Tofino Wines: Wine Shop, Bar & Hangout in Laurel Heights

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Partners Mark Nevin and April Sack opened Tofino Wines this March, which made our 10 Hottest Bars Now list for its unique setting, strong wine selection and notable emphasis as wine hangout/bar as much as it is a retail wine merchant. Alongside an ever-changing, stellar by-the-glass wine list and bottle selection, sherry lovers will delight in the growing sherry section and the fact that the shop was named after Admiral Vicente Tofiño de San Miguel y Wanderiales, a Spanish cartographer from Cádiz, Spain, the center of sherry production. Encouraging lingering and engagement in the huge, 2500 sq. ft. space, Nevin and Sack spend time with customers, ready to help select a bottle or glass. They also serve a high quality menu of bites and snacks, will offer wine and sherry sessions and tastings and welcome groups of friends to utilize the roomy space. Oh, and did we mention the excellent wines — focused  on small, family-run estates in California, France, Italy and Spain? Here are a few initial highlights — in wine, food and space.

2696 Geary Blvd.; 415-872-5782

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A charcuterie plate comes in a couple sizes ($10/18) and may feature the likes of finocchiona (Tuscan-style fennel salami), Spanish chorizo and fantastic Alle-Pia ‘Nduja (spicy Calabrese pork spread) from San Luis Obispo.

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Behold Tofino’s neatly organized and well-laid out selection of wines, Champagne and a few craft beers. The lofty space recalls a small town train station in Spain or France — complete with vintage French railway station lights. The clean lines of the wine shop face a cafe area with walnut tables, underscored by original 1920’s terra cotta tile floors. A storage vault in the back is enclosed in glass, serving as a private tasting and storage room.

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From grilled cheese sandwich ($10) to crostinis, all bread is from Marla Bakery, a bit further west in the Outer Richmond. Bellwether Farms ricotta crostini ($7) immediately stands out, delicate yet richly gratifying. A touch of orange blossom honey and fresh thyme adds sweet and aromatic notes to fluffy ricotta on warm, soft yet crispy bread. You might pair it with the likes of a Domaine Guillemarine Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc, France ($10), its soft orange blossom playing with melon and stone fruit notes.
Here is that sherry collection, which is just getting started.

Ask Nevin and Sack about their sherry travels in Spain — they’re as knowledgeable and passionate about the category as they are about wine. They can recommend a pour or bottle whether you’re new to sherry or already a die hard fan. Nevin, who hails from Vancouver, BC, worked for wine distributors and Clicquot, Inc., in Chicago and NYC, eventually becoming CEO of Champagne and wine importing company, Henriot Inc. Sack is an SF native, back in her home town since 2010, but lived in NY for 20 years, working in PR for international wineries, restaurants and hotels.

In the corner of the shop, you’ll find a sherry nod on a door that leads to a closet with plans to eventually house a working antique phone. The words “Palo Cortado Sherry Merchants” are marked on the door, referring to the rare style of sherry which eventually loses its layer of indigenous yeasts (flor), a common process when sherry ages in casks, and instead ages oxidatively, combining aspects of both Amontillado and Oloroso sherry. It can’t be planned for but happens naturally and randomly in certain casks, making it a rarity and a sherry geek’s “holy grail.”

Crostini toppings rotate, with offerings like briny-fresh Spanish sardines ($9) with salted butter and pickled red onion— there are also snacks like smoked trout pate ($11) on toasted levain. You might pair with the lively saline notes of Pierre de la Grange Muscadet Sevre et Maine from Loire, France ($10), or with the salty brightness of a glass of La Guita Hijos De Rainera Manzanilla Sherry ($9) from Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain. In addition to house playlists, there is a turntable and plenty of vinyl in another seat-lined area near the sherry selection.

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Selections will rotate but a cheese plate ($16) might offer the likes of a soft Cremeux de St. Augustin from France’s Loire Valley, a dreamy Taleggio Vero from Italy’s Lombardy region and Pecorino di Rocca from Tuscany, all served with cherry preserves and a Marla Bakery baguette. Go decadent with the likes of a funky, savory glass of Villet Cuvee Tradition Arbois Blanc from Jura, France ($16).

Drinking wines at Tofino Wines

Sack and Nevin will personally guide you to the right bottle or you can find a new favorite tasting through wines by the glass. Intriguing current offerings include Santa Barbara’s Liquid Farm rosé ($24.99) — with hints of mineral, salt and bright berry— or Thurnhof Lagrein Merlau, a red from Italy’s northern Alto Adige region ($13 by the glass) with its wild strawberry and subtle earth notes.