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Jim O'Meally, left, and brother Chris, the proprietors of Casa Vino wine bar in Berkeley, Calif., photographed Wednesday, April 21, 2010. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

Anyone who grew up in Wine Country in the '70s would appreciate the movie "Bottle Shock," which captures the early days before the swirl, sniff and spit crowd began the great migration to Sonoma and Napa Valley.

The same can be said of Casa Vino. The wine bar and restaurant in South Berkeley embodies the pre-Wine Rush days when pickup trucks were more common than BMWs.

The owners, brothers Jim and Chris O'Meally, like to boast that they have more wines by the glass than any other wine bar in the Bay Area. But they pour them without pretentiousness. "Wine doesn't need to be that way," Chris O'Meally said while standing behind Casa Vino's handmade redwood bar Wednesday evening.

"I think there's enough good wine out there that you can afford to drink it every day," Jim O'Meally said.

Jim said in choosing wine they look for value, an equation that balances quality with price. "It's not a bargain if it tastes like crap," he said.

That sparked another discussion between the brothers about how closely a price tag reflects the quality of a wine. The talk ended when a man walked in looking to sample something before happy hour ended at 6 p.m. (Glasses of wine are half off during happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m.)

Jim poured him a Domaine des Salices Viognier. "It's a perfect starting wine," said Jim, who made his living as a professional pianist for 30 years before the two decided to open Casa Vino. He is the executive chef and created the menu, which mixes rack of lamb with baby back ribs, crab cakes, escargot, quesadillas and bruschetta.


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Both brothers had spent summers — Jim two, Chris four — working at a winery near their childhood home in Westminster, Md.

Jim chuckled as he recalled drinking Chardonnays at lunch as a teenager with the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches packed by his mother.

"Sweet riesling was my thing," said Chris, a professional photographer. He insisted on pouring me an Alsatian riesling Grand Cru, considered among the greatest wines to be had in a bottle.

"This is like nothing you've had before," Chris said, although he has become a fan of pinot noirs now that he doesn't have to drink them in the oppressive humidity of a scorching Maryland summer. "A good pinot," he said, "cannot be faked."

For the next 10 minutes, Jim answered a question about the difference between French and California "cab francs" for a couple who arrived for dinner, while Chris seated a young French woman who ordered a house red and the ravioli.

"If you want a $5 wine, we have that. If you want a $100 bottle of wine, we have that too," he said. One regular patron, he added, arrives once a week for nachos, a Caesar salad and two very expensive bottles of red wine.

The casual attitude combined with a serious approach to wine and food has helped Casa Vino become a destination for wine novices and connoisseurs.

The location at Sacramento and 66th streets was a bit of a fluke. The restaurant was called El Nopal, and the owners were ready to sign over the lease — faux brick wallpaper and all — when the brothers stepped in during the summer of 2008. At the same time the thrust of gentrification came to a screeching halt.

Their timing and the address have created a challenge. But what they lack in location, they make up for in space inside as well as by having a parking lot and patio.

"There's not anything next door," Chris said. "We're the Louis and Clark of this part of town."

Contact Angela Woodall at 510-208-6413. Follow her at Twitter.com/angelawoodall or Facebook.com/angelawoodall.

If you go
  • what: Casa Vino
  • where: 3136 Sacramento St., Berkeley
  • Details: 510-654-5410 or http://cafecasa.net