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In Vino Veritas - Wine Bars Pour It On

by Jim Provenzano
Monday Oct 10, 2011
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"In wine is truth," or so said Plato, or perhaps Pliny the Elder, depending on your sources. Either way, were those ancient philosophers alive today, they’d probably be bewildered by the current array of wines available, specifically in San Francisco.

As our wonderful photo-model crew of ace photographer Georg Lester and costume designer Matthew Simmons arranged our gorgeous cover model Vincent in various poses at the cozy back yard of Swirl on Castro, I took a short break to marvel at the array of wines available at the stylish shop.

Owner Jerry Cooper opened his business in early 2006 with his partner Chris Von Laufen. Known as McDonally’s Liquor Express since the 1950s, the venue received a much-need renovation.

"Along with Thursday tastings, we do flights (three varieties of wines) at events," said Cooper. The former wine director for Kimpton’s Hotels knows his bottles. He also spent a decade as on the San Francisco Chronicle’s wine-tasting panel.

The shop/bar has a homey feel, and the tasting table is done in a subtle tile design. As we continued the photo shoot, friends of the owners popped to the back yard, even with a tiny dog (who seemed momentarily confused by Vincent’s faux-fur).

Back inside, half a dozen patrons enjoyed sipping a deeply delicious Syrah, while a staff member helped a customer choose a dinner wine. Tasting aren’t just for getting a buzz on. Patrons learn about fine wines without a stuffy lecture. Events focus on specific wines, be they from New Zealand, Spain, or California.

"We have everything, including French, Argentinian and Austrian wines," said Cooper. "About half of our wines are from California, Oregon and Washington, so we keep a global variety."

As we continued the photo shoot, friends of the owners popped to the back yard, even with a tiny dog (who seemed momentarily confused by Vincent’s faux-fur).

If you want to ’go green’ while buying some reds, Swirl is the place for biodynamically-produced wines, that is, those produced without pesticides or chemicals. About 40 percent of their stock is biodynamic.

And if you’re looking to broaden your home bar, or preparing for a festive event, Swirl also has a fascinating variety of spirits as well. From locally-owned Encanto Pisco to designer bottles of gin and vodka, you can find the perfect beverage, including beer, for hosting a party yourself, or as a stylish present when attending as a guest. Gift baskets and party consultation are also benefits that you won’t find at your average corner liquor store. The global variety combined with local diversity, as well as its friendly ambiance, are what make Swirl a whirl. Swirl on Castro, 572 Castro Street at 19th. 864-2262. www.swirloncastro.com

Also in the Castro district, Blush Wine Bar also offers an expansive array of wines, and a delicious menu of light antipasti (tapenade, cheese plates), salads and entrée dishes. Along with artisan-made and imported ingredients, the bar also stocks a variety of beers. White, red, rose and sparking wines are served by the glass ($8-$15) or by the bottle ($22 for a Matanzas Creek Chardonnay to $100 for a 2007 Domaine Duclaux La Germine Cote-Rotie).

The bar’s deep red and ochre walls make a great backdrop for their frequent art exhibitions with opening receptions. Currently up are Paul Morin’s interesting oil and silver leaf portraits (through October 27). Each Thursday, enjoy live music from 7:30pm-10pm with Doug Martin’s Avatar Ensemble. And for your weekend friend gatherings, Blush’s brunches are tempting, from Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and goat cheese to Croque Monsieur and Alsatian pizza.
Blush Wine Bar, 476 Castro Street. 558-0893. www.blushwinebar.com

Although it focuses on California wines, Castro Village Wine Company also sells a lot of labels, and hosts tasting events on occasion. Open since 1980, the shop offers a variety of brands, from lavish bottles to quality labels for under $30. Wine tastings take place Fridays through Sundays. A recent focusing on Oregon wines offered ten different wines for $20. Castro Village Wine Company, 4121 19th St. 864-4411. www.castrowine.com

For an austere and stylish tasting, the Castro’s new jewelry store D&H Jewelers showcases sustainable jewelry, and hosts frequent tastings with a deliberate singularity. One brand is offered per tasting at the shop’s rear Rose Cut Wine Bar, up a few stairs, and open since August. In addition to selling fascinating new designs, D&H offers custom designs, repairs, and gold and platinum recycling in exchange for jewelry or cash. You can even order a wine flight while you wait.

Like its jewelry, the wines showcased at D&H are part of the new sustainable perspective. Said D&H Co-Owner Lindsay Daunell, "There are many vineyards using unique and innovative wine making techniques-solar power, downhill filtration, and the like. We would like to recognize the environmentally conscious pioneers of the wine industry." Wine bar hours are Thursday and Friday 3pm-7pm, Saturday 12pm-7pm and Sunday 12pm-5pm. D&H, 2323 Market St. 500-2550. www.DNHjewelers.com

If you work downtown, or you’re looking for a classy early evening tasting, Visiting Vintners at The Press Club hosts weekly events with by-the-glass offering and tastings. The stylish décor goes great with business-attired professionals looking to kick back before heading home or to an event at nearly Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Tastings are each Thursday from 6pm-9pm. Several brands are biodynamic and sustainable and California and Nevada wines are a specialty. The Press Club’s menu includes appetizer plates of meats, cheeses, seafood and antipasti, as well as pizzas, crepes and desserts. The Press Club, 20 Yerba Buena Lane between Market Street and Mission, and next door to the Contemporary Jewish Museum. 744-5000. www.PressClubSF.com

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