There’s nothing new about wine tastings or food halls or pairing menus. But by combining all three at the Santa Barbara Public Market, Jamie Savellano of Valley to the Sea Winery may have just cracked the code on making fine wine work in such an eclectic and bustling space.
“I needed to come up with a new way to taste wines,” said Savellano, a former web developer and stay-at-home dad who opened his tasting bar in November 2021 but only recently started the pairing program. “I just wanted to do more than charcuterie, because everyone does charcuterie. I ended up with way more.”
That includes al pastor, butternut squash, and mole tacos from Corazon Cocina; falafel & tabouli, sweet potato falafel & tahini, and pita & hummus from Fala Bar; and a 10-inch pineapple & ham, mushroom & pepperoni, and arugula & olive pizza split (one-third of each type) from Ca’Dario Pizzeria Veloce. Each dish is served alongside a specifically chosen wine, and the pairings can be ordered with all three wines or solo. (You cannot combine restaurants in the same order, at least yet.) The prices are in the $20 range for the single dish and glass of wine, or $40 to $46 for the trio, whose three pours amount to two full glasses of wine.
Once the order is from your seat at Valley to the Sea’s bar or high-top tables, Savellano introduces the selected wines, which range from Santa Rita Hills pinot noir and chardonnay to Ballard Canyon syrah and viognier to Happy Canyon cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc. They’re all made by Matt Brady at Samsara, so they lean toward the brighter, fresher side of things rather than “a big California style,” said Savellano, adding that Samsara’s Lily Hays helped develop the pairing concept.
This evaluation phase also takes a somewhat novel approach, employing samples of grass, raspberry, or peppercorns to explore the aromas in your glass. “These are leaves from the side of a riverbed,” said Savellano as he handed me a glass of dank, muddy duff to sniff before smelling my pinot noir. The similarity was striking, and these sensory lessons are enhanced by aids like the UC-Davis aroma wheel and colorful cards that explain each pairing in details that are engaging but not overwhelming.
On my visit last week, I opted for the Corazon tacos, which Savellano said is the “adventurous” route. (Fala, meanwhile, is the “healthy” one, while the pizza is the most “traditional.”) The al pastor’s cumin, chile rub, and pineapple salsa matched the pinot’s earth and fruit notes, said Savellano, while the butternut squash’s soft quality matched the softness of the syrah. As for the mole with the cab? “The mole’s baking spices bring out the vanilla in that cab in a really fun way,” he said.
Over the past two decades, I’ve attended all manner of wine and food pairings, and this casual, conversational, and comparably quick format worked as well as any. It’s certainly ideal for those just spreading their wings into wine, but fulfilling — and stomach-filling — enough that even pros will get a kick out of it. Most importantly, it’s activating connections across the Public Market that should further invigorate the space and lure in future purveyors.
“It’s hard to get people to try new ideas,” said Savellano of what he hopes to do with these pairings. “They have to be willing to believe.”
Located inside the S.B. Public Market, 38 W. Victoria St.; (805) 770-3370; valleytotheseawinery.com