|Sommeliers walk among us in San Francisco|
What I want you to consider is the question in the headline. Where does San Francisco rank among world wine cities?
First, a little perspective. San Francisco is the 14th largest city in the United States, just behind Jacksonville, Florida and just ahead of Columbus, Ohio. Yarrow gives an incomplete list of at least 59 San Francisco restaurants that have a sommelier working the floor. For a city of its size, that seems pretty good to me, though I'd like to see the numbers for Jacksonville.
Most reasonable people would put San Francisco without much debate among the top 4 American cities for wine, along with New York (10x bigger), Los Angeles (4.6x bigger) and Chicago (3.2x bigger). A DC resident could make an argument for Washington. I think most wine people would put LA, Chicago and DC, despite their many great restaurants, behind San Francisco for wine culture. Just ask the many foreign wine producers who make San Francisco a key stop on their American tour itineraries. But feel free to make a counter-argument in the comments.
That leads me to non-American cities. How many cities, in the entire world, might be better for wine culture?
First, let's define "wine culture."
Most of those play a role. When we talk about "wine culture," aren't we talking about how wine is integrated into the life of the city? It's not primarily about the people selling it -- it's more about the people buying it. If you have enough of the latter, the former will come along.*
(*Hence by saying San Francisco has a "brain drain" leaving its wine culture dying, the carpetbagger is not only saying its remaining sommeliers are worthless dumbasses; he's saying much the same about its wine drinkers.)
Here in San Francisco I can go to a bar and get a glass of old-vine Loire Gamay or a carafe of 7-year-old Australian Riesling. I can go to a retail store that has 4 pages of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noirs. These wines are here because San Franciscans buy them. Sheltered New Yorkers, do you want to see what a "rubber stamp" wine list really looks like? Read this.
People who do actual research have concerns about the current state of the male millennial wine market. Men in their 20s are choosing craft beer in situations where their predecessors drank wine. This is going on nationwide, but if one was in San Francisco looking for trends, one might see it here and blame the city.
|San Francisco sommeliers: they're everywhere!|
I digress. What other cities in the entire world are in San Francisco's class for wine culture?
You have to put Paris on the list if you're a Francophile, though good luck finding any wines from south of the equator. One can make an argument for London, with its strong tradition of smart retailers and its consumers willing to drink 5-quid wine from anywhere.
Where else in Europe? Italy has fabulous wines nationwide but there's no one city that drinks widely outside its region. I was just in Florence: great northern Italian wines with reasonable markups, which is terrific, but it's not at all international. I would make an argument for Italy as the country with the world's greatest wine culture, but that's a different question. Spain and Portugal are even more insular. German wine drinkers are savvy, but it's a beer culture.
How about outside Europe? The last time I was in Sydney it was almost impossible to find non-Australian wines, but last year I was in Brisbane and discovered the country has started drinking more wine from abroad. So maybe Sydney deserves consideration. Also, Australian wines are terrific and we don't get most of the good ones here.
But where else? Hong Kong has a great auction scene but isn't an easy place to get a good glass of wine. Tokyo, hah, I lived there, don't make me laugh.
Here's my entire list of cities in the world that might -- might -- have better wine culture than San Francisco: London, New York, Paris, Sydney. You can add Chicago and LA if you like. Or more: can you name 10 cities with better wine culture than San Francisco? Give it a shot.
And let's take a poll. This blog is read internationally and less than half of my readers are in California. Where do you think San Francisco ranks among world wine cities?