Best Wine Bar - 2005
686 Mission (at Third Street), 341-1930, www.vinovenue.net
This spot, more of a wine store that offers a fun tasting experience than a wine bar, blends modern technology (temperature-controlled machines that dispense 1-ounce pours of more than 100 different wines) with ancient (the winemaker's art). On entering the spacious premises, you buy a plastic card loaded with a dollar value amount between $10 and $50; insert this card into a slot on one of the half-dozen or so machines and press a button to choose one of the wines it contains, and a sample is produced (priced between $1 and $28, and debited from your card). Machines are stocked by grape color and varietal, and if you fall in love with your choice, you can buy a bottle (or a case) at retail. Alternatively, you can perch at a little table, on a high stool, and consume modest snack plates (such as one featuring brie, salami, and grapes). There's a separate section for sparkling and dessert wines, which are dispensed the old-fashioned way, sans cards. Roaming employees are available to consult on your choices, and VinoVenue also serves as the home to a number of wine-tasting classes and related events.