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© 1998 JDM Enterprises
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by Jerry D. Mead

Founded in 1867 by two brothers named Simi, this Healdsburg, Sonoma County, winery was originally known as Montepulciano after the family's home town in Italy. And it seems like only yesterday (actually 30 years ago) that one could visit Isabel Simi Haigh sitting at the tasting room cash register, selling wines that had been made many years before.

Purchased in 1970 by an oil man with a summer home in nearby Alexander Valley, one of the conditions of sale was that Isabel be permitted to continue working in the tasting room every day, which the then spunky octogenarian did most of the rest of her days. She told great stories.

Simi has since gone through a couple of ownership changes and at least three winemakers. Owned for a short time by a Scotch whisky firm, it has been owned since 1980 by Moet-Hennessy, that French firm famous for Champagne and Cognac and that also owns Napa's Domaine Chandon.

Simi's first two modern day winemaker's were both women, Mary Ann Graf (a consulting winemaker) and Zelma Long (now a Simi executive). Both made exceptional wines.

The current chap, Nick Goldschmidt, is from New Zealand and is perhaps Simi's most creative winemaker.

Simi 1996 "Sonoma" Sendahl ($20) Basically a white Meritage, a blend of roughly two-thirds Sauvignon Blanc and one-third Semillon. Barrel-fermented in the style of a Chardonnay and aged in mostly new French oak barrels, it is very stylistic. But even with all that wood complexity, the wine's varietal characteristics show through, the Sauvignon herbaceousness and the Semillon fresh fig and melon. Rating: 90/83

Simi 1996 "Carneros" Chardonnay ($22) Barrel-fermented with lots of roasty-toasty oak smells and flavors. Lean, cool-climate structure. Ripe apple flavors and very long toasty aftertaste, but ripeness and wood do not compromise the very crisp, food-friendly finish. Rating: 92/85

Simi 1996 "Sonoma" Chardonnay ($19) Lush, melon and pineapple fruit; subtle oak presence. Will please a broad audience of Chardonnay fanciers. Rating: 88/84

Simi 1995 "Sonoma Reserve" Chardonnay ($30) Ouch! Save $8 and buy the Carneros version. This one doesn't have as much fruit, nor oak presence, and there's some awareness of alcohol. Definitely overpriced. Rating: 80/79


Simi 1996 "Sonoma" Sauvignon Blanc ($14) Wonderful, classic Sauvignon aromatics. Tasted blind one might think of Loire Valley Sancerre or Pouilly Fume or the crisp New Zealand style. Delicate and sprightly, it fairly dances in the mouth with very pleasing lemon-grass and grapefruit flavors. The finish is crisp, tart and truly refreshing. Perhaps the perfect oyster wine. Rating: 100/90


Simi 1994 "Sonoma Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon ($47) Expensive but worth it. Intense, wonderfully complex red wine, with smoky, toasty, earthy, truffle and barrel-char notes. While there is plenty of underlying black fruit flavors, they are subjugated to the complexities of wood and age. A special wine. Rating: 96/84


Simi 1996 "Sonoma" Shiraz ($20) Heavily wooded, very ripe fruit, but still managing to maintain a lean, mean structure. Flavors of plum and berry, very strongly influenced by the cooperage, with the smoky wood flavors becoming very apparent in the aftertaste. Limited production; call regarding availability. Rating: 94/84

Simi wines have good national presence, but certain selections (such as the Reserve Cabernet) are more difficult to find than others. If you have trouble finding a Simi wine call the winery at: (707) 433-6981.


I haven't done it in print lately, but I have been complaining about restaurant wine prices, to anyone who will listen, for more than three decades.

Trying to convince restaurateurs that it is dollars they put in the bank, and not percentages, is one of the hardest things I have ever tried to accomplish.

At hotel and restaurant school they are taught that to make a profit they have to mark everything up 300 or 400 percent or more. And while that may work for a piece of fish, a burger or even a soda or cocktail, it just doesn't work for wine.

Roughly speaking, here's how wine is priced. If the wholesaler charges $8, the full retail will be $12. Discounters will charge less. That same bottle will sell at the average restaurant for $24, to as high as $32 at some of the worst price-gougers.

I am a serious wine drinker, but when I encounter that kind of pricing I often order iced tea or a beer. The restaurant owner would have made more dollars had he sold me the wine at a more reasonable price. He may have made his percentage on the tea, but only a few pennies to bank.

Taking advantage of consumer resentment of wine pricing is a relatively new San Francisco restaurant called Elroy's.

For the first year, Elroy's pricing policy was wholesale cost plus a flat $10, a very good deal, especially on really expensive bottles.

These days, the restaurant which might be described as serving California- influenced Mediterranean style cuisine, has a new hook. Tuesday through Saturday, Elroy's has more traditional pricing in effect, though still not as outrageous as that of some competitors.

But on Sunday and Monday you can buy the wine at Elroy's wholesale price! Now I haven't seen their invoices for verification, but we are talking very low prices!

The "J" Champagne that is $42 on Saturday is only $19 on Sunday. The Napa Ridge Pinot Noir $24/$8; Opus One $120/$59; Grgich Hills Chardonnay $46/$13.33; Groth Cabernet $41/$18. There are nearly 100 selections from which to choose, and there's only one catch...the price is only good with dinner. Don't go in and try to make case purchases for your cellar. It won't work.

Elroys, 300 Beale St, San Francisco, CA 94105 (415) 882-7989;

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