Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bringing Wine to Restaurants ... Good Experiences

Overall, we have had pretty good experiences bringing our own wine to restaurants. Restaurants that are wine-friendly tend to do nice things like waive corkage on certain nights of the week or waive corkage on a bottle if you buy one of their bottles. We do the math and it's usually worth it and we get to bring some wine home.

We recently had dinner at Bistro 29 in Santa Rosa. We were there early and they were advertising $10 off each bottle of wine. They also waive their $15 corkage if you buy a bottle. After checking with our server that we could get BOTH the $10 off and free corkage, we bought a bottle of Truchard Roussanne for $36 (net to us was $11) and opened a bottle of Rhys Alpine Vineyard Pinot Noir that we had brought.

Even if a restaurant does not waive corkage, their attitude can convey wine friendliness. The last time we were at Gary Danko in San Francisco the sommelier complimented our wine saying, "we can't even get this." If a sommelier is interested, we typically offer him/her a taste of our wine.

Next up, some not-so-good experiences in bringing wine to restaurants.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BYOB ... To A Restaurant

My first date with my husband was at a wine bar. To which he brought his own wine. Yes, it's like bringing coals to Newcastle, but it was a great bottle of wine - a Pride Viognier - that was a lot better than any of the other wines on the menu. That experience introduced me to the concept of bringing my own wine to restaurants. Now I categorize restaurants in one of two ways - those that are open and friendly to patrons who bring their own wine and those that are not. And I pretty much only go to the first type.

Like anything else in life, there are a few rules that you should follow if you bring your own wine to a restaurant:
  • Check out the wine list in advance and make sure your wine is not already on it. If the restaurant has your wine on their list but it's a different vintage you are probably OK, but you might want to bring a back up just in case, or call and ask to see if it's OK. You don't want to end up paying the restaurant's price for your wine.
  • Expect to pay corkage. This can be zero (Yes, it happens! Especially here in wine-friendly Sonoma County), but usually ranges from $10 to $25. The highest I have seen is $85.
  • Bring something nice or unusual. Don't bring a $10 wine and expect to fool anyone. You won't. The point of bringing your own wine to a restaurant is to be able to enjoy a special or unusual wine with a meal that you don't have to prepare yourself.
  • Bring a back up bottle for optimal food pairings. We typically bring two reds - a lighter one such as a Pinot Noir, and a heavier red such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Syrah. This allows some flexibility in pairing our food and wine since we may not know in advance what is on the menu. If we want a white with our starter, we order by the glass or order a second bottle and figure we will be bringing some wine home (that's legal here).
  • Use a nice wine carrier, NOT a paper bag. We have a leather-like bag that holds two bottles of wine. It has a little ice pack in case we need to keep something cold. That bag is well-recognized among our friends, prompting one to comment, "I always get excited when I see that bag because I know there is something good in it." And there usually is!
Stay tuned for some of the good and not-so-good experiences I have had with bringing wine to restaurants.

Well-Priced White Wines for Summer

Recently, one of my friends asked me for "cheap Chardonnay" recommendations for a BBQ she was planning. After first letting her know that friends don't let friends drink cheap Chardonnay, I offered some suggestions.

First, none of the wines on my list are actually Chardonnay. To a lot of people, Chardonnay is sort of synonymous with white wine. Given Chardonnay's widespread availability, that's not hard to understand. I have nothing against Chardonnay. Really. It's just cheap Chardonnay I have a problem with. Cheap Chardonnays tend to rely on some really bad things for flavor - like oak chips instead of aging in an actual oak barrel. Ugh. If you are looking for wine that's between $10 and $20, Chardonnay is not a good way to spend your money.

Here are some wines that are clean, crisp and wonderful for summer BBQs and any other summer events. Or even just every day.

Ballentine Vineyards Napa Valley Old Vines Chenin Blanc (2007)
I have been getting this at Costco for about $11 a bottle. It's a nice, dry, crisp wine.

Bernardus Sauvignon Blanc (2007)
This is also at my Costco - about $11 a bottle. A very nice, dependable wine. If you don't like the juniper berry (aka cat pee) aspect to Sauvignon Blanc this is the wine for you.

Geyser Peak Sauvignon Blanc (2007)
I get this at Trader Joe's for about $8 a bottle. Really good deal, nice wine, very dependable year after year and widely available. If you are having a party and need a bunch of well-priced wine and you want it to actually taste good, this is your wine!

Kunde Estate, Magnolia Lane, Sonoma Valley (2008)
About $9.50 a bottle. This is a Sauvignon Blanc with a bit of Viognier in it.

Melville Verna's Santa Barbara Viognier (2008, 2007 was good too)
About $19 a bottle. I love Viognier and this is a great, well-priced find.

Paco & Lola Albarino (2007)
About $14.50 a bottle. I am loving this wine this year! It's a Spanish white wine with a really fun black and white polka dot label. It's a clean, crisp wine. I have been bringing it to every dinner party we go to and serving it whenever we entertain to introduce more people to it.

NOTE: Prices are approximate and represent what I pay in Sonoma County. Prices, availability and vintages in your area may vary.