San Francisco is one of the best places in the world to drink young wines, particularly those with attitude, from many different places. Sommeliers here are passionate and their wine lists reflect it.
We don't have many older wines on lists because restaurants turn over so quickly that they don't build up cellars — plus our diners are savvy enough to cherry-pick gems. We also don't have strong California-centric lists like you find in Napa Valley. Our sommeliers have an almost irritating lack of allegiance to the state.
But their international curiosity has the great benefit that this is a fantastic city to learn about the world of wine by drinking it, one glass at a time.
If Wine Spectator wrote this list, it might focus on restaurants with the most Napa cult Cabernets and first-growth Bordeaux. But this is San Francisco, not Dallas: Meals here are lighter and more vegetable- and seafood-driven, and diners as a whole are more wowed by “unique” than “famous.” I've chosen 10 wine lists that represent both the restaurant and the city, and I have paid close attention to value.
To those who inevitably say, “How could you leave off Restaurant X? It's a top 10 for sure,” I probably agree. Tough choices had to be made, and I left off some personal favorites, in a few cases because the wine director changed and I can't be sure what the future holds. Moreover, in six months new restaurants will open that also demand consideration. But right now, for the SF Weekly reader, these are the Top 10 Wine Lists in San Francisco.
1001 Minnesota (at 22nd St.)
Piccino's wine list brings to life what red-staters think of San Francisco. We know what's good for you, and we're not afraid to tell you — some tiny-production wine made by a like-minded radical. The list is nearly exclusively made up of wines that fall under the broad rubric of sustainability, and you have to really know the wine world to recognize more than a half-dozen of the roughly 50 producers. Fortunately, the staff is good about making recommendations. It's nice that about a third of the list is available by the glass, and all of these, save the bubblies, can be had in a 375 ml carafe for half the bottle price. Spend $50 here and you can have two carafes that will expand your horizons.