Page 2 of 3
2355 Chestnut (at Scott)
A16 has the best regionally focused list in San Francisco. The majority of its 500 wines are not just from Italy, but from southern Italy, which is much less the darling of the wine press than the northern part of the country. A16 is not pedantic; you can get California Cabernet if you want, but you would be wasting a chance to try wines made from indigenous Sicilian grapes, for example, that aren't available anywhere else in the Bay Area. It's always good practice to frankly tell the sommelier your budget and ask advice, and particularly rewarding here.
1 Ferry Building (at Embarcadero)
Mark Ellenbogen drew a combative line when he compiled the original Slanted Door wine list that still resonates throughout the wine world: He refused to even consider wines over 14% alcohol, because they won't go with the restaurant's food. Chaylee Priete is wine director now, and while she doesn't broadcast such a strong stand, the list still forces tourists having their first experience with Vietnamese food to explore lighter wines than they may be accustomed to. What the Slanted Door calls "fuller & meatier reds" would be called "weirdo lightweights" in Texas. Alcohol level is not the only political position this list takes; it highlights "ecologically minded individuals who understand stewardship, clean farming, and balance." One major quibble: the wine list is online, which is great because you can look up obscure wines ahead of time, but the prices are not.
4. First Crush
101 Cyril Magnin (at Ellis)
As you can tell from my other selections, I drink plenty of non-American wines. Yet one of my pet peeves is the disconnect between the locavore movement in food here and the way wine lists are compiled. In Paris you drink French wines. In Rome you drink Italian wines, In San Francisco, you drink French and Italian (and Swiss and Uruguayan) wines. What's wrong with this picture?
San Francisco is surrounded by California wine country, yet to my knowledge only two restaurants here have all-American lists: One Market (which is a little pricey), and First Crush, which amazingly has the only major all-California list in the city. It's an enthusiastic list that serves both people seeking natural wines and tourists seeking cult Cabernets. Themed by-the-glass flights make it a great place to learn about small producers, no matter what style of wine you like. To quote the prophet Jello Biafra, California über alles.