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San Francisco Wine Bar: VinoRosso

vinorosso_logo.jpgIn my utopian future, every neighborhood has its own little wine bar where locals can congregate to share a glass of wine with friends and gossip about the goings on within a ten or twelve block radius. Of course if we all lived in small towns in France or Italy, we wouldn't need to fantasize about such institutions, we would have grown up with them. But alas, here we are in San Francisco, and we have to make our own bits of the old world come to life.

For a time, I very nearly was about to take matters into my own hands and actually open a wine bar myself on my local main street, Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights. It's probably good that Vega Freeman-Bradley and her husband Giuseppe beat me to it -- I'd much rather drink wine than serve it. VinoRosso is as close to an old world Enoteca as you can get in San Francisco, down to its genial owners who often have their baby son slung over their hips as they serve their mostly local clientele. Like many of those old world drinking establishments, VinoRosso comes with its own quirks. Despite having about twenty seats maximum, the service is friendly but can sometimes be atrociously slow, especially when there are more than a few tables full. The cheese plates and salami plates are done well, but experiments with other hot dishes in the tiny countertop kitchen seem to not work out so well.

Lucky patrons who find the owners waiting on them will have their questions about the wines answered http://www.vinography.com/archives/images/vinorosso-thumb.jpg accurately and with aplomb, but the young help that fill in for the owners on some nights vary widely in their knowledge of the wines on the list, and even wine in general.

The wine list is one of the bar's more redeeming features, particularly in its length, offering 15 or so whites, about 40 reds, and a half-dozen sparklers and dessert wines by the glass or by the reasonably priced bottle (3x the glass price). All but four or five of the wines on the list are from Italy or Sicily and range widely across the various regions and appellations of the country. And if your head is swimming after looking through the list and you care to browse by the label, the wine racks are nearby (though this means that the wines are not stored in a temperature controlled area -- connoisseurs beware).

The fact that VinoRosso is stumbling distance from my front door, means that I'm somewhat of a regular customer there, as are many of the wine lovers in Bernal Heights. The size of the place, the casual atmosphere (which can often include one or more strollers and a couple of kids playing on the cement floor) and the humble offerings of wine and food mean that this bar isn't worthy of being a destination for folks outside the 94110 zip code. For those of us in Bernal and the Inner Mission, however, it's a friendly place to stop by.

WINE LIST: two stars

STEMWARE: one star

SERVICE: one and a half stars

FOOD: one star

ATMOSPHERE: two stars

OVERALL: two stars

629 Cortland Ave
San Francisco, CA
(415) 647-1268

Open 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM Tuesdays through Sundays. Closed on Mondays.

Typically the bar offers Italian conversation with a local teacher between 4 and 7 on Tuesdays, and a kid friendly "Wine and Whiners" service early on Wednesday nights.

Parking in the area is reasonably easy to find in the residential streets just off Cortland, just be careful about blocking driveways. One of them might be mine!

Comments (13)

Vinewords wrote:
03.29.07 at 7:04 AM

Amazing how geography has such an effect on things like this. Here in Colorado Springs, I would be happy with a neighborhood wine bar of any sort. There are a couple in town, but they're all downtown, and really aren't so much of a wine bar as a restaurant with a decent wine list.


Alder wrote:
03.29.07 at 10:33 PM


Yes we live in our own little world of priveledge here in San Francisco. Of course, we don't get to see the Aspens turn color on the slopes of Pikes Peak in the fall, though. So it's not all perfect.

Jerri wrote:
03.30.07 at 7:38 AM

"(though this means that the wines are not stored in a temperature controlled area -- connoisseurs beware)"

Think back to all the wine shops you've been to over the years, even your favorite. How often do you see wine stored in a temperature controlled area? Yes, you may occasionally come across a giant wine cooler filled with the great burgundies and bordeauxs. And yes, Moore Brothers Wine Company is entirely temperature controlled. But those are the exceptions. I don't think it's fair to criticize the lack of temperature control when everywhere we shop for wine is lacking temperature control. Not to mention the trucks and ships transporting wines are quite often not temperature controlled. I could go on... My point is that we need to take our textbook and burn it in our fireplace, but not too close to our wines!

Gianna wrote:
03.30.07 at 3:37 PM

2 stars?? The casual atmosphere makes it an undesirable destination for people outside of Bernal? Says who? I don't know about you but I don't run around town looking for an uptight wine bar. VinoRosso is a great chill place to split an appetizer and a bottle of wine with friends. Check it out.

Alder wrote:
03.30.07 at 3:54 PM


Thanks for your comments. Yes, just two stars out of five. I eat at two star, one star, and no stars restaurants near my house all the time and really enjoy them. Now, would I go across town for them? Probably not.

VinoRosso is a nice place, but anyone looking for a great wine bar experience that happens to live, say, in Russian Hill will find better wine bars that are much closer to them. Which is part of what I mean when I say it's not a destination. The fact that the service in particular is so casual means that if someone is looking for a "night out" will be disappointed with the service. Great place to grab a drink with a neighbor who you just ran into at the grocery store, lousy place for a date. If you get my drift.

I hope you continue to patronize VinoRosso, as I will.

Alder wrote:
03.31.07 at 10:13 AM


Point made. But I realize I may not have been explicit enough about the situation in this bar. It's very small. And the entire front of the place is floor to ceiling windows into which the sun shines for several hours each day. I don't believe the place even has air conditioning (I could be wrong about that). While not ever wine store I patronize has all their wine in a cooler, they do crank the AC and the wine is not in the front window.

Also, it's worth noting that it is, in fact, much more common for wine bars to store their wine in a temperature controlled environment. Most of the best wine bars in San Francisco do, for instance.

Sara wrote:
04.13.07 at 8:23 PM

I personally would (and have) driven across town to go to Vinorosso. Friendly service is their FORTE, so I don't know what all the fuss is about. Also, the owners know most of their customers REALLY well and are GREAT at suggesting wines. Also, they've changed the hot pasta dishes, now it's almost always homemade lasagna, and it's DELICIOUS. Get your facts straight before slamming a place.

Sara wrote:
04.13.07 at 9:06 PM

I agree with Sara. Vinorosso is a great place, I do live in the neighborhood and go there all the time but all my friends meet me there from all over the place, and they've all loved it. Also, I don't know what's up with the one star food rating. The food is amazing! They have the best (and best priced) cheese plates, mozzerella and prosciuto, Fra Mani Salami, homemade lasagna and tiramisu. My advice: give it a try for yourself. I'm sure you'll disagree with Adler!

Kyle wrote:
04.13.07 at 11:00 PM

You bloggers really have nothing better to do with your lives than single out small mom and pop shops and trash them. It bothers me that blogs tend to prefer restaurants that have multi million dollar investors behind them. Vinorosso is run by a husband and wife that just moved to the States from Italy. Their wines are always at the right tempurature if you ask me, and honestly, I don't need a wine that's stored in a $10,000 temperature controlled wine celler. What I want is a good glass of wine (might I add Vinorosso's pours are 6.5 oz vs. the usual 5 oz pour) in a nice environment, and maybe some good cheese and prosciuto to go with it. That's just what Vinorosso offers.

Alder wrote:
04.13.07 at 11:09 PM

How interesting. Sara agrees with Sara, and Kyle agrees with Sara, and none of them left their e-mail addresses to prove that they're real people with different opinions.

Apparently none of them actually read my review either, which hardly trashes this place. As I mentioned, I am a somewhat regular customer. But as someone who has visited nearly every wine bar in San Francisco, this is far from the best one on any count.

And Kyle, I'll bet you a million bucks you wouldn't know 6.5 ounces (or 5 ounces) of wine by sight if your life depended on it, and to suggest that Vinorosso regularly pours 1.5 ounces more "than average" is ridiculous.

kyle wrote:
04.14.07 at 2:25 PM

Yes, I am a real person, and yes, I can tell the difference between a 6.5 oz pour and a 5 oz pour...considering a taste at ANY wine bar is 2 oz. In any case, I bet you've never tried the food there because it's really good. next time you go, get the speck and mozzerella, or the burrata. This place isn't trying to be pretentious or elegant. It's a nice, layed back place to have generous glass glass of wine and a GREAT plate of cheeses.

Alder wrote:
04.14.07 at 10:44 PM


Thanks for coming out of anonymity. I've had cheese and charcuterie plates at VinoRosso. Decent but nothing special, and certainly not GREAT. If you want a GREAT cheese plate with your wine bar experience, go to CAV.

Yes, a taste at any wine bar is about 2 ounces and a glass at any wine bar is 5 or 6. Same at VinoRosso. What's your point? Are you suggesting that they have a specific policy to pour exactly 1.5 ounces of wine "more than average" ?

Or are you merely trying to suggest that they don't skimp on their pours, which is a fair statement to make (and true in my experiences there), and much more believable than "every pour is 6.5 ounces."

P.S. I've never met anyone who could look at a random wineglass of wine and tell me how much liquid is in it even to the nearest ounce, let alone half-ounce.

Judge Crater wrote:
04.20.07 at 4:46 PM

Alder, I just stumbled on this post. I didn't realize you lived in my neck of the woods.

I love having VinoRosso on Cortland but I think your overall description is fair.

You're right, it's a great bar to have here in Bernal but I don't consider it a destination location.

I might give them another star for wine list selection, but that's probably because I'm thankful I can buy bottles there that aren't stocked at Good Life or Bev Mo.

I note the bottle of Rubico I brought there was the same price as at Weimax, so the mark up seems fair.

I wonder if your friends Sara, Sara, and Kyle post on the Bernal Heights Parents list? While it's a great community forum, discussions there can sometimes devolve like this.


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