Food and wine pairings, for the most part, privilege the food.
Not so at SIMI Winery, where Chef Kolin Vazzoler creates dishes that won’t distract from the wines.
“We’re trying to give the guest a true tasting of the wine with the food,” explains Vozzoler.
We don’t want to change the flavor or the nuances, or the alcohol content or flavor or the tannins or the fruit aspect. We’re not trying to complement the wine or use the wine to highlight the dish. We’re trying to pair a dish that celebrates the true flavors of the wine.”
The goal: when someone visits the winery, tastes the wine, and brings it home, SIMI wants that wine to taste as they remember it.
Dishes such as lamb loin with pea tortellini, parmesan brood, peas, and pea tendrils or foie gras torchon with hubbard squash, maple, and sage are tempting all on their own, of course. Yet Vazzoler develops them not to be highlighted by the wine, but to get out of the wine’s way. It’s a 180 from how wine and food get approached in a traditional restaurant, such as Vazzoler’s last job, at Gary Danko in San Francisco.
“At a restaurant, the chef creates the dish and then the sommelier pairs wine with it. But at the winery, my goal is to make the wine the star in comparison to the food.”
To do that, it all starts with the wine.
“When our winemaking team has a new vintage set to come out, they send me bottles. I taste it and talk with the winemaker about how she wanted it to be as well as what nuances it ended up developing,” says Vozzoler. “Everyone has a different experience, so it’s nice to hear from the person who made it and what their vision was.”
Armed with the winemaker’s intent and his experience tasting the wine on its own, Vozzoler gets to work creating seasonal dishes that taste great and let the wine speak for itself.
“We make a dish we think will work with the wine, then we taste it, then we tend to adjust the salt content—kombu marinade or other salinity, not just salt—or adjust the acid—vinegar or lemon or tomato,” says Vozzoler. “Those two things help adjust the pairings so the wine can take center stage.”
Keeping the focus on the wine is all in the name of customer satisfaction. “We really want to avoid people buying the wine based on their experience of it with the food, but then when they taste it at home it’s totally different,” says Vollozer. “When people taste a wine at our winery in Sonoma and they like it and bring it home to San Francisco or Chicago or wherever they might be from, we want them to have that same experience of the wine.”
So while a dish such as bay scallop with celery root, pear, parsnip, and rosé gelee will tempt and delight visitors, and will taste great with the 2016 Sonoma County Dry Rose, it won’t define or change the taste of that rosé the way a classic restaurant pairing might. The same holds true for the earthy briny combination of matsutake, abalone, and succulents in broth with the 2016 Alexander Valley Viognier or a gemelli with confit duck, prunes, pickled ramps, and ramp pesto with the 2015 Russian River Pinot Noir.
He has a lot of wines to draw on when creating such dishes. SIMI was started by Italian brothers Giuseppe and Pietro Simi in the 19th century. Giuseppe’s daughter, Isabelle, took over in 1904 and saw the business through Prohibition by cellaring the wines. She sold SIMI in 1970.
Today, SIMI has specialized and diverse Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley vineyards and produces four distinct tiers that uniquely express their Sonoma County origins. SIMI’s Sonoma County-designate wines include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Dry Rose, Merlot, and Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. The Reserve tier includes the Russian River Valley Chardonnay and the Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon, SIMI’s acclaimed single vineyard-designated wine. The winery only offerings include the Reserve Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, made from the best lots of the best vineyards in Alexander Valley, and many other unique varietals and blends from within celebrated vineyards of Sonoma County.
The SIMI Visitors Center is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. Winery tours are offered daily at 11 am and 2 pm. SIMI’s Landslide Terazzo Pizza Café is open Saturdays 11 am to 3 pm seasonally.
SIMI Winery 16275 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA. (800) 746-4880 simiwinery.com