Meet Joanna Smith of IGNI restaurant

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Cooked
Added
11 October, 2017

Co-owner of restaurant IGNI in Geelong, Victoria, and the mastermind behind its wine list, Joanna Smith has a laidback style when it comes to food and drink pairings. 


Favourite wine memory? A barrel tasting with Doug Neal, who’s the winemaker at Paradise IV in the Moorabool Valley. We tasted eight or nine barrels and then he blended them together to give us what was basically a finished wine. It was interesting to see someone with such a knack for putting those pieces together.

What’s the wine philosophy at IGNI? Generally I go on gut instinct, so it’s whatever comes across the table in terms of the bits and pieces that reps bring in. I look for styles and producers I’ve not tried before, or textural, food-friendly, lighter-alcohol wines. We try to have a balance of classic and experimental styles.

Do you have any go-to local producers? Sierra Reed is one [of Reed Wines]. She’s originally from California, but now based in nearby Torquay. She sources the fruit for her wines from Victoria and South Australia. She seems to have an innate ability to edit her wines and see their purpose without overworking them too much. Her style is somewhere between traditional and more boundary-pushing producers. Another is Dane Johns, who is based in Gippsland and sourcing fruit from Chalmers. He plays around with unusual grape varieties and skin contact, really trying to reimagine styles of wine from north-east Italy and Eastern Europe.

What does the wine list at IGNI look like? It’s two pages – one side is white wines and bubbles, the other side is pinks, reds and sweet wines. We offer most of those by the glass. We use a few of them in our pairing, but a lot of our matched wines are off-list because we try to come up with a unique experience for guests who choose that option. My thinking is you’re only having half a glass of wine with each course, so let’s make it something surprising; something that will work well with the food, but that you’re less likely to order by the bottle or glass.

What’s a favourite food and wine match from the menu? We’ve been serving old-vine Chablis from Christophe that has a beautiful structure to it – it’s rich and mineral at the same time. That’s paired with a tartare of either mackerel or King George whiting from Corio Bay in a mustard leaf and cucumber sauce.

How important is wine to the IGNI experience? There might be three or four main ingredients on the plate and, to me, you’re adding a fourth or fifth with the wine. Aaron Turner and I work very closely, which is great because we have a similar approach. The staff and my co-owner Drew will also give their opinion on the matches before they go on the menu or get signed off by Aaron.

Is there a wine you’ve tried recently that you’d love a case of? Any of the Radikon wines from Friuli, Italy – those are spectacular. It would be great to have 12 on hand.

Do you have a never-fail food and wine match? Champagne goes with everything!

And your after-work knock-off? Blackman’s Unfiltered Lager is a little tinnie, which is perfect after a night of beautiful wines. Blackman’s is based in Torquay with a satellite brewery in Geelong.

IGNI: A restaurant's first year by Aaron Turner is now on Cooked. Watch the book trailer

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