There is a lot to be said for wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma counties. It’s scenic, there is an abundance of wineries and it can be a day trip from San Francisco.
However, if you want to spend less time in the car and avoid the hordes of tourists, a trip over the Bay Bridge is all you need to make. It may not have the rows of vineyards, but the East Bay has enough wineries to keep you busy for an afternoon.
Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda was one of the earliest to set up shop. That was in 1978. Now there are more than 20 producers scattered throughout Berkeley and Oakland, and most have tasting rooms. Should you find yourself craving some local juice, these are the ones not to miss:
Dashe Cellars: 55 Fourth St., Oakland
Mike and Anne Dashe made wine in a building near Rosenblum before moving into this space eight years ago. Known for zinfandel, Dashe makes four, including three terrific single-vineyard wines — Louveau, Florence and Todd Brothers — that provide a fantastic comparison not only of terroir but also of the stylistic differences of this grape. The biodynamic Les Enfants Terribles wines are a bonus, as is the cabernet sauvignon.
JC Cellars: 55 Fourth St., Oakland
If you are going to Dashe, you might as well try JC Cellars since the two share the same facility. Compared to Dashe, the wines are a bit more lavish. Whether or not that is your thing, comparing the different winemaking styles is educational.
Stage Left: 2102 Dennison St., Oakland
Stage Left is of a similar ilk to JC Cellars in terms of style, though the two are hardly identical. The highlight for me here is The Emcee 2010 ($26), a mourvedre from the Vogelzang vineyard in Santa Barbara that tastes a lot like a multiberry fruit roll with Red Hots.
Broc Cellars: 805 Camelia St., Berkeley
Broc Cellars is moving to a larger facility down the street, but the current tasting room is big enough for a handful of people. Everyone I know who is familiar with these wines seems to have a different favorite. Currently, I’m loving the 2011 Cassia Grenache ($27) from the Martian Vineyard in Santa Barbara County. It’s a vibrant, juicy and spicy wine that will lift your palate instead of weighing it down.
Donkey and Goat Winery: 1340 Fifth St., Berkeley
Donkey and Goat is around the corner from Broc Cellars. Both share a similar philosophy of minimal intervention and making wines with moderate alcohol levels. The wines are solid, but I’ve never had any that have wowed me until now. The culprit would be the 2010 Recluse Broken Leg Vineyard ($40), an elegant syrah from the Anderson Valley that possesses a cornucopia of black pepper, bacon, boysenberries, orange rind, bright acidity, and delightful and chalky tannins.
Most of these tasting rooms charge a nominal fee, but it may be waived with a purchase.
Pamela S. Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.