BYO = Buy Your Own

Taking time to appreciate the good in PA wine law.

Posted on by Frank Cipparone
koo zee doo philadelphia

Koo Zee Doo photo by Krista Baker

Some years ago, while dining in a small restaurant in Napa, our party of four chatted up the owner over a round of after dinner digestives. In the course of discussing the California wine culture, the changing tastes of American drinkers, and the food and beverage industries in the Golden and Keystone states, I brought up the proliferation of BYOBs in the Philly area. Seated as we were in the heart of America’s wine country, our host could not have been more nonplussed had I told him that Cabernet was made by elves in the Muir Woods. Restaurants without wine and spirits were an alien concept, an unfathomable Right Coast trend.

We are all guilty at some point of taking for granted what is readily available to us, even as we understand that the grapes aren’t always riper in the other guy’s vineyard. We know that the real money for restaurants with liquor licenses is on the beverage side of the ledger. And to be fair, there a number of establishments hereabouts with well-conceived and curated selections for those who don’t mind 300% or greater markups. But from a consumer standpoint, BYOBs offer independence to a growing legion of wine aficionados.

First, they do away with the galling charade of paying $45 for a bottle you know you could pick up for $11.99 at your local wine shop or PLCB store. Even if you are willing to bite the cork and absorb the hit to your wallet, there many places where you are held captive by a list of uninspiring, pedestrian wines. My wife has become familiar with the tooth gnashing, exasperated look on my face as I try to find an acceptable bottle at a reasonable price. The option of wine by-the-glass can be attractive for experimentation, but with prices per serve currently edging closer to double digits, you are essentially covering the restaurant’s cost for the whole bottle with a single glass, and they still have 4-5 more pours to enhance their margin. Plus, is any true wine lover satisfied with one glass?

Second, and for me more importantly, buying your own creates the always-fun challenge of matching a region’s wine with its cuisine. If I’m going to Bibou, the well regarded French spot near the Italian Market, a well-priced Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Northern Rhone will do the trick. The hardy fare at Center City’s Kanella calls for a Greek or Cypriot wine from hard to pronounce grapes such as those Mike Madaio reviewed in a recent post. Italian? Just follow the maxim “if it grows there, it goes there”- Sicilian food, Sicilian wine; seafood from the Amalfi coast, wine from Campania…etc.

Which brings me to a recent visit to one of my favorites, Koo Zee Doo, the Portuguese kitchen in Northern Liberties. The chosen bottles for the evening, both PLCB in-store purchases, were typical blends from little known indigenous varietals. Casa Santa Lima 2010 “Lab” (84-86), a Vinho Regional Lisboa (somewhat like a French vin du pays), is a lightweight cuvee of Castelao, Tinto Roriz, and Touriga Nacional. It’s juicy without being overtly sappy, flavors of dark crushed berries, red plum, and dark cherry smoothly sailing waves of balanced acidity and tannins. Quinto do Carmo 2009 Vinho Alentejano (86-88), another regional offering, was fuller and more dense, with loads of dark fruit and currants, and a noticeably tangy bite to the mixture of Aragonez, Alicante, Trincadeiro, and Castelao. Not the sort of wines you’d drink on their own, but at $9.99 and $12.99 respectively, a cheap and satisfying date. We may not have had a night in Lisbon, but paired with Bacalhau com Natas (creamy salt cod with onion, potato, breadcrumbs) or Codorniz Grelhada (grilled quail, cornbread pudding, and pickled grapes) it was an inexpensive alternative, no passports required.

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Categories: Restaurants

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About Frank Cipparone

A lifelong Philadelphian, Frank spent four decades as an educator, coach, and curriculum specialist before teaching and writing about wine in general and the wines of Italy in particular. Annual sojourns in the land of his ancestors fuel his passion for the culture and history of its regions, not to mention restocking his cellar with obscure varietals and hard-to-find rarities. A self-described “anti- foodie”, those trips also unearth authentic culinary treasures for him and his wife to replicate at home. Frank is an avid and eclectic reader, historian, aficionado of old school jazz and techno-Luddite who views social media as a plague on society.

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3 Responses to BYO = Buy Your Own

  1. avatar KevinP says:

    I love the local BYO scene, but teasing the article with the quote ‘Time to appreciate what’s good about PA wine law’ is absurd. The fact that legislation has unintended positive consequences does not make it ‘good’ any more so that are repressive regimes ‘good’ because some of the people that they oppress react by creating great art (keeping that generic to dodge Godwin’s law!).

    I get on my soapbox when informed that we don’t have it so bad – ‘We can buy Chairman’s Selections and we can ship in or drive across a bridge. And look at all the BYOs.’

    First, it is correct that we don’t have it that bad. If ever there were a ‘first world’ problem, this is it!

    That said, laws are not ‘good’ because they can be easily broken, or because some reactions to them – such as BYOs – make my life easier.

    • avatar Mike Madaio says:

      Fear not Kev, we’re not starting a campaign against privatization. Just looking for silver linings. Guess you’re not much of an optimist?

      • avatar KevinP says:

        I think I’m balanced on the optimist/pessimist scale, but there is no doubt that I’m a pedant! I’d have no problem with an intro that read “Time to find the silver linings in PA wine law”.

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