The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
5050 Arroyo Road
Livermore, CA 94550
Overseeing an extensive wine list which Wine Spectator names for Best Award of Excellence year after year, Sommelier Jorge Tinoco pairs fine wine with gourmet cuisine from Chef Matt Greco. Jorge explains that extensive and frequent meetings and tastings are held to review six or more possible pairings with every new dish. Due to the close connection between the grapes at source and The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards with its organic garden, Jorge says that, “a stronger communication between chef, kitchen, wine and servers allows the wine to shine.” He emphasizes that a dining experience at a winery is one with more focus placed on wines via intense training for everyone involved. Currently, Tinoco is enrolled at the Court of Master Sommeliers pursuing his Masters in Wine.
1517 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94709
Credited as the inspiration for farm-to-table California cuisine from its 1971 beginnings, Alice Waters’ classic trendsetter restaurant, Chez Panisse, shines forth on the wine front as well. British-born wine director Jonathan Waters has been involved with the beverage operation at the restaurant since 1984. The Zinfandel Festival, an annual December fixture since 1982, has seen Waters suggesting such pairings as liquid squid ragout, spit-roasted pork loin and buttermilk panna cotta with poached pears. Among the 200-strong wine list, there has always been a California house Zin, currently Napa’s 2009 Green & Red from Chiles Canyon Vineyard.
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Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard
39 S. Livermore Ave.
Livermore, CA 94550
Chinese cuisine may not first come to mind for wine pairings, but there is no question that Sommelier Nick Liang has assembled one of the best wine lists in the East Bay. Nick’s knack of pairing Asian dishes with French and local wines and his brilliant wine notes makes him one of the area’s best sommeliers, enjoying a devoted following. Nick is a fan of Kalin Cellars, a small, family-owned winery producing 7,000 cases out of Novato in Marin County. He says the 1995 Chardonnay Cuvée W is “like a Grand Cru white Burgundy except it’s made in California in deep gravel soil instead of limestone.” He calls the 1998 Sémillon from Kalin Cellars paired with crab, “the best Bordeaux-like Blanc outside France, tasting thick, fat with a concentrated, deep, complex and energetic personality.” A Gamay sparkling rosé, Vin du Bugey-Cerdon from Savoie, is described as a “firework” when accompanying a mango, passion fruit and raspberry sorbet dipped in white chocolate.
Related: Let’s Explore Livermore
5478 College Ave.
Oakland, CA 94618
Casual dining and late nights, plus an extensive and diverse wine list, make this a top pick for those in Rockridge lucky enough to call this Mediterranean spot their neighborhood place. Manager and wine director, Jeff Berlin, has assembled bottles of whites from Slovakia and Slovenia and reds from Lebanon and Turkey. Jeff is known for developing appreciation for Austrian and Hungarian regional wines, sharing that excitement with staff and clientele. He indicates that these are not wines that will be found in any other California restaurant. The California wine list here is very brief, but you can try a flight of Viennese Zierfandler white which turns red just before harvest or a flight of Tuscan craft beers.
1522 N. Main St.
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
Regulars and critics alike call the 1,300-label cellar of 15,000 bottles, 30-50 selections by the glass and adjoining wine shop “remarkable.” Awards are regularly bestowed on behalf of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Zagat, San Francisco Chronicle and more. Wine director and co-owner, John Rittmaster, stocks an A-list which boasts an impressive selection of Italian, Spanish and Australian wines as well as a showcase of a few California wines. Formerly associated with Robert Mondavi, John joined Prima in 1994, creating a full-service wine merchant which includes eclectic, artisan wines from small producers. So, if you like what was served at dinner, simply take a bottle home.
Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. A transplanted New Yorker, she has traveled throughout the world as the Big Apple’s official tourism representative. She served as organizer for three Royal Visits to America. As an international relocation consultant, Laurie assisted more than 400 families with overseas moves and is a proud mother of two, thoroughly bi-cultural children. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.