Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bring Your Own Wine - NS Enters the 20th Century

Well, it finally happened. We are now allowed to bring a bottle of our own, legally purchased, wine to a restaurant, provided they offer the service. This is good. (legally purchased means no home made wine!)

It is good for the restaurateur, who can choose how, when and whether or not to allow BYO in their establishment, and how much to charge for the service of providing glassware, linen, opening, re-closing, and so on. They should also be recognizing the potential lost profit they woud have made had you purchased from their list in their corkage fee.

The owner can reduce their inventory of wine, and can now, conceivably, cut back to a bare minimum of house wines (I'd recommend two reds, two whites for bare bones). As long as people know they support BYO. In this manner an owner can avoid carrying too much inventory (it is rumoured that Seven Restaurant carries $300,000 worth of wine - that is a lot of investment to carry on your books), save on space - tables can go where wine was stored, and the removal of the curse of curses for many restaurants - corked or otherwise spoiled wine. Not their problem any more.

You see, it is a little talked about thing outside the restaurant world, but there are many idiots (assholes) who always send the first bottle back as "corked" solely to impress their table mates. Some people send wine back as corked simply if they don't like it. I saw one person order a wine at a local restaurant that they thought was red, and when it arrived a white wine, they waited until the server left, and debated with their partner on whether to keep it, deciding to declare it "off" and ask for another bottle. "Red wine this time, please, it seems the whites are off." I could suggest where the cork belongs (good thing I am not a server, eh?), but to stick to the topic of this post, let's just say that won't happen any more. The server will just have to be polite and sympathetic... "oh, it's bad? I'm so sorry sir, would you like to look at our wine list?"

The customer can benefit too (though not always). That special bottle from Irougeley you have been saving to have with a cassoulet? Find a place that goes to the trouble to make cassoulet and take it there. Want to try different wines with each and every course with friends? Everyone choose a course to match with a bottle to bring. Want to drink great wine with dinner, but not pay a 2.5 to 3 times markup? Now's your chance.

The downside for customers is this. Not everyone knows a lot about wine, and wine-food pairing. A sommelier making up a wine list for a restaurant uses the food as a guide to select which wines appear on the list, so if you go to a place that has a sommelier designed list, you should have a chance to find wines that match your meal. And you may discover something different. Trust me - Yellow Tail Shiraz is not a food wine. But what may end up happening is that people will go out and buy the same old thing they "like" because someone they know likes it, and drink wine that makes their meal worse. Places like Saege Bistro, and jane's on the common (where I help with the list), offer wines you might not normally buy, but upon trying there, offer the chance to discover a new thing to impress your friends with at dinner parties. Wine that is not manufactured in a 20,000,000 gallon vat.

So, how can a customer get the most out of this new policy? Call first to make sure they do BYO. I recommend looking at the menu of the restaurant (most have it on-line - for a list of links to Atlantic Canada restaurants who use sommeliers to help with their wine lists check here) - and thinking about what you and your friends might order. Then consult a book (Hugh Johnson's Pocket Guide has a nice little section in it), a knowledgeable friend, or on-line about what styles of wine might best suit the food (and ethnicity of the foods) you will be ordering. Then bring those wines with you. If you are concerned about corked wine, bring a backup, or resolve to just order from the wine list.

On arriving at the restaurant, let your server know as soon as possible that you have wine. This allows them to set your table correctly, and if they provide full service, to have an ice bucket available for white or sparkling wines. Confirm the corkage fee in advance. Allow the server to open the wines - the service still takes place under their liquor license and they are still responsible for making sure no one is overserved. If you want, ask the server to allow you to pour. And tip on the corkage fee! If you get service equal to what you normally expect from a bottle purchased off the list, then tip well - remember, had you paid $80 for that $30 bottle, you would have been tipping on the $80, not on a $15 corkage fee.

My special suggestions? Do things you would not otherwise do! Bring a sparkling wine to start - not many people buy sparkling wine in restaurants here, for some reason. Soon we will be able to buy great ones made locally, so we should get into that habit now. Try a dessert wine with your dessert - we already make great sweet wines here in NS and they really should be consumed here more often. Challenge wine conventions - try a racy Riesling with food you might otherwise think of as better served by red wine. Chefs regularly use seasonings and spices we don't at home, so look at that information when choosing wine, instead of the protein source.

I'm probably out this weekend to dinner and will be "bringing". How about you?


If only the government bureaucrats were not so discriminatory about beer, I'd be bringing a couple excellent lagers to start. As it is, the government know-nothings are apparently still living in their past lives of puking in Legion parking lots, assuming that the only relation beer has with food is that it causes them to see it again soon.

But that's another post......

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