A Wine Store for the People

25 Dec

I love Berkeley.

Actually, let me qualify that statement a bit: I have a love-hate relationship with Berkeley. But, as they say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” So, being at home now for nearly a year and five months, working at LegalZoom.com, I love Berkeley now more than I hate it.

One of the great things about Berkeley is the abundance of absolutely wonderful food and drink. There is a culture of organic produce, slow cooking, artisanal craftsmanship, and good living.

There are a lot of wine shops in Berkeley or in the surrounding areas. Kermit Lynch is the one everybody knows about–he imports all those small French producers and sells them retail at his store on San Pablo. Then there are Vino! locations everywhere–one on College in Oakland, another on Solano, one off of Fourth Street in Berkeley, another in San Francisco. The Andronico’s market on North Shattuck (accessible on the 7 or 9 buses, for you college kids!) is also surprisingly good.

I want to focus on “A Wine Store for the People”–Vintage Berkeley, which is appropriately on Vine Street near the original Peet’s Coffee:

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(My apologies for blatantly ripping off this picture from the Vintage Berkeley webpage!)

The store itself is housed in a former water pumping station, which makes entering the place a whimsical experience (if only there were special pipes that carried wine instead of water… try taking a bath in that, eh?).

Vintage Berkeley has wines that I’ve never seen anywhere else. It has selections from super-small growers from California and all around the world. It’s one place where you will be able to find the elusive txakolina, a Spanish (specifically Basque) white wine that is not always but usually a bit effervescent. Originally reserved for Basque royalty, txakolina is now ubiquitous in the tapas bars of the region. Txakolina is usually off-dry, with a pronounced mineral quality. It’s very refreshing, especially on a summer day.

The appeal of Vintage Berkeley is that most of the wines are below $20. The txakolina, for instance, is around $14. You can also sometimes find gems like the Shotfire Ridge Shiraz, a delicious powerful wine from the Barossa Valley of Australia, on the “clearance rack” for a few bucks off.

They have wine tastings in the afternoon, though I never was able to make it to any for various reasons. The salespeople are very friendly, young, and very enthusiastic.

Not all is rosé, however. Vintage Berkeley is hit or miss with its wines–some are very, very good (like the Pie Franco Rueda verdejo from Blanco Nieva or the txakolina) while others–despite salesperson recommendations–are simply terrible. The prices are right, however, so on the balance you’re still coming up ahead.

Also, the salespeople are very young and are probably just starting out in wine like me. One observation is that they seem to use “stone fruit” to describe every single white wine! But hey, at least you won’t be confronted with pretension! They’re so friendly you’ll forget you’re in a wine store.

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