BYO = Buy Your Own
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.