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San Francisco Wine Bar: The Hidden Vine

hiddenvine_card.jpgThe atmosphere of wine bars can vary as wildly as the flavors and aromas of wine, ranging from pub-like and raucous to modern and reserved. Somewhere in between is a zone that is distinctively cozy, and it is here that the little nook known as The Hidden Vine can be best described. If there weren't a sign outside saying it is a wine bar, patrons walking down the stairs from the entrance off Cosmo Place in Nob Hill might think themselves mistakenly entering the drawing room of a private club.

Plush chairs, coffee tables, and ornate paisley carpet are ensconced within yellow and cream colored walls lit by candles and muted colored lampshades. It would be easy for this same interior to feel stuffy under different circumstances, but the casual pile of wine magazines in the corner, small figures made out of wine corks on the mantelpiece, and quirky design elements like the faux stained glass windows out to the street make The Hidden Vine feel more like a room in someone's home than anything else.

That home, or at least the homey feel, is the responsibility of David and Angela Cahill, relatively recent transplants from the East Coast who decided to leave their careers as consultants for their love of food and wine. You'll quite often find one or both of them at your service as you settle down for a quiet drink with friends or take one of the few seats at the tiny wooden bar, and this is a very good thing. Both owners have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the wines they offer, and are very good at helping patrons navigate their way to something enjoyable.

The Hidden Vine's wine list is made up of a set of selections grouped around a given theme that changes monthly, plus a more static bottle list, some of which can be ordered by the glass. On my most recent visit, the theme was wines from the Loire Valley in France, represented by four whites, two sparkling, and three red wines that were available by the glass, by the bottle, and in one of several flights of two to three wines. In addition to the Loire wines, a flight of Tempranillo based wines was also on offer, as well as a couple of two-wine comparison flights that offered an opportunity to try the flavors of the new world and the old world side by side.

The bottle list offers fifty or sixty wines from around the world, with an emphasis on California and with a bias http://www.vinography.com/archives/images/hiddenvine_bar-thumb.jpgtowards lesser known producers. It's rare that I see California producers on a wine list that I've never heard of before, but there were two or three on there that I had to make a mental note to look up when I got home. Refreshingly, the bottle list also includes some wines that have a little more age on them (we're not talking library wines here, just some 2000 and 2001 vintages) instead of being chock full of only the latest releases that are too young to be drinking well.

Annoyingly, the menus only offer wines by the full six ounce pour or as a flight of three two ounce pours, but luckily the owners are more than happy to offer any wine by the half-glass as well. All the wines ordered by the glass come in large, varietally appropriate glasses, and are served up with as little or as much supplementary information as you care to inquire after from the owners.

Should you want something to eat with your wine, a selection of (pleasingly above average) domestic and imported gourmet cheeses are available, along with charcuterie selections -- each accompanied by a generous pile of sliced baguette rounds, dried fruit, and an interesting fruit and spice chutney. Chocolates are also available for those who are looking to indulge a sweet tooth.

The vibe at the Hidden Vine can best be described as low key. True to its name, this little wine bar lives a somewhat secretive existence in the back corner of the Fitzgerald Hotel, and can easily feel like your own private club on slow nights, a welcome reprieve from the bustle and grime of the nearby theatre district.

WINE LIST: three stars

STEMWARE: three and a half stars

SERVICE: four stars

FOOD: two stars

ATMOSPHERE: three and a half stars

OVERALL: three and a half stars

The Hidden Vine
1/2 Cosmo Place (at Taylor Street)
or 620 Post Street (map)
San Francisco, CA 94109

Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:00 PM until Late (Midnight during the week, and 2:00 AM Fridays and Saturdays). No reservations accepted or required.

Street parking is tough, but there is a valet lot just outside the entrance on Cosmo Place (shared with nearby Le Colonial restaurant. The bar is also within a block of MUNI lines 2, 3, 4, and 38 and is about 1.5 blocks from the Powell-Hyde and Mason-Powell Cable Car lines.

Dress is casual.

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