We went to Vino Venue on Friday evening to do a little wine tasting (on Mission @ 3rd in San Francisco). For those not familiar with it, it is a place to try wines in small tastes by paying with a little debit card. You insert the card in the slot, press the button by the bottle you want to try, and a sip of wine comes out. The taste price seems to be roughly 10% of the bottle price. The wines are kept fresh through a proprietary system which I presume uses nitrogen but I'm not a scientist, so I have no clue even how to describe this. Wines that you taste are available for purchase.
I have been to a similar place in Italy, in Greve in Chitanti, but didn't find Vino Venue to be as enjoyable as its Italian cousin. Vino Venue tries to be three things at once: a place to learn about and taste wines, a wine store, and a bar. Unfortunately, it cannot be all of these things at once and so a visitor is somewhat dissatisfied, depending on what they are looking for.
I wasn't blown away by the selections of wines and thought the prices were just a bit too high for tastes on the higher end bottles. Do I want to try a 1999 Gaja Barbaresco? You bet. Do I want to pay almost $19 for that tiny taste? Not really. I think the problem really is the size limitation with respect to the location. The Italian wine place which I am comparing VV to is three times the size, and focused almost exclusively on Italian wine. Given the size of VV, perhaps it might be best to limit the focus to fewer wines.
And the organization wasn't what I would have wanted. For example, there is a "Bordeaux" area, but the "Pinot Noir" area also had French burgundies in it. This was a little confusing for me, since I saw the two signs and immediately assumed that since the proprietors had made the distinction, that I would find only Bordeaux in the Bordeaux area (and not cabs or merlot or meritage wines), and would then find American (and perhaps miscellaneous other) pinot noirs in the Pinot Noir area, but as I said the Pinot Noir area had American pinot noir, Italian pinot nero and at least one French burgundy.
Finally, I think it would be nice for VV to have more food available for purchase (I think you can bring in food from AG Ferrari next door but am not sure), and provide some water crackers for tasters. The Italian store has plates of salamis, cheeses, and breads available which you can also charge on your card. It also has an olive oil tasting area with at least 8 or 10 different oils. I would have loved to see that at VV as well.
All in all, I will probably go back (because I still have a little bit of $$ left on my card) but not on a Friday evening where it was definitely more of a bar atmosphere (albeit a strange one) than a serious wine tasting locale. But I won't go there regularly. I can't quite put my finger on why but it just doesn't feel right.