Have Wine, Will Travel

July 6, 2017
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A wine bag or wicker carrier is an elegant and convenient way to bring your bottles to a BYO.

By Bob Sacks |

Ever wonder why some restaurants allow patrons to bring in their own bottles of wine (BYOB) while others do not; and some with a liquor license will also allow you to BYO, but charge a “corkage” fee to open and serve your wine?

New Jersey has some of the most complicated liquor laws in the country, and because the cost of obtaining a license to serve alcohol is substantial, many restaurants choose to go the BYO route. Local municipalities can still forbid this practice, but happily most do not. The only provisos, which may come as a surprise, are that diners are only permitted to bring in wine and malt beverages (i.e. beer), as distilled spirits such as vodka, gin, etc., are forbidden, and restaurants are not allowed legally to advertise that they are BYO.

A word about corkage etiquette first. It is best to call ahead and politely inquire if the practice is permitted, and if so, the fee per bottle. Some restaurants will charge a modest amount, others will not allow it at all, or ask for a high fee, which means they discourage this. Of course, to arrive with a cheap bottle of jug wine is not the way to endear yourself to the owners of the restaurant. The goal here is not to save money, but to be able to enjoy that bottle of wine you have been saving for a special occasion or great meal, or popping those older, scarcer bottles that are unlikely to be on the restaurant’s wine list. Sending a taste to the sommelier or owner will certainly be much appreciated, as is discretion in arriving with your wines.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Loret

Whether BYO or corkage, I generally bring a wine carrier with a few different bottles of red and white, which allows for the possibility that a bottle may be “off” (undrinkable), especially older wines. That way I have a backup bottle in tow.

If you know the menu and your favorite dishes, it is fairly easy to decide what wine you would like to drink, but if trying a new restaurant or cuisine with which you are not familiar, there are some basic guidelines you can follow.

First, look for the menu online to get an idea of the pairing options.

In my mind, most foods are best paired with the wines of their country, but, if you love California Cabs with Chinese food, go for it!

For Italian restaurants, I will generally bring a Barbera D’Alba, a soft, fruity red, which pairs with most everything; perhaps a Brunello or Super Tuscan, or a Nebbiolo-based Barolo or Barbaresco, if the food is more ambitious. For dry whites, I have been enjoying Vermentinos and Trebbianos lately, as an alternate to good old Pinot Grigio.

Your wine options for French food are wide open, but for a change of pace, I have been bringing Sancerre or Chablis from small producers as my go-to whites, as they marry well to most fish and seafood dishes, and are dry and refreshing. For serious reds, Bordeaux and Burgundy still are King and Queen, but a great Chateauneuf or Cote Rotie will provide much pleasure for spontaneous pairing, as will the reds from Loire Valley (Chinon).

Obviously, contemporary American Cuisine begs for California Chardonnays, Pinots, and Cabernets, but be careful not to overwhelm the food with too much oak or alcohol which can be prevalent. It is always a good idea to check the ABV (alcohol by volume) on the label, and if it reads over 15 percent, be aware that the wine is packing some power, even if masked by fruit! By contrast, Old World wines average 13-14 percent ABV.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Loret

What wines to bring to drink with Japanese or Chinese food? I prefer German Kabinetts, or Alsatian Rieslings; and really like Austrian Gruner Veltliner ( Gru-Vee!) or a demi-sec Vouvray. Most of these are slightly off-dry and the trace of sweetness seems to work well to balance the bold, spicy food flavors. Ditto for Indian or Middle Eastern Food. Wines with low alcohol and low tannins are the best choices.

Of course, if you have a favorite wine and wish to bring it to pair with a variety of foods, there are no rules preventing this. I find it great fun to go to BYOs with friends, show and tell what bottles we have brought and then make pairings on the spot.

If you are a foodie and wine lover, our area is rich with BYOs. The chance to savor that special bottle with a great restaurant meal, is an opportunity that should not be missed!

Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this bimonthly column. Read his reviews here

This article was first published in the Tastings section of the June 29-July 6, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.



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