It took me years to get there but now I’m convinced that a chance to bring your own wine to a restaurant is a blessing and almost always is worth an effort – in terms of both money and satisfaction.
Talking about money first – let’s not forget that it is not food, but alcohol that helps to make restaurants main profits. If it’s not a Michelin-starred haute cuisine oasis, restaurants don’t make that much on dishes. It ain’t the food that makes the money at a restaurant – depending on how trendy and shameless the place is, alcohol profit margin can reach sometimes as high as 500% profit.
It’s annoying enough to see in a restaurant wine list mediocre bottles that will cost you at least 3 times more than their real price and that you don’t like anyway. It is even more annoying, if you’re a person from the wine trade and are spoilt with possibilities to get even cheaper not dull, but truly exciting wines.
Many places will allow you to bring your wine even if officially they don’t embrace BYO policy. It is always worth asking – most of the times you’ll get permission for paying a corkage charge. The etiquette of BYO wine implies that the bottle you’re bringing is worth it in all senses – there’s no point in taking your own plonk if you could by it from a restaurant. A general rule of thumb is that BYO wine makes financial sense if a retail price of your bottle is not less than 15-20 pounds.
But it is not only about money. Bringing your favourite bottle gives you the anticipation of familiar pleasure. You have the comfort of knowledge that even if something goes wrong, you’re safe with your wine, your friend and ally. That’s exactly how I felt after attending one of the restaurants in Westminster recently. For meeting a friend from Madrid I chose one of my favourite discoveries of the year – 1996 Finca Valpiedra from Rioja. The fact that the wine comes from Spain was an additional benefit and a way to compliment the guest, but to be honest even if I were to meet a person from Brazil I’d bring the same bottle anyway – because I was in the mood for a red and truly elegant wine and didn’t think twice grabbing a bottle from a wine rack.
‘Elegant’ is not exactly what many people think of Rioja, the image of which still suffers from associations with too-heavy, overoaked, boring wines.
1996 Finca Valpiedra is anything but boring. This is a blend of Tempranillo with some Cabernet Sauvignon and a dash of Graciano. Quite a lot of people, after tasting it for the first time, admitted that they’d think it to be a French wine were they asked to taste it blind. I can see where they are coming from – there’s nothing in this wine that is over the top. It is silky, rounded, with a gorgeous nose of black fruits, prunes, cinnamon and a hint of chocolate and vanilla. Its provenance shows in the quality of tannins – beautifully integrated, velvety and perfectly married with all the flavours of the wine.
My friend couldn’t believe that it’s 1966 vintage – so fresh is the fruit, so lively is the wine thanks to the acidity. For someone who would prefer a lighter style, the producer makes the second wine – Cantos de Valpiedra, which a good example of a modern Rioja, very fresh and fruity. But after tasting 1996 Finca Valpiedra probably for a dozen of times this year, I stay committed to it – classy and classic Rioja.
This is one of the wines that really make the idea of BYO bottle worth being bothered. Even when a maître d’ is grumpy and a waitress struggles to get rid of the cork, it can’t rain on your parade. You drink the wine, keep smiling to yourself and try not to beam looking at the tables around you – poor guys, they don’t know what they’re missing.