Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tips for BYO's - Some Thoughts on Making the Best of a BYO Restaurant

The ability to drink what you like is one of the best advantages of going to a BYO. You can always have your old fav and not pay restaurant prices! I know people who love big Cali Cabernets with everything from sushi to steak, and while I wouldn't do it, who am I to judge? I say have at it! Personally I like much more variety and diversity and make an effort to anticipate the flavors, weight and elements of the food at each restaurant. The ability to choose wines to match from my cellar or favorite wine shop is another BYO advantage. The beauty of BYO is that while many licensed restaurants carry "safe" wines - popular brands and grape varieties they know will sell - BYO gives me the freedom to explore and push the boundaries with a wide range of lesser known grapes and regions and way more opportunity to match the food - again without paying wine list mark-ups!

When trying to decide what wine to bring, first do a little research on the restaurant. If it's Italian, chances are that Italian wine is your best option, if it's a French Bistro, bring some country French wines, if seafood is the specialty you may bring a few extra whites, and hedge with a few extra reds if it's a steak house. Asian or or ethnic specialty restaurants will also factor in to wine choices. Best to call and ask about specials or go online and look at the menu and then plan the wine.

Always bring a little more than you need. "Corked" or "off" bottles can leave you high and dry, or an irresistible menu special might lead your wine pairing down a different path than you had initially planned for. Don't mind the stares, we always bring an overstuffed wine bag - if we don't use it all we just take'em home!

Bring a range of styles that are versatile and will cover a big range of foods. A nice light crisp white is a great way to start. Muscadet, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume from the Loire Valley of France, Vernaccia di Sangimignano, Arnies or Verdicchio from Italy, Albarino or Godello from Spain, and Gruner Veltliner from Austria are great food friendly options that will cover a number of salad, seafood and light appetizers. A fuller style of white to cover lobster, scallops and richer seafood dishes, as well as some poultry and other mid-weight dishes is a must. California Chardonnay of all sorts work for those who like more fruit, oak and power, white Burgundy for those who like a little more restraint, elegance. For reds, a medium bodied wine such as Pinot Noir or Rioja will cover medium weight cuisine such as pork, veal, duck. For fuller meat dishes such as short ribs, steaks and lamb, break out the full throttle reds. Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec) from all over the world work great here, as will wines made from Rhone varietals such as Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. These are the safe versions, but don't forget there is a wide world of wine out there! BYO's give you the opportunity to bring a bunch of wines to try. Again, if you open one and it doesn't work out just cork it up, take it home and have it tomorrow. Push the envelop and explore!

Glassware and service: Even some licensed restaurants have sub-standard stemware, and while I have seen many BYOs improving wine service, there are still a few who don't get it. It's geeky, but there is nothing wrong with bringing your own if the house version isn't up to snuff. If you bring an old and rare wine be sure to pay attention to service. It can vary in any restaurant, BYO or not, but at unlicensed locations there is typically less wine training. Difficult corks and sediments found in older wines can case problems for untrained servers so it is often best to take over opening and decanting in this case, or at least (nicely!) oversee the operation. Decanters at BYO's often don't get much use, so even though they may have been put on the shelf clean, over time they will gather fine dust or aromas that can ruin a wine. Be sure to have any decanter rinsed and cleaned prior to pouring the fine old bottle you have been saving.

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