Sally Kim (@hangrykorean if you follow Instagram) moved to San Francisco in June of 2014, after managing the wine programs for Josef Centeno (Baco Mercat, Orsa & Winston) in Los Angeles and spending some time at Seresin Estate in Marlborough, New Zealand. In SF, she took over the wine program at Delfina—the beloved Italian restaurant in the Mission—just in time for the city’s transformation by the tech boom of the last decade.
Last year was the twentieth anniversary of Delfina. I hear it was quite a party.
It was a lot of fun, and we planned a lot of wine activities going into it. I brought in a lot of large format wines for us to pour—we had a five-liter bottle of 2009 G.D. Vajra Bricco delle Viole, and a three-liter of Ettore Germano’s 2010 Barolo Serralunga. We had Produttori del Barbaresco in magnum that we poured for a while. The logistics were a little challenging, but it was a great spectacle.
Have you used large format bottles a lot since?
We like to always pour something by the glass from magnum; it’s pretty affordable to use large format. I’ve got the Pianelli Rosato by the glass right how, from magnum. And in 2017 I started collaborating with the Mariani boys at Scribe, to make a chardonnay that was available only through the Delfina restaurant group, and only in magnums. I really like large format for by-the-glass—we call it our “fun size.” It’s great for wines that have a longer shelf life, or that need time to open up. And wines in hot vintages tend to taste a little more balanced out of large format, and younger. Plus, when the staff are able to walk around with large format bottles, it draws immediate attention; people get excited, and the staff do too. It’s a natural talking point.
How about orange wines? In LA, somms are saying they can’t keep them in stock.
Yeah, I’m carrying more of those than I’ve carried before. I have a GM who really loves orange wines and natural wines. Myself, I’m a bit of a purist; staff keep asking for these new wines but for me, if we’re going to have a natural wine, it has to have some typicity. I think it’s really important for people coming up to have a framework on regions, on varieties and styles. I’m overseeing seven restaurants; education’s a big part of what I do. And I believe in formal training, in having a mentor-mentee relationship. And I don’t want to see that decline.
You’ve been in San Francisco for five years now, and the city has changed, of course. How have those shifts impacted the dining experience at Delfina?
In general, people are eating and drinking a lot less. Diners used to start with a cocktail and move to red wines and dessert wines. We don’t see a lot of that anymore. They’ll have one or two glasses, and that’s it. I’ve had to lower my sweet spot from $80 to $65. My least expensive wine is now $36—it’s hard to find a good wine for $36! You’d think that with driver services like Uber and Lyft people would drink more freely, but it’s not happening.