BYO, with Confidence
Food & Drink / BYO policies can be a blessing or a curse. You save a lot of money (restaurants typically mark up wine and beer by 100 percent or more of the retail price) and you have freedom to bring whatever beverage strikes your fancy. On the other hand, restaurant wine lists make ordering easy. When you’re in a wine shop and faced hundreds of bottles, it can be overwhelming.
The Weekly went wine shopping with two local wine experts: Tony Castillo, food and beverage director at Amuse wine bar, and Mike Nishikawa, the restaurant veteran who recently passed the introductory course for the Court of Master Sommeliers program.
Juicy burgers have plenty of flavor, which calls for an equally big wine. Domestic Zinfandels are a good bet. Castillo says they pack lots of juicy and fruity flavor, and are approachable even for wine newbies. They’re bold enough in body and flavor to stand up to steaks or burgers.
Steamed, starchy, salty–those are the food characteristics that Castillo considers when looking for a wine to go with dim sum. Another factor to consider is that when you taste a lot of different dishes, you can get tastebud fatigue. “You want something crisp to help cleanse the palate,” says Nishikawa. He picked a lively sparkling wine, whose bright acidity and tastebud-tingling bubbles help keep your tongue alert.
Castillo and Nishikawa are fans of Olive Tree Café and were quick to point out that its sister business, Oliver Wine Shop, is a great place to find affordable, food-friendly wines you can’t find anywhere else. Greek cuisine lends itself to white as well as red wines, or even rosés. “They get a bad rap because of [the much derided] white zinfandel,” says Nishikawa, “but rosés have enough structure to balance everything out.”
Distinguished by savory (often spicy) bean and lentil purees, tangy injera bread and stewed greens, Ethiopian food is a bit of a doozy as far as wine goes. A low-alcohol red wine such as a Beaujolais, made from the gamay grape in the Northern area of Burgundy, fits the bill perfectly. (Beaujolais nouveau is the young and fruity wine from the region, but the area produces mature wines such as this one as well.)
What to drink with laulau? Castillo and Nishikawa settled on a Riesling, whose fuller body could stand up to rich meaty flavors, but still be aromatic and delicate. They are fans of any wine that Chuck Furuya created, but especially like the Euro-Asian Riesling.
The clean and delicate flavors of fish paired with slightly salty shoyu and the gentle pungency of wasabi call for a wine that is equally spry and light on its feet. Castillo recommends a sparkling wine –“it goes with everything,” he says–or for a truly perfect fit, Oroya: It’s made in Spain by a female Japenese winemaker, who crafts the wine specifically with raw fish in mind. Made from Airén, Macabeo and Muscat grapes, it is aromatic with a very light body.
Do your homework. Even restaurants that offer wine will often permit guests to bring their own. Just be prepared to pay a corkage fee. In many cases, you won’t save any money in the end unless you’re bringing a particularly special bottle. Make sure that whatever you’re bringing isn’t offered on the restaurant’s wine list. It’s a faux pas and may be against the restaurant’s policy.
Go Old World. There really is a difference between New World wines and Old World wines. The former–from the US, South America and Australia–tend to be bold, juicy and high in alcohol, which means they overpower all but the biggest of steaks. They’re often better sipped on their own. Old World wines (think France, Spain and Italy) tend to be more food-friendly, with lower alcohol and more nuanced flavors that complement your meal.
When in doubt, choose a Riesling. “Riesling is the safe way to go,” says Castillo. “There’s a wide range of styles to choose from and it goes with a lot of Asian food.” It’s one of the most food-friendly wines.
Bring your own glasses. Stemware, and the ability to swirl and aerate wine, impacts the taste of a wine . “You can’t swirl wine around in the little skinny glasses they usually give you,” Castillo says. Nishikawa uses inexpensive stemless glasses he bought at Ross.
Share! Whether you’re bringing Two Buck Chuck or Roederer Cristal, it’s a good practice to offer your server a taste. Servers always appreciate it because it’s an opportunity to learn and further develop their palate, Nishikawa says. “And you never know, they might remember you the next time you come.”