It's time to quit your drinking habit. No, not that one. The one where you sidle up to your usual bar and say, "I'll have a glass of cabernet (or chardonnay or merlot)" with nary a glance at the wine list. I know, I know. You're tired. You had a long day. But there's a big world of wine out there, and lucky for you, we live in a city with lots of delightful options by the glass, from Down Under stickies to the reds of the Med. Here are four places that specialize in remarkable vinos, so it's easy to trade in that mediocre merlot for a truly vinaceous adventure.
If you think sherry is only for the likes of Niles and Frasier Crane, La Gitane will change your mind in three sips. Order the tasting of three 1.5-ounce pours ($14) a light, briny Fino; a tangy, citrus-y Amontillado; and a rich and smoky Oloroso wines that are stunningly dry but richly flavored (and, at 19 percent to 20 percent alcohol, not at all demure). If you sit at the bar, chances are a charming barman (they all seem to be men here) will pour you a little education along with your wine in the form of a brief but enthusiastic tutorial of grape varieties and the Solera system (the special process of aging and blending sherry). Find yourself wanting more? You're in luck: La Gitane offers 20 different sherries by the glass ($6$18), including a couple of sweet styles and a half-dozen or so sherry-based cocktails ($7$11).
6 Claude Lane, SF. (415) 788-6686, www.gitanerestaurant.com
SOUTH FOOD AND WINE BAR
Quick, name an Australian wine. If you said "Yellow Tail," you're not alone. Due to the ubiquity of that single brand, it's easy to believe that everything that comes out of the country-that-is-a-continent is a $5 shiraz. Not so. The proof is in the glass at South, where the focus is on the food and wine of Australia and New Zealand. Sure, you can order shiraz, but there are far more interesting things to be sipped here. A glass of Peter Lehmann Semillon ($7) might sound intimidating, given that it's a grape you've probably never heard of, but its crisp grapefruit and lemon zest flavors make it a lovely aperitif. More of a red drinker? New Zealand produces pinot noirs that blow most of their California counterparts out of the water. Try St. Clair Vicar's Choice ($10) from Marlborough; a bold, spicy petit verdot from Victoria ($8); or an iced Riesling from Tasmania ($13) that's a dead ringer for a honey-dipped apricot. South makes it easy to try them all at its happy hour, weekdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., when all wines are $6.
330 Townsend, SF. (415) 974-5599, www.southfwb.com
YIELD WINE BAR
It's easy to make yourself at home at this Dogpatch wine bar, either on one of the leather couches arranged around low butcher block tables or at one of the half-dozen barstools lined along the simple wooden bar. Indeed, stepping through the door at Yield feels a bit like entering a friend's loft: cozy, relaxed, and well-designed. But beyond atmosphere, what really makes this wine bar special is its menu. Every wine is organic, biodynamic, or sustainably farmed, and every dish on the concise list of small plates is vegetarian. The wine menu changes frequently and includes familiar varieties ( sauvignon blanc, syrah, cabernet) as well as more esoteric offerings like the Domaine de Reuilly Rosé of Pinot Gris ($11) a pale pink, crisp wine with delicate flavors of strawberry and orange zest or the Tenuta Pederzana Lambrusco ($11) a fun, sparkling red from Emilia Romana, Italy. Really want to roll the dice? Opt for the never-know-what-you're-going-to-get carafe special ($10), offered weekdays from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
2490 Third St., SF.