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Best sommelier in the Bay Area 2011

Since that bumped topic was so out of date.

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  1. Jeff Berlin - À Côté
    Lisa Costa - Punchdown
    Shelly Lindgren - A16 & SPQR
    D.C. Looney - Punchdown
    Caterina Mirabelli- District
    James Yu - Great China

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    A16
    2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

    SPQR
    1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

    Great China Restaurant
    1589 Farmers Ln, Santa Rosa, CA 95405

    Punchdown
    2212 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

    2 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      I've been trying to find out who's behind Great China's fantastic wine list, thanks! The servers never seem to understand when I tried asking them. Definitely one of the most impressive in the area and not what you would expect walking in. I ate there dozens of times as a student, but only just recently noticed their list.

      The other standout list for me is Chris Deegan's at Nopa. Lots of great sherry and always something interesting highlighted by the glass.

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      Nopa
      560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117

      Great China Restaurant
      2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

      1. re: tomotsu

        NoPa's list is indeed good, with lots of interesting wine, but I have a lot of trouble communicating with the servers and getting good recommendations about it. I think the training aspect there is a little off.

    2. David Lynch - Quince and Cotogna

      Shelley Lindgren - A16 and SPQR

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      A16
      2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

      SPQR
      1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

      Cotogna
      490 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133

      1 Reply
      1. re: farmersdaughter

        I'll second Lindgren and Lynch. Lindgren is arguably the best for my needs.

      2. I used to be impressed by Claudio Villani at Incanto.

        More recently, he spent some time at Quince and is now at the Four Seasons Hotel in Palo Alto.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jman1

          Claudio's been gone for years, left for a job in Vegas. His successor, Ed Ruiz, left fairly recently for ... I don't remember, somewhere in Marin or Sonoma.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Four seasons website lists him as current in Palo Alto.

            http://press.fourseasons.com/siliconv...

            He did move to Vegas for a while after Incanto (2005 - 2008).

            At Incanto, Claudio was often excited to share his lesser known discoveries. Often, less expensive wines, sometimes not even on the wine list but which where uniformly good and nice pairings. He was also genuinely interested in trying out interesting wines that we may have brought along.

        2. Thanks for starting this, good idea. I haven't been to Punchdown or Great China, will have to check those out. Shelly Lindgren is a southern Italian rock star and deserves a huge amount of credit for popularizing these wines in SF and nationwide. She knows how to pick 'em and is a total service pro besides. Nearly every time I'm at A16 (I really prefer it to SPQR for some reason) I have some sort of profound or just flat out amazing wine experience.

          I also totally agree about Nopa/Chris Deegan. I love the deep dives he does into various regions - getting all wine geeky about cru Beaujolais or the Languedoc or whatever - and also he gets big props for truly championing half bottles. Its such a great way to experience different and unusual wines (that aren't available by the glass) and to pair wine with each course when dining with just one or two others.

          Otherwise...

          - I think Matt Straus at Heirloom Cafe deserves a lot of credit for all of the tremendous older wines he offers, especially by the glass and especially in the kind of mid-priced neighborhood restaurant where such stuff is exceedingly rare.

          - Likewise I send a shout out to Paul Einbud of Frances for leading the way in creating closer relationships between restaurants & vintners (he offers affordable wines made just for the restaurant, sold by the ounce), as well as for offering non-token, creative non-alcoholic cocktails (similar to what TFL will do) and a helpful, approachably organized and affordable list. He also gets big points for his low-key, friendly, professional demeanor. IMHO about a perfect sommelier.

          - Wouldn't every restaurant/sommelier wish to have access to Raj Parr's deep pockets and reserves of old Burgundies at RN74 and beyond, sigh...But would I put Parr as the best sommelier? Sure he trains fleets of sommeliers but is he, today, a true sommelier or more of a restaurant wine executive who crunches numbers, directs staff and parachutes onto the floor to coddle deep-pocketed customers now & then? I guess it depends on what you want "best sommelier" to mean. Most successful, perhaps. Best palate memory and depth of experience with France, probably. But I don't know that I'd argue for him to come out on top of our little informal poll...

          Instead of Parr I'd vote for Eric Railsback, who works for Parr and is on the floor constantly. He's also low key and comes across as humble, which to me is such an important quality in a sommelier-- people are intimidated enough by wine already, the profession needs ambassadors who can make choosing a wine as pleasant as choosing your entree....

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          A16
          2355 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123

          SPQR
          1911 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA 94115

          Great China Restaurant
          2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

          RN74
          301 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

          11 Replies
          1. re: originalfig

            Service is what makes a sommelier great. It's one thing to put together a great list, another to help customers navigate it, either directly or by training servers.

            1. re: originalfig

              i have a bit of an issue with heirloom cafe being called "mid-priced" for a neighborhood restaurants, given how most of the by-the-glass selections tend to be around $15

              1. re: vulber

                On the current list, wines by the glass are $10-20, more than half are under $15, and $15 seems to me as reasonable a price for a glass of 2007 Rayas Pialade as $23 does for a rib-eye.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  yes but those prices don't make me think "neighborhood restaurant" - i live extremely close to heirloom but it's not a place i go to often because of those prices - if NOPA and Range can both offer wines by the glass at under $10 and larger entrees at the same prices, i see no reason why heirloom can't in a lower-rent area.

                  1. re: vulber

                    They could have, if they had wanted to open a different restaurant that was not focused on aged wines.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      rihgt - i guess where my issue is that it bills itself as a neigh orhood restaurant when it is really more of a destination wine geek restaurant

                      1. re: vulber

                        I think the premise of Heirloom Cafe, at least as I perceive their message, is that it's a "neighborhood" restaurant with a strong focus on aged wines. I don't think it is a destination restaurant with respect to the food, and in fact I think most of the food on the menu is stuff that a decently skilled cook could prepare at home. The food is there to enhance (or at least not compete with) the aged wine and the wine program generally. I don't see the restaurant as being a destination wine geek restaurant, though. Given their fantastic corkage policy for aged wines, it's a place I choose to go when I have a great bottle that I want to open but don't feel like cooking. The wines by the glass (and bottle) are interesting enough that I always read the list to see what's there even when I bring my own, just for the enjoyment of seeing what they are collecting.

                        1. re: farmersdaughter

                          "Heirloom Café was founded with two concurrent ambitions: to offer a wide variety of aged wines from a carefully managed cellar, and to serve simple, very well-prepared food at reasonable prices. Our wine cellar and our love of mature wines are the foundation of our restaurant."

                          http://heirloom-sf.com/about-heirloom/

                          Every restaurant has to be in some neighborhood. It would be interesting to know why Straus chose that location.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            yes but i think the premise of a neighborhood restaurant is one that indeed tries to get the locals to come in - but i saw that they recently added valet parking - which is pretty much the last thing a neighborhood restaurant shoudl be doing - and while yes, every restaurant is in some neighborhood, certain neighborhoods are more residential than others.

                            i believe that the wine cellar was the main draw for that space

                            1. re: vulber

                              The restaurant doesn't bill itself as a neighborhood restaurant. I suspect OriginalFig called it that because of its informal layout with lots of communal tables--maybe neighborly would be another word to use without the everyday price connotation.

                              1. re: SteveG

                                SteveG, you nailed it. I meant "neighborly" - i.e. was referring more to the atmosphere/layout/decor than to a specific price category.

            2. I am a big fan of Alex Fox ever since he was at Myth. I believe he is now the wine director at Bar Tartine.

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              Bar Tartine
              561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110