Wine Bar Wanderings

Sometimes you just don’t feel like driving to Napa or Sonoma or other parts of wine country for a new wine experience.

When I feel that way, I turn to one of my favorite wine bars in the Bay Area for inspiration.

From my home in Alameda, it’s a five-minute drive to the Alameda Wine Company, a nifty little wine bar right next door to the local movie house.

It’s a small shop with an eclectic mix of interesting wines for sale by the bottle and by the glass. Every Wednesday night, there’s a special event, usually featuring a winemaker or distributor with something new to taste. I discovered Jocelyn Lonen wines at one of these events, and every time I stop by for a visit there’s something interesting to sample.

And, if too many samples find their way down my throat, it’s an easy walk home.

Marin Pick: Rick’s

Rick’s Wine Cellar in Corte Madera might have never have showed up on my radar except I saw a note about a preview pouring at this Marin County watering hole before last weekend’s big Pinot Days tasting (which I covered in last week’s blog.)

I showed up bit early for the tasting and immediately felt welcome. I asked the bartender for a taste of one of the three California pinot noirs that were being poured by the glass at the bar. My request was immediately granted — no charge — and I was treated to tastes of all three wines to sample while I waited for the official tasting to begin.

As the tasting began, Rick Mendell, who owns the place with his wife, Candy, tried to convince me that swirling the wine in the glass clockwise (it turns out I normally swirl  in a counter-clockwise manner) makes a difference in how the aromas and flavors are released. I’m not quite sure I’m a convert, but I appreciated the interaction.

Rick prides himself on having a great pinot noir selection (it’s good) and also goes out of his way to support Marin County winemakers by featuring their wines. I’ll have to go back to try some of the local stuff , like Pey-Marin, which looks interesting.  I wrote about Pey-Marin in an earlier blog Not Napa, Not Sonoma.

And, if you’re having dinner at a nice restaurant in Marin, stop by Rick’s first and pick up a great bottle and bring it along — you may not have  to pay a corkage fee. Here’s a list of 20 restaurants who waive the corkage for Rick’s customers.

Danville Destination

The Vine at Bridges in Danville is an airy, sophisticated spot to stop and sip wine, whatever the season.

There are about three dozen wines by the glass and a nice bar menu if you need something to nosh on. I was impressed by the quality of the 350-wine list, including about 50 high-profile pinot noir selections along with some killer cabernets.

The bar and retail shop features live music on the weekends and special events mid-week, including happy hour prices and other specials.

Napa’s Bounty

I like to stop in and check out what’s being poured at the Bounty Hunter — whether I’ve just finished a day of tasting or just getting started on a visit to Napa. It’s right downtown, on First near Main Street.

The Bounty Hunter is comfortable, whether you’re seated at the bar, or one of the tables set up for food service. Locals, tourists and the trade all drink and eat here.

There’s a small menu that looks great, but I’ve never ordered anything except barbecue. The pulled pork sandwich is good, but I highly recommend the ribs. They’re wonderfully smoky and tender and delicious. There’s a good beer selection, too, including Guiness and Harp on tap plus a rotating selection from artisnal producers.

On my last visit, they were pouring an IPA from Mission Brewery in San Diego that was a great match for the barbecue.

If you want to find out who’s wines are hot and sample some of the icons of the Napa Valley, this is a good place to start. They not only sell wine at this place, they make it. The Bounty Hunter has its own lineup of 10 labels of wines — from value reds and whites to ultra-premium juice sourced from the some of the top vineyards in the area.

Side Note on San Francisco

I couldn’t begin to cover all the quality places you can find a decent glass of wine in San Francisco in one blog, but I can tell you one of my favorite places to drink wine and people watch is the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant.

The wine bar fronts the retail shop with an open view of the main hallway where you can observe, with a glass of champagne in hand, the parade of commuters heading for a ferry, shoppers with bags of delicacies and office workers nipping in for a quick bite.

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2 Responses to “Wine Bar Wanderings”

  1. Jon Bjork Says:

    Thanks for the great list of wine bars, Frank! I’ll need to check each of them out. Perhaps I’ll start with Bounty Hunter this week while in Napa.

    • Frank Thorsberg Says:

      Thanks for your comment. You might also check out the Vintner’s Collective, which is just a few blocks from the Bounty Hunter.

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