HOME > Chowhound > San Francisco Bay Area >

Wine Shops in SF

Marco Feb 26, 2007 05:26 AM

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.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. z
    zin1953 RE: Marco Feb 26, 2007 05:39 AM

    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
      MikeW RE: zin1953 Feb 27, 2007 02:50 PM

      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
        jeffyd RE: MikeW Feb 27, 2007 04:57 PM

        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
          MikeW RE: jeffyd Feb 27, 2007 09:05 PM

          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
            Robert Lauriston RE: MikeW Feb 28, 2007 09:48 AM

            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
              zin1953 RE: MikeW Feb 28, 2007 12:42 PM

              >>> 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
                MikeW RE: zin1953 Feb 28, 2007 01:12 PM

                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
                  Robert Lauriston RE: MikeW Feb 28, 2007 01:15 PM

                  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
                    zin1953 RE: MikeW Feb 28, 2007 05:07 PM

                    (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
                      MikeW RE: zin1953 Mar 2, 2007 10:07 AM

                      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
                        Robert Lauriston RE: MikeW Mar 2, 2007 10:40 AM

                        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
                          MikeW RE: Robert Lauriston Mar 2, 2007 02:13 PM

                          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
                            Robert Lauriston RE: MikeW Mar 2, 2007 02:18 PM

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

                        2. re: MikeW
                          Atomica RE: MikeW Mar 2, 2007 10:41 AM

                          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
                            MikeW RE: Atomica Mar 2, 2007 02:14 PM

                            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
                            The Chowhound Team RE: zin1953 Mar 2, 2007 08:59 PM

                            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: http://www.chowhound.com/boards/34

              2. re: zin1953
                zin1953 RE: zin1953 Jul 31, 2007 02:40 PM

                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. Robert Lauriston RE: Marco Feb 26, 2007 07:50 AM

                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. m
                  Marco RE: Marco Feb 26, 2007 08:10 AM

                  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. re: Marco
                    Robert Lauriston RE: Marco Feb 26, 2007 08:13 AM

                    For sparkling wines, check out D&M:


                  2. SanseiDesigns RE: Marco Feb 26, 2007 10:00 PM

                    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
                      Robert Lauriston RE: SanseiDesigns Feb 27, 2007 10:54 AM

                      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
                        SanseiDesigns RE: Robert Lauriston Feb 28, 2007 09:26 AM

                        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
                        zin1953 RE: SanseiDesigns Feb 28, 2007 12:27 PM

                        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. m
                        Marco RE: Marco Feb 27, 2007 05:56 AM

                        Thank you all again very much for your help.

                        1. s
                          sunnyside RE: Marco Feb 27, 2007 03:57 PM

                          K&L has the best overall selection and pricing. the Jug shop has a great selection of Austalian and new Zealand wines, but the service is pretty weak and the prices are average.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: sunnyside
                            Husky RE: sunnyside Feb 27, 2007 04:01 PM

                            I think the Jug Shop has great service *IF* you get that purple-toothed freak, I believe his name is Chuck, to help you. He's extremely knowledgable about their inventory and has a knack for picking out good wines at any price if you give him a budget. Florabeth is great with Italian wines.

                            1. re: Husky
                              zin1953 RE: Husky Feb 28, 2007 12:27 PM

                              Chuck is great.

                              1. re: Husky
                                Melanie Wong RE: Husky Feb 28, 2007 03:31 PM

                                And, in case he isn't grinning wide enough for you to see his purple teeth, Chuck Hayward has red hair and dances in red suede shoes.

                                1. re: Melanie Wong
                                  Husky RE: Melanie Wong Feb 28, 2007 03:34 PM

                                  He is amazing. He's my go to guy when I need some really good recs. I also like Adel at 17th & Cole Market...

                                  1. re: Husky
                                    zin1953 RE: Husky Feb 28, 2007 05:08 PM

                                    Adel never steered me wrong, but he can be -- let's say "touchy." Chuck is always a joy . . . (just my two cents; YMMV.)

                                    1. re: zin1953
                                      Husky RE: zin1953 Feb 28, 2007 05:55 PM

                                      I agree regarding Adel. I'm on his good side though, since about ten years ago I bought a case of Gaja Barbaresco from him (the only 12 bottles in town at the time) and now when I go in I hand him $200 and let him choose -- usually I walk away with 8 to 12 bottles of outstanding wine.

                                      1. re: Husky
                                        rabaja RE: Husky Mar 6, 2007 06:49 AM

                                        That must have been a good day! Can you remember the price? Do you still have any of the Gaja left?

                                        1. re: rabaja
                                          Husky RE: rabaja Mar 6, 2007 07:25 AM

                                          The price has escaped my memory (although I do remember it was a HUGE amount of money for 12 bottles of wine). This was a group gift for a boss (don't tell Adel!), so I never had any of the wine.

                            2. j
                              jkt RE: Marco Feb 27, 2007 09:20 PM

                              It sounds like you are visiting the city, so you might have limited transportation. If you can get over to the East Bay, you should try Kermit Lynch in Berkeley. As an importer, they have great selection, value, and handling.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jkt
                                Marco RE: jkt Feb 28, 2007 04:35 AM

                                JKT, I would love to go to Kermit Lynch, but we'd have to schelp back 10 cases!

                              2. r
                                Rich RE: Marco Feb 28, 2007 01:36 PM

                                If you like Italian wines, Biondivino on Green at Polk has a very impressive, fairly priced selection.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Rich
                                  Marco RE: Rich Mar 1, 2007 05:36 AM

                                  We love Italian wines. My only problem with them is that it's a crap shoot sometimes, unless you know your producers well and I don't. We've been into Sicilian reds quite a bit lately. More are showing up on the shelves. Thanks, Rich, will try to check Biondivino out.

                                  1. re: Marco
                                    DavidT RE: Marco Mar 2, 2007 05:18 PM

                                    I have found over the years that the Molly Stone's Market up on Portola@Shaughnessy (the old Tower Market) has always seemed to have a surpisingly good inventory of Italian wines in stock. I usually find an Italian label or varietal that I have never seen before almost every time I stop in there.

                                2. Robert Lauriston RE: Marco Mar 5, 2007 02:14 PM

                                  I went to a new place, Biondivino Wine Boutique. Maybe 90% Italian, lots of bottles I've seen either only on restaurant lists or nowhere. On Green between Polk and Van Ness.


                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                    Miss Misha RE: Robert Lauriston Mar 6, 2007 08:12 AM

                                    I second the Biondivino recommendation. I know absolutely nothing about Italian wine, but the proprietoress (whose name escapes me, unfortunately) took me under her wing and helped me choose some very nice wines, including a light red that went well with the basa fillets we had for dinner later in the week. She also selected a Chianti that both me and my husband liked, though I'm not a big Chianti fan.

                                  2. e
                                    epicurious_sf RE: Marco Jul 31, 2007 02:52 PM

                                    I have to second the recommendation that if it is sparkling you're looking for, D&M is worth a visit. Plus, you can make an afternoon of it by window shopping on Filmore, and having a meal while you are at it. Nice area.

                                    1. c
                                      clayfu RE: Marco Jul 31, 2007 03:21 PM

                                      which wine store in SF has the best saturday afternoon wine tasting? I have 4 hours to kill!

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: clayfu
                                        Robert Lauriston RE: clayfu Jul 31, 2007 04:05 PM

                                        You might do better at a wine bar--WINE and Cav have the longest by-the-glass lists.

                                        K&L tastings:


                                        Cav Wine Bar
                                        1666 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

                                        Wine Bar & Shop
                                        2 Embarcadero Center, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                          zin1953 RE: Robert Lauriston Jul 31, 2007 04:16 PM

                                          The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant also offers a pretty healthy list for tasting . . .

                                          1. re: zin1953
                                            Robert Lauriston RE: zin1953 Jul 31, 2007 05:24 PM

                                            The wine bar at Ferry Plaza is okay but they don't have as big or interesting a selection by the glass as WINE or Cav, or as much choice of snacks.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                              zin1953 RE: Robert Lauriston Jul 31, 2007 05:27 PM

                                              I don't know . . . they usually have something of interest, and there's much better parking than CAV. But it's probably more a matter of personal choice than anything else -- I'd rather be at Hog Island or Tsar Nicolai than either FPWM or CAV.

                                              1. re: zin1953
                                                clayfu RE: zin1953 Jul 31, 2007 08:55 PM

                                                i dont really want to spend a few hours there, its more along the lines of do they provide tastings that are usually wines you would purchase.

                                                1. re: clayfu
                                                  zin1953 RE: clayfu Aug 1, 2007 06:57 AM

                                                  Thus, I would stick to wine stores with tastings, rather than going to a wine bar . . . don't forget that there is also a tasting bar within The Wine Club, too.

                                        2. re: clayfu
                                          baron45 RE: clayfu Jul 31, 2007 09:01 PM

                                          There are a few stores that do Saturday tastings:

                                          K&L, The Wine Club, Blackwell's, SF Wine Trading Co, & Beltramo's (Menlo Park though).

                                        3. Robert Lauriston RE: Marco Aug 1, 2007 08:50 AM

                                          Blackwell's Web site says tastings start September 18. Is that out of date?

                                          K&L has tastings on Saturday afternoons.

                                          Dee Vine has a tasting on September 8.

                                          The Wine Club has a self-service tasting bar every day, though the wines aren't always in good condition.

                                          Vino Venue has self-service taste dispensers for several dozen of their wines.

                                          Ferry Plaza doesn't have tastings per se except on occasional Wednesdays. The rest of the time they have a wine bar that features a rotating selection of wines from the store. WINE Bar & Shop four blocks away does the same but has more wines by the glass and more comfortable seats.

                                          Blackwell's Wines & Spirits
                                          5620 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94121

                                          Vino Venue
                                          686 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                            baron45 RE: Robert Lauriston Aug 1, 2007 10:21 AM

                                            I just looked at the Blackwell's site and it says SATURDAY, September 18.

                                            I think that date is a year or two ago since 1) they've been having Saturday tastings since I see it on their blackboard when I walk by their store periodically, and 2) Sept 18 doesn't fall on a Saturday in 2007.

                                          Show Hidden Posts