Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Wine Shopping in San Francisco, Italian Style

I'm warning you right now that you may feel a little shlubby if you wander into the chic wine store Biondivino in San Francisco's Russian Hill neighborhod wearing worn-out yoga pants and a sweatshirt. I was wearing one of my more presentable vacation-type outfits, which is not saying much admittedly, and I still felt underdressed. Biondivino is staffed by young, good looking, and hip people who can climb ladders and pull wine off of vertical displays gracefully. This does not precisely describe me, so I kept pulling at my shirt tails and hoping that no one noticed that I was solely responsible for raising the average age of people in the store by about a decade. (photo of the store's owner, Ceri, doing the death defying ladder crawl at Biondivino, courtesy of Yelp!)

The reason to go to Biondivino is not to feel dumpy or old, however. The reason to go is this: they have an astonishing range of affordable Italian wines for sale. What's more, handy little bright orange tags on the bottles indicate (even if the bottles are way up there and you are way down on the floor) that the wine is under $20.

Because of the layout, the store is not a browsing kind of store. It's not that browsing is prohibited--they were happy to let me stroll around--it's just that you can't just pick up and put down bottles on your own and read the back of labels given that some of them are accessible only by the aforementioned ladder. Instead, you are dependent upon the sales staff to help you out, which might frustrate you if you are used to anonymity in the wine shop. The good news on this front is that the staff knows what they're talking about. I waltzed in and started asking for Sardinian reds and roses from Abruzzo, and (!) a white wine from Basilicata and there was nothing that the store didn't have and the staff knew where it all was, too. At Biondivino they arrange the wines from the north of Italy to the south on vertical shelves, so as long as you (or they) know the geography you can head for more or less the right part of the display. I kept insisting that maybe the Pecorino I reviewed yesterday was actually from Le Marche, and they just shook their heads, smiled, and said firmly that it really was from Abruzzo. (Once I got the bottle in my hands and checked the back label I had to admit they were right.)

You can find a regional list of their offerings here and see for yourself what an excellent assortment of Italian bottles they have. I can't get the search function to work on their website, so you have to browse this list for a sense of what the store carries. They are happy to special order wine for you, and the day I visited the shop a special party was being arranged for some customers--so it's definitely a full-service wine store. They even do private tasting events for 10-15 people at their big, central table. If you are in San Francisco and looking for a fun idea for a birthday, anniversary, or even a "just for the hell of it" event, this might be a good option for you.

Biondivino is located at 1415 Green Street at the intersection of Green and Polk--aka the food and wine danger zone. If you're out and about in the Russian Hill neighborhood one day, stop in and see what Ceri's got in stock. I would have no hesitation in contacting her with any Italian wine questions you might have, and inquire about whether she can ship to you if you aren't in the area. I saw wines in that small store that I have not seen anywhere else, and I've not had a bad bottle yet from the small stash I purchased.


Alfonso Cevola said...

nice store, thanks for telling us about it.

Italian Wine Blog said...


Try feeling a little "schlubby" popping around the corner for a newspaper.

Expat living in Italy here, I've never been thinner or used so much hair gel :D

The store looks wonderful though.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. I'll check out the store. By the way, San Franciscans are incredibly picky about neighborhood names. The intersection of Green and Polk is more properly Lower Russian Hill or even Tenderloin Heights.

Dr. Debs said...

Thanks, everybody. I'll be interested to hear what you think once you've been there. And thanks for the fine tuning on the neighborhood designation, Anonymous. Can you tell I don't live in SF??