There is much more to Italian wine than the tried-and-true prosecco, pinot grigio, chianti and brunello. San Francisco is lucky to to have a community of wine professionals well-versed in the wines of Italy, a country home to over 1,000 native grapes and 20 wine producing regions. These 10 restaurants and wine shops chose by Italian food-tour curator, food writer, and sommelier Coral Sisk offer an approachable wine list for anyone thirsty for Italian wine and a varied selection. And because drinking without food is a fineable offense in Italy, these restaurants and wine bars offer the most wine-friendly eating options as well.
Looking for the city’s best wine bars, regardless of style? Check out this list.
Head to A16 for well-researched Southern Italian fare, like charred, blistery Neapolitan pizza and small plates imbued with the region’s distinct products and flavors. What makes their menu even more enjoyable are the carefully selected wine offerings chosen by owner/sommelier Shelley Lindgren. She’s the holy grail of an Italian wine professional, dedicated to highlighting wines made extremely rare native grapes such as Casavecchia from Campania and Southern classics like Aglianico, Fiano and Piedirosso. Excellent wine lists and regional specialties like tripe and ragu can be found at either A16 in San Francisco or Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood.
A treasure trove of boutique and natural Italian wines can be found in the heart of Russian Hill, many which would invoke nostalgia amongst the most die-hard of Italian wine fans. Founded by Ceri Smith who has built Biondivino’s catalog and reputation as a go-to for artisanal Italian wines for over a decade, now spends most of the year in Sicily while scouring the country for cult-worthy juice from under the radar producers. Her team at the shop are extremely knowledgeable, helpful and are capable to surprise any Italian wine aficionado. Although more of a shop than a wine bar, the incredible selection of small-lot, traditional and natural Italian wines can be consumed on the premises: There are a few benches inside to pop open a bottle off the shelf, plus periodic wine tastings with snacks.
When Claudio Villani left InVino, he opened Altovino with the vision to combine seasonal regional Italian food with high-end Italian wines. As Claudio hails from Florence, you should expect the proper homage paid to Tuscany’s regional mascot: Sangiovese. Dusty earth, violet scented plum and cherry Sangio lovers can rejoice alongside a concise list of rosy bramble-like nebbiolo-based bottles from Piedmont and a varied mixed bag of reds and whites from quality, boutique producers from North to South. Come for a bistecca alla Fiorentina (Florentine porterhouse steak) and a bottle of Chianti or Brunello, or taste through other gems with the seasonal-driven pastas. It’s always a good idea to grab a seat in the bar area where a menu full of finger food (commonly known as stuzzichini) and antipasti is available for pairing.
This FiDi sister bar to Perbacco has a drink menu is divided by classic Italian aperitifs like prosecco spritzes, plus a by-the-glass menu with balanced representation of regional wines such as aromatic whites from Northern Friuli to ethereal reds from volcanic soils of Mt. Etna in Sicily. The bar menu offers just enough variety for casual meal with a bowl of fresh tagliatelle pasta smothered in ragu, or a light snacks like chili toasted almonds and bruschetta with whipped ricotta.
Montesacro claims the title as the country’s first pinseria, baking pinsa, a type of oval-shaped multi-grain flatbread pizza from the Roman culinary repertoire thats highly regarded for its superior digestibility (the result of the dough’s fermentation process). For Italians, the typical pairing for pizza is beer or, for fancy gourmands, something bubbly. Montesacro has this cultural code in mind with a decent selection of high acid bubbles, bright whites and not too tannic reds to pair with its flavorful pies. Expect unconventional and off-beat wines, a focus on biodynamic and natural wines highlighted not just from around Italy but including a few wild bottles from Greece and Lebanon.
The hot spot off Divisidero bases its wine worthiness on less mainstream bottles — especially attractive for natural wine seekers — and a balanced list divided by North, Central and Southern Italy. Staff is helpful and knowledgable, especially when it comes to pairing suggestions. While scoring a table at popular Che Fico can be a feat, the bar area is a little less of a mission. Get to the bar early for a pre-dinner glass, or go for a late night snack and split a bottle with a thirsty companion.
There are many reasons to visit Uva Enoteca, not least its weekday happy hour with quaffable glasses for $6 and up, and bites under $10. Another strong reason is the toast topped with jammy, soft boiled eggs and white anchovies, and slathered with chili aioli that changes lives; add a glass (or bottle to split) of the Folicello bianco (unfiltered bubbles from the Emilia-Romagna) and everything which has ever gone wrong will suddenly become right. The comfortable bar area and table seating makes this a prime spot for Italian wine appreciation, as well as for those who believe in food and snack pairing as a necessary ritual.
This mellow wine bistro in the darling Cole Valley district is a safe place for any Italophile. While they have a full menu and bottle list which respects Italy’s culinary tradition, the gem that shines the brightest here is their happy hour. If the sun’s out, sit outside and partake in Italian staples from boards to bruschetta like buffalo milk mozzarella and toasts with spicy ‘nduja, stuzzichini bites like olives and nuts and quality Italian pours. Wine selections are fit for any level of Italian wine appreciator looking for a little snack and sip which are all surprisingly affordable yet consistent with Italian quality standards.
One of the city’s best region-specific Italian restaurants can be found in Noe Valley, showcasing Sardinia, (also known as paradise on earth). The wines produced on this little island off Italy’s main peninsula deserve more attention than they get, as does its cuisine. Sardinia has it all and so does La Ciccia, from big bold age-worthy reds to pair with meaty mains and spaghetti tinged with tomato, caramel-colored, sherry-like wines that are excellent companions to the bottarga that is liberally applied to many dishes, and several bright and fruity Vermentino to complement their seafood offerings.
This quaint neighborhood enoteca in Bernal Heights has an tightly curated list of small production wines and a focus on obscure native grape varieties. It also serves exceptional bar bites like grilled mushrooms topped with burrata, personal pie pizzette, artisanal Italian cheeses like truffle-flecked aged sheep’s milk or triple cream robiola, and top-notch Italian affettati (cured meats). The best deal happens on Sunday evenings when all bottles are half-price.