When your time or transportation options are limited, it can be tough to arrange a tasting excursion. Fortunately, as the gateway to wine country, San Francisco offers a number of convenient options for sampling fine Sonoma and Napa Valley selections. The following are five superior tasting rooms that are only a short walk (or Uber) from the city’s center. From the chateau that started it all to a collective of small producers, these urban tasting rooms bring the wine country experience directly to the downtown crowd.
Chateau Montelena Tasting Room
335 Powell Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Hours: Daily, 1:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Any in-town tasting should begin with Chateau Montelena, the producer that catapulted California wines onto the world stage in 1976 with a Napa Valley Chardonnay that beat the best France had to offer at the historic Judgment of Paris blind tasting. The Calistoga winery pours recent vintages of its celebrated white alongside award-winning estate Cabernets, Zinfandels and other cellar selections at an intimate tasting room inside the Westin St. Francis on Union Square for just $25 per person, no reservations required. The Chateau Montelena Tasting Room serves seven days a week, and — as Chateau founder and master of understatement Jim Barrett remarked back in ’76 — the wines are “Not bad for kids from the sticks.”
CellarMaster club members can take advantage of free tastings and first dibs on new releases of Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, its most coveted selection.
326 Brannan Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
Hours: Tuesday–Friday, 4:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m.
Boutique wines from the Jackson family’s Calistoga vineyard take the spotlight at this cozy SoMa tasting room, with samplings served on a happy hour-only schedule around the patio fire pit starting at $30. Less than 10,000 cases of JAX estate wines are produced each year, on average, while bottles in its more affordable Y3 line showcase the nuances of specific varietals sourced elsewhere in Napa under the oversight of renowned vintner Kirk Venge. Private tastings and group packages are available, and all arrive paired with local artisanal cheeses.
Warm-weather wine tasters should check out the Provençal-style JAX Y3 Pinot Noir Rosé, a bone-dry blush that pairs well with goat cheese.
JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset Tasting Lounge
Ritz-Carlton San Francisco
600 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Hours: Monday–Thursday, 12:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m.; Friday–Sunday, 12:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
The opulent JCB by Jean-Charles Boisset Tasting Lounge is a velvet-swathed jewel box of a room inside the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco that offers tastings of rare and exclusive vintages daily. Patrons are invited to choose from the lounge’s $50, $75 and $100 curated flights, with equally indulgent noshes from the adjacent Parallel 37 restaurant; they can also pick their own oenophile adventure from the Boisset Family Estates holdings, which includes seven California wineries and 11 French labels. A $500 club membership grants access to the JCB Collection’s most coveted wines, and includes a complementary bottle of The Surrealist by JCB, a silky $350 Napa Valley red blend. A retail boutique features a range of JCB-branded items and high-end lifestyle accessories such as Baccarat crystal and Assouline coffee-table tomes. Reservations are recommended.
For an over-the-top California experience, try Parallel 37’s white sturgeon caviar with lobster essence alongside the lounge’s five-pour Ultimate JCB flight.
Wattle Creek Winery Tasting Room
900 North Point Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
Hours: Monday–Saturday, 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.; Sundays, 11:00 a.m.–7:30 p.m.
An unexpected respite from touristy Ghirardelli Square, the newly redesigned Wattle Creek Winery Tasting Room offers generous pours of its estate-crafted, Aussie-style Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and “Triple Play” blend alongside curated selections from other vintners in a chic, midcentury modern setting. Now part of the Boisset portfolio, the Alexander Valley winery offers three levels of club membership, all of which offer members-only release and pickup parties at the San Francisco tasting room and generous discounts on purchases, tours, tastings and cheese pairings.
Staying in San Francisco a while? Members can sample free of charge at the tasting room with the purchase of a single bottle each month.
485 Jefferson Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
Hours: Daily, 12:00 p.m.–9:00 p.m.
Not far from Fisherman’s Wharf, the rustic Winery Collective Tasting Room is designed for discovery. Starting at $15, suggested tasting flights change daily and offer four to five pours from more than two dozen limited-batch vintners located throughout California, including AP Vin, Arnot-Roberts, Castoro Cellars, Copain Wines, Eric Kent, Longboard, Sol Rouge, Twisted Oak and Viader; staffers can also recommend custom flights based on personal preferences. Walk-ins are welcome; reservations suggested for large groups.
Winery Collective’s stewards are savants of the small brands; ask for their recommendations in creating a custom flight.