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3. Bar Agricole
355 11th St. (at Folsom)
I rarely order wine at Bar Agricole, because I go there for cocktails. Yet this is the best conceived and organized wine list in the city. Rather than a long list of wines from all over the place with no explanation, Bar Agricole presents you with a booklet. On each page is a description of the producer, including its location and farming philosophy, and several of its wines. I wish every wine list gave you context like this, because no sommelier has time to describe every wine on the list in this way, but I would like to hear it. The list leans heavily Old World, toward light-bodied wines, which makes sense because if you want more alcohol here, you'll order a cocktail.
560 Divisadero (at Hayes)
Nopa's list radiates enthusiasm for wine. If you want something obscure, like Swiss whites or Austrian reds, they've got that, but they don't turn their nose up at reliable California wines like Ridge Geyserville. The emphasis is on food-friendliness, but it's not pedantic. The selection of half bottles is generous and interesting. Prices are generally fair: Spend $50-$60 here and you can go in many great directions. Nopa's weakness is the absence of affordable alternatives in some important categories (sparkling wine, Chardonnay). I'm not sure how to explain the lack of cheap bubbles, but I think the Chardonnay pricing is a subtle nudge to get you to try something else. Nopa is a great place to do that.
25 Lusk (at Townsend)
This wide-ranging list will please wine lovers at all price levels. If you like expressive wines of terroir and are counting your pennies, you probably shouldn't be eating here, but it's not going to be the wine that breaks you; there are several good selections under $35. If you just cashed in shares of Google, you can spend more than $300 a bottle on quite a few fabulous Rhone or Burgundy wines or well-chosen California Cabs. I love that even the splurge wines are trophies only for the cognescenti. But I would quite happily spend under $40 a bottle because wine director Cezar Kusik has impeccable taste. If you order a Rueda, a Gruner Veltliner, or a New Zealand Pinot Noir here, it's most likely one of the best available at its price level, and that's really all you can ask.
Former SF Weekly food editor W. Blake Gray blogs about wine at The Gray Report. Follow him on Twitter at @wblakegray.