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Feb 26, 2007 05:26 AM

Wine Shops in SF

We're staying in Union Square and would like to know of good wine shops that are fairly close. So far, we Ferry Plaza Wine and K&L. This might be fine, but if there any that we should visit any suggestions would be appreciated.

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  1. Again, it all depnds upon what you are looking for . . .

    -- The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant has a fine selection of hard-to-find, small American wineries and some very good imported wines -- again, many hard-to-find, and including some Austrian wines not everyone else will carry. They are, however, not the least expensive place in town.

    -- K&L has a lot more "mainstream" selections, some more difficult to find wines, some wines which they import themselves, and generally K&L has better prices. They will have lots of California wines, Bordeaux, some Burgundies, a good selection of Rhône and Loire Valley wines, a very good Italian selection; they are "weaker" on German and Austrian wines, have a decent selection of Spanish and Portuguese table wines, but a better seelction of Porto; Southern hemisphere is good.

    -- The Wine Club on Harrison is also an excellent place to shop, with a wide selection of French and California wines, but they are weaker on the rest of the world. Prices here are usually very good.

    -- DeeVine Wines has a great selection of German wines, Golden West specializes in older wines and Porto, and The Jug Shop in Australian wines.

    And so on and so on . . . so what are you looking for?

    16 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      FPWM is downright expensive in my opinion compared to discount wine shops. Plumpjack would be a good comparison, as would Arlequin and William Cross on a smaller scale.

      The Wine Club is almost always a dollar or two cheaper than K&L, sometimes more so, but K&L has better service, and takes corked bottles back without question.
      I have always preferred the Italiain selection at the Wine Club to K&L.

      K&L has an excellent selection of German Wines in my opinion. The Wine Club is better for known Rhones, K&L has more "unknown" offerings and direct imports.

      K&L has a fantastic website with real time inventory. The Wine Club has a useless website, making it difficult to shop unless you are there in person.

      The Jug Shop is very, very expensive, but they have case discounts.

      1. re: MikeW

        Hmm, all of the wine shops that you call "very expensive" or "very, very expensive" sell their wines at normal markup

        The Wine Club works at a deper discount, but doesn't offer anywhere near the service of any good full retail shop.

        1. re: jeffyd

          I don't really have any idea what that means. K&L offers the exact same service as any "good full retail shop". The Wine Club is hit or miss, depending on who you get and how busy they are.

          Exactly what service are you getting at the "full retail" shop that justifies the much higher prices that you are not getting at K&L, or, for that matter, other well priced stores like Vintage in Mill Valley?

          1. re: MikeW

            K&L is rare among heavy discounters in offering good service.

            Lots of their wines are 10-15% off suggested retail. I don't think that makes the average non-discounting wine shop "very expensive."

            1. re: MikeW

              >>> I don't really have any idea what that means. <<<

              It means that non-discounted retailers, by virtue of the fact they do not discount the individual bottle price below the winery suggested retail, are indeed more expensive than discount retailers who *do* discount the individual bottle price below the winery suggested retail.

              I first mentioned the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchants for three very simple reaons: a) they have an excellent selection of hard-to-find wines, b) they are convenient to get to, and c) the OP mentioned them. Furthermore, I deliberately mentioned they were more pricey than some other locations.

              But from his post, the OP certainly sounds like he does not live in SF but rather is visiting. Therefore, I would not mention Vintage in Mill Valley, because -- although I think it's a fine store -- it happens to be in Mill Valley, not SF. For the same reason, I didn't mention Paul Marcus, Vintage Berkeley, Premier Cru, Solano Cellars or any of the other stores I know in the East Bay. As for PlumpJack and William Cross, neither store has the extensive selection of a K&L, FPWM, or the other stores I mentioned. (And Robert is quite right: the level of service at K&L is indeed rare among "discounters.")

              Finally, most stores specialize to some degree or another. D&M, for instance, has a great selection of Champagnes, as well as a huge variety of bottlings from Armagnac and Calvados, as well as an amazing number of Single Malt Whiskies. K&L has more imported wines from Louis/Dresner than anyone else is SF, The Wine House (on Carolina) has more imported wines from Robert Kacher, and so on. The Jug Shop has more examples of Sparkling Shiraz than makes sense to anyone except Chuck, and considering he sells them all, I suspect he has just the right number. And on and on and on.

              SO, what is the best wine store in SF? As always, it depends upon what kind of wine you're looking for . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                So what exactly is the service you are getting at the overpriced stores you are not getting at The Wine Club, The Wine House or other discount retailers to justify the higher prices? (Leaving aside stores like Costco and Bev Mo where employees often have no clue).

                All I can say about The Wine Club is that they hassled me once about bringing back a corked wine of the ten or so times I did so, but if you go in and ask them a question or for recommendations, they are happy to give it.

                Regarding Vintage, it was cited as a general example of an additional store that offers good service at discount prices to support the notion that it is possible to do so, not as a suggested replacement for FPWM.

                That's why stores like FPWM or Arlequin or the Jug Shop very rarely get my business. If I am going to pay suggested retail, I would rather buy from the winery itself if at all possible. There is very little value added to the product by a wine retailer to justify higher prices, so the discount store will almost always win out for me.

                1. re: MikeW

                  The staffers at a good wine shop know the inventory and can help you find what you're looking for.

                  If you know what you want and they have it, Wine Club is great, but otherwise, not so much.

                  1. re: MikeW

                    (I am presuming you didn't address my points re: the original post and visitors to SF for the reason that you agree with them. If not, let me know.)

                    Your post is based on a faulty premise: that the consumer knows what they want when the walk in the door. (The corollary to that is that they know enough about wine, either generally or specifically, to be precise and definitive once inside the store.)

                    The overwhelming majority of customers walking in the door do not fit that description. Certainly the majority of people posting on this board -- or even "wine dedicated" boards like WLDG or WCW, etc., etc. do not. (A majority of regular posters on eBob probably do, but probably not the lurkers.)

                    Wine MERCHANTS -- as opposed to stores which sell wine -- can assist the average customer, regardless of price point, in selecting wines that will go with the dinner they have planned, that they cannot get "back home," that are ready now (versus not ready to drink yet), and answer any variety of questions the customer may have about the wine(s) in stock. The answers they can provide improve with each return visit as, over time, they get to know that person's specific likes and dislikes.

                    Signs reading "98 points, Wine Speculator" or "104 points, Barker" can't really do that.

                    K&L is a wine merchant in the truest sense of the word, and the exception that generally proves the rule of "discounters."

                    Some people at The Wine Club in SF are indeed good, but mostly . . . well, not necessarily all of them are. Let me simply add that unless you're in there to spend the "big bucks," they often don't have the time for you. It IS a *great* store, though -- as long as you know what you want.

                    Your comment, that "If I am going to pay suggested retail, I would rather buy from the winery itself," proves the point -- you're either in the tasting room and you have "tried before buy'd," or you already know that Cache Phloe Vineyards 2009 Grignolino is something you want and so you grab it! But if you walk into the winery's sales room having never before heard of or tasted the wines (and couldn't), what would you grab, and how confident would you be?

                    The wine merchant -- as Robert said -- will "know the inventory and can help you find what you're looking for.

                    1. re: zin1953

                      My premise is not faulty, because it is not what you state. I don't disagree that many people don't know what they are looking for when they walk into a wine store (though I think you are clearly guilty of not giving wine customers in the Bay Area enough credit - most people are not as clueless or undecided as you suggest, especially people who spend their time on internet wine bulletin boards).

                      My premise is that you can find equally good service at discount stores. No, not every discount score, but enough of them. The fact that Costco and Bev Mo exist does not negate that point. Certain wine stores around the country clearly stand out. Then there is everyone else.

                      I know plenty about wine and often know what I want. When I don't, I have no hesitation to walk into K&L or The Wine Club, or do get on the phone with Wine Exchange, or Woodland Hills, or Liner and Elsen or many other stores around the country for advice. My happiness with suggestions from the Jug Shop, FPWM or Arlequin is no higher than at the discount stores, the only difference is you can be sure you paid quite a bit more for it.

                      In fact, quite contrary to your assertion, unless you know exactly what you want and they are the only place that have it, there is a special tasting, or it's simply a matter of convenience in location, I can't imagine why you would ever shop at Arlequin, FPWM, etc.. I

                      1. re: MikeW

                        I can name a dozen or more small retailers with good service. K&L is the only big discounter I know where if I have a question or recommendation I know I can get a knowledgeable answer.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Where else have you tried, and what was your experience?

                          Your addition of the word "big" into the discussion is puzzling to me. There are small discounters with good service as well.

                          1. re: MikeW

                            Where? All the discount wine retailers I know are big.

                        2. re: MikeW

                          I think the majority of people are clueless about wine and what they want when they have to go wine shopping. You don't see it because you're immersed in the world of wine and probably most of your friends are as well. That's my theory, anyway.

                          I haven't seen a mention of Blackwell's, which is nowhere near Union Square, of course, but neither are a lot of the other places discussed in this thread, so I thought I'd throw it out. Any comments on them? For hard liquor, they are superb. They seem to pick good and interesting wines as well, but I don't know enough about it to tell. Further proof! I am not clueless, but I can't say I know a damn thing about 99% of the wineries they carry.

                          1. re: Atomica

                            Blackwell's is in my neighborhood. They have frequent tastings. Staff is friendly. Prices on wine are competitive with The Jug Shop.

                          2. re: zin1953

                            Folks, sorry for the interruption. Please share your opinions about wine shops in this area, and allow others to express theirs without criticism.

                            Please help us get on track and discuss where to get wine in the S.F. Bay area. Meta discussion of how to define a good wine value, or general expectations of wine stores are welcome on the Wine board, here:

              2. re: zin1953

                Presented in RANDOM order:

                K & L Wine Merchants
                638 4th St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                Jug Shop Wine & Spirits
                1590 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109

                Wine Club
                953 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                Dee Vine Wines
                19 Pier 45, San Francisco, CA 94133

                Golden West International
                2443 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

                Plumpjack Wines
                3201 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94123

                D & M Liquors
                2200 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 94115

                Ferry Plaza Seafood
                1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA

              3. John Walker & Co. and WINE Bar & Shop are also nearby.

                So is The Hidden Vine, a cozy wine bar.

                If you're schlepping to K&L or Wine Club, you might want to check out Arlequin as well. It's similar in style to Ferry Plaza but more so, lots of very unusual things. And if you're in that area, check out Cav Wine Bar & Kitchen.


                1. Thanks for the leads. We're looking for reasonable California sparkling wines. The last time there I found many that weren't offered back East. Also looking for small producers of California Zinfandel, Syrah, Rhone blends and Pinot Noir. I'm a huge fan of Spanish reds and see that K&L has some fairly decent selection. Other reds: Portuguese Douro's, southern Italian and Sicilian.

                  1 Reply
                  1. Also check Costco. Their buying power enables them to get wines from wineries when other retail concerns can't. While the Costco in Novato has one of the better selections, the downtown SF Costco has a fairly broad selection of California wines at some of the better prices. The stores stock to their markets, and the Bay Area stores have some of the better selections. Worth a peak if you are a member.

                    While the K&L Spanish wine buyer is located in the Redwood City store, any of the staff can help you find what you are looking for. Their prices are some of the best in the area.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: SanseiDesigns

                      I've never found the wine prices or selection at the SF Costco very impressive compared with Wine Club or K&L.

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        Depends on when you go, and what you are looking for. The mags of Insignia I gave for holiday gifts were unavailable elsewhere (non-Costco) and substantially less that at the winery. I called friends in SoCal who are JP club members and the wine wasn't available in their area. Costco gets things when other retailers cannot due to their sheer volume; and they buy by region. The rare finds sometimes don't make it onto the floor because they are purchased by staff. It helps to know the pricing trends. I peruse whenever I am at the store, just to see what is available. Like all box stores, it can be hit or miss, but the hits can be great. It's all in timing. K&L in the Bay Area remains my favourite wine shop. It's not just price, so many of the guys are serious food people as well. I spend as much time comparing menus, food prep, and dining experiences, as discussing and buying wine.

                      2. re: SanseiDesigns

                        Costco has some good wines, BUT . . . with the exception of when they do a "major Bordeaux thing," the range of top-quality wines at Costco is EXTREMELY limited. Yes, they wil have Phelps' Insignia. Why? Because Phelps makes a ton of it! (And the fact that it's *that* good with *that* level of production is all the more impressive!!!) But they have nowhere near the coverage of small wineries, slightly more "off-the-beaten-path" wines, or slightly more esoteric varietals.

                        What Costco carries is generally at very good prices. (Generally, but not always.) But they don't carry very much, once you get beyond the Kendall-Jackson's, Woodbridge's and Smooking Loon's of the world.

                      3. Thank you all again very much for your help.