Café Atlántico beverage director and sommelier Jill Zimorski is holding a bong. But it’s not just any bong.
“It’s battery-operated,” she says, her eyes widening with excitement.
Don’t get the wrong idea: The bong in Zimorski’s hand is not for, um, recreational purposes. It’s merely a tool used to create a syrup that’s integral to one of her wine-inspired cocktails: the Faux Syrah. The excitement registered in Zimorski’s eyes has more to do with her passion for wine than any interest in the bong itself. (Or so she tells us.)
Joking aside, the bong is used to incorporate an element of smoke into a black-pepper syrup mix. Zimorski seals a batch of the syrup using plastic wrap, then pokes a hole into which smoke is blown through the fan end of the modified bong. All of this, she explains, is done to mimic the nuanced flavors of the wine on which the cocktail is based.
“Syrah is a really bold wine with some flavors and aromas you can find elsewhere,” she says. “The idea for the cocktail came about from writing down all the different components of the wine and realizing I could create something that tasted similar.”
In creating the Faux Syrah, Zimorski focused on the more predominant elements of the French wine—namely smoke, spice, and blackberry. To integrate the grape component into her cocktail, she uses the California-based Hangar One vodka, which is made from a combination of still wheat and Viognier grapes.
“A Syrah from the Northern Valley of France is usually 100 percent Syrah grapes,” she says. “But if any other grape is allowed to be used in the making of the wine, it’s Viognier.”
The Faux Syrah is just one of a number of wine-inspired cocktails concocted by Zimorski, who, despite holding degrees in sociology and biology from the University of Virginia, says she’s found her calling as a sommelier: “The bug bites you, you get hooked, and then you start carving a niche.”
She found her niche after moving to Washington in 2003. Though she had been managing and running the wine lists at a couple of restaurants in Charlottesville before her move, it wasn’t until she landed at Charlie Palmer Steak that she realized she could turn her interest in wines into a career.
After two years at Charlie Palmer, Zimorski made the jump to Café Atlántico as beverage director for the restaurant and Minibar (on the second level)—a move she’s quite happy with.
“Of all the company restaurants, Café Atlántico has the most diverse wine,” she says. “It’s been a really great fit.”
Take a look at Zimorski making the Faux Syrah below and get the recipe for the drink!
Jill Zimorski, Café Atlántico
2 ounces Hangar One straight vodka
1½ ounces blackberry purée
½ ounce black pepper/smoke simple syrup
3 to 5 grinds freshly crushed black pepper
Juice from a wedge of lemon
Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass that has been dipped into black pepper/smoke simple syrup and crushed violets.