo and Brunello—and the restaurant has recently opened his cellar to interesting wine dinners with said Barolo and Brunelli as a focus. Plus, there’s just something about chef Jonah Rhodehamel’s food that truly tastes like being in Italy. 5655 College Ave., Oakland; 510-547-5356; oliveto.com

6. Cotogna/Quince
Aside from the fun $40 bottle/$10 glass list at Cotogna that’s always changing, this is where I would go to splurge. The fun thing is, you can have a more casual meal at Cotogna, and order off Quince’s bottle list. This is where the trouble starts; will it be vintage Giacomo Conterno? Or vintage Giuseppe Mascarello? You see the dilemma. 490 Pacific Ave.; 415-775-8508; cotognasf.com

7. St. Vincent
I love owner/sommelier David Lynch because he is always trying to get me to drink something other than Italian wine, be it French or some cool, new, small producer from California, like Kevin Kelley or Hank Beckmeyer. Though we do share a love of great Sangiovese. 1270 Valencia St.; 415-285-1200; stvincentsf.com

8. Terroir
Owners Dagan Ministero and Luc Ertoran are into real wine, wherever it is from. They just don’t tolerate nonsense in wine or the wine industry and for that alone, I love them. Their selections of wine are always spot on and weigh heavier to the French side of things. Really, they have a fantastic selection of hand-selected choices. For me, I do not want to walk into a place and find “safety.” I want to feel intrigued! I want to feel adventurous! And this is the place to do it. 1116 Folsom St.; 415-558-9946; terroirsf.com

9. Da Flora
Da Flora is a little spot that has been around forever, with good reason. It makes beautiful handcrafted dishes that are based on the cuisine of northern Italy, Trieste. But the owner, Flora, is Hungarian, so she always has fun, interesting Hungarian wines on her list that she’s thrilled to share. Most recently, I had the Olaszrizling from István Spiegelberg, and Juhfark from Fekete Béla, both grown on what was once underwater volcanic land. 701 Columbus Ave.; 415-981-4664; daflora.net

10. State Bird Provisions
Stuart and Nicole’s food is so fun. I think I’ve understood a flavor or direction of influence, Asian, Italian, Balinese maybe? And then, boom. Next dish, I change my mind and start all over with the guessing game. To build a wine list that covers such an array of exquisite flavors is challenging. The wines must have balance. It takes a light hand and a smart mind to find that perfect balance where the wine doesn’t dominate but strategically supports the food, and wines on the State Birds list do that well. Last time I was there, I had the 2011 Gilbert Picq Chablis, which did just that—throughout the entire meal. Beautiful. 1529 Fillmore St.; 415-795-1272; statebirdsf.com

Related: What to Drink at San Francisco's Tosca Café
Food & Wine's 2014 Sommeliers of the Year
San Francisco Travel Guide

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