Preparing for a BYOB dinner can bring unnecessary stress. What should you bring without knowing the exact menu? What if the wine and food don’t match?
The key is variety. You don’t have to lug your entire cellar to the restaurant. Instead, tote along at least two different wines. Think of yourself as a vinous MacGyver, and pack a versatile red and a white or a dry rosé.
Josiah Baldivino and Stevie Stacionis, the husband-and-wife team that own Bay Grape in Oakland, recommend Beaujolais (“the ’14s are delicious right now”) or California Pinot Noir for reds. For whites, they suggest a blanc de blancs Champagne or sparkling wine, as well as a slightly off-dry Riesling from Germany.
Think of yourself as a vinous MacGyver, and pack a versatile red and a white or a dry rosé.
If you’re really on top of your BYOB game, bring a bottle of Port in anticipation of a great cheese program or dessert. You don’t have to open every bottle you bring, but a range of styles allow for broader ordering options and more fun mixing and matching at the table.
There are two ways that restaurants offer BYOB. Some restaurants have no liquor license, so it doesn’t cost a thing to take your bottle (or bottles) with you. Other restaurants have a wine list, but offer BYOB with a corkage fee.
Nicholas Elmi, Season 11 winner of Bravo’s Top Chef, is chef/owner of Laurel, an eatery in Philadelphia that encourages BYOB and now offers wine pairings via a concise selection. He says that its BYOB policy makes his restaurant feel less like traditional fine-dining establishments.
“We want to provide the best of both worlds,” says Elmi. “You want to have the total experience and see what we think about food and drink? By all means, let us do it. You want to enjoy great food with a bottle from your own private selection? No problem.”
“The menu offers an extensive variety of innovative regional Mexican dishes served in ‘small plates to share’ portions that open lots of wine pairing possibilities,” says Luis Ortega, proprietor of Stellar Wine Company in Chicago. “You can bring two or three bottles of totally different varietal [wines] and find perfect pairings on the menu for each one of them.”
From steak and sliders to sushi, “the diverse menu gives me an opportunity to recommend many of my Viogniers, Rieslings, Albariños, Vermentinos and even Proseccos,” says Ortega.
This spot is “a bistro-like Argentinian steakhouse in Wrigleyville where I send all my Malbec, Carménère and big Cab aficionados in the mood for beef, beef and more beef,” says Ortega.
Serving Mediterranean eats like braised rabbit, scallops and pasta, this Upper East Side restaurant is only BYOB if you volunteer to share a glass of a wine that is, in their words, “unique or of exceptional quality.” It also offers a list of more than 400 bottles, but the challenge of finding something interesting to bring in can be “really fun,” says W.E. Food Editor Nils Bernstein.
“Bring a rich Alsatian Pinot Gris to pair with the delicious Afghan food,” says Bernstein.
Bernstein says this BYOB spot—a favorite among New York City chefs— serves “beautifully prepared fresh seafood pulled live from tanks” and also recommends the Peking duck.
Chef Christopher Kearse has an ambitious vision that is evident in the four course Sunday menu and monthly single ingredient-focused dinners. French favorites like poulard are prepared with porcini, caramelized endive and bacon marmalade.
The aforementioned Elmi’s restaurant and its tasting menus showcase French-influenced cuisine. Elmi’s uncanny ability to coax refined flavors from each ingredient, all the while maintaining a sense of inventiveness and fun, make Laurel one of the city’s must-visit destinations, BYOB or otherwise.
The menu changes based on the ingredients that chefs Kevin D’Egidio and Michael Griffiths source from local urban farms. The result is a roster of soulful preparations suited to a wide variety of wines.
To make the most of your next BYOB experience
-If possible, examine the menu online for inspiration.
-Confirm the corkage-fee policy in advance.
-Chill whites and rosés if you want to enjoy them when you arrive.
-Bring bottles that aren’t on the restaurant’s wine list.
Retailer Wine Picks & Tips
When choosing the right wine for your BYOB experience, it’s a good idea to ask the experts at your wine shop.
Choosing the right wine is about the ability to enjoy it with food and friends, says Ortega, and he feels responsible to make it a successful experience.
“The demographic [in Chicago] is adventurous and open to trying pairings that are not conventional,” he says. “I offer wines like Argentinian Bonarda instead of a Malbec. It’s like opening a new door to their palate…breaking pairing stereotypes.”
“Champagne is my go-to,” she says. “I would probably go with a great rosé Champagne, which will have the structure and flavor to go with a variety of foods. If you’re on more of a budget, a Crémant could work as well.”
Ortega dines at many of the same restaurants as his customers, which helps him choose wines.
“I also look at the mood people are in,” he says. “Is it a celebration, a date or just dinner out so they don’t have to cook at home? All that impacts what I recommend.”
Stacionis and Baldivino say that it’s courteous to offer the server a taste of your BYOB wine, as well as ordering a bottle off the wine list. Many restaurants will waive one corkage fee for each bottle you order off their list.