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Best Sommeliers In East Bay

Farm-fresh, locally grown food paired with great wines is the perfect dining experience, one which the San Francisco Bay Area can serve up in spades. On the wine front, the Court of Master Sommeliers has bestowed its prestigious title of Master upon fewer than 200 individuals worldwide over four decades. Four rigorous levels of education, examination and training are involved in the highest possible certification for fine wine and serving. Let's cast an eye over the East Bay experts offering excellent, curated wine lists and pairings for the enjoyment of the public.
Jorge Tinoco

Jorge Tinoco
The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards
5050 Arroyo Road
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 456-2450

Overseeing an extensive wine list which Wine Spectator names for Best Award of Excellence year after year, Sommelier Jorge Tinoco pairs fine wine with gourmet cuisine from Chef Matt Greco. Jorge explains that extensive and frequent meetings and tastings are held to review six or more possible pairings with every new dish. Due to the close connection between the grapes at source and The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards with its organic garden, Jorge says that, "a stronger communication between chef, kitchen, wine and servers allows the wine to shine." He emphasizes that a dining experience at a winery is one with more focus placed on wines via intense training for everyone involved. Currently, Tinoco is enrolled at the Court of Master Sommeliers pursuing his Masters in Wine.

Chez Panisse
Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley. (CBS/Connie C. Kim)

Jonathan Waters
Chez Panisse
1517 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94709
(510) 548-5525

Credited as the inspiration for farm-to-table California cuisine from its 1971 beginnings, Alice Waters' classic trendsetter restaurant, Chez Panisse, shines forth on the wine front as well. British-born wine director Jonathan Waters has been involved with the beverage operation at the restaurant since 1984. The Zinfandel Festival, an annual December fixture since 1982, has seen Waters suggesting such pairings as liquid squid ragout, spit-roasted pork loin and buttermilk panna cotta with poached pears. Among the 200-strong wine list, there has always been a California house Zin, currently Napa's 2009 Green & Red from Chiles Canyon Vineyard.

Related: Best Bistros In Easy Bay

Uncle Yu's

Nick Liang
Uncle Yu's at the Vineyard
39 S. Livermore Ave.
Livermore, CA 94550
(925) 449-7000

Chinese cuisine may not first come to mind for wine pairings, but there is no question that Sommelier Nick Liang has assembled one of the best wine lists in the East Bay. Nick's knack of pairing Asian dishes with French and local wines and his brilliant wine notes makes him one of the area's best sommeliers, enjoying a devoted following. Nick is a fan of Kalin Cellars, a small, family-owned winery producing 7,000 cases out of Novato in Marin County. He says the 1995 Chardonnay Cuvée W is "like a Grand Cru white Burgundy except it's made in California in deep gravel soil instead of limestone." He calls the 1998 Sémillon from Kalin Cellars paired with crab, "the best Bordeaux-like Blanc outside France, tasting thick, fat with a concentrated, deep, complex and energetic personality." A Gamay sparkling rosé, Vin du Bugey-Cerdon from Savoie, is described as a "firework" when accompanying a mango, passion fruit and raspberry sorbet dipped in white chocolate.

Related: Let's Explore Livermore

A Cote 2

Jeff Berlin
A Côté
5478 College Ave.
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 655-6469

Casual dining and late nights, plus an extensive and diverse wine list, make this a top pick for those in Rockridge lucky enough to call this Mediterranean spot their neighborhood place. Manager and wine director, Jeff Berlin, has assembled bottles of whites from Slovakia and Slovenia and reds from Lebanon and Turkey. Jeff is known for developing appreciation for Austrian and Hungarian regional wines, sharing that excitement with staff and clientele. He indicates that these are not wines that will be found in any other California restaurant. The California wine list here is very brief, but you can try a flight of Viennese Zierfandler white which turns red just before harvest or a flight of Tuscan craft beers.

prima wine

John Rittmaster
Prima Ristorante
1522 N. Main St.
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
(925) 935-7780

Regulars and critics alike call the 1,300-label cellar of 15,000 bottles, 30-50 selections by the glass and adjoining wine shop "remarkable." Awards are regularly bestowed on behalf of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Zagat, San Francisco Chronicle and more. Wine director and co-owner, John Rittmaster, stocks an A-list which boasts an impressive selection of Italian, Spanish and Australian wines as well as a showcase of a few California wines. Formerly associated with Robert Mondavi, John joined Prima in 1994, creating a full-service wine merchant which includes eclectic, artisan wines from small producers. So, if you like what was served at dinner, simply take a bottle home.

Laurie JM Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. A transplanted New Yorker, she has traveled throughout the world as the Big Apple's official tourism representative. She served as organizer for three Royal Visits to America. As an international relocation consultant, Laurie assisted more than 400 families with overseas moves and is a proud mother of two, thoroughly bi-cultural children. Her work can be found on

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