When it comes to bringing wine to Philadelphia BYOBs, life is infinitely easier in the winter. For while there’s plenty of variety on local menus throughout the year, anyone who’s lived through that cold, dark November through March slog knows that root vegetables and stews and deep sauces glistening with demi-glace and roasted garlic tend to dominate. Even fish dishes generally lean toward the heavier end of things, with mushrooms crowning salmon and sole lavished with cream sauce. Which means that, in general, you’re pretty safe bringing a wine just as hearty. Pluck a rich Argentine Malbec or Napa Cabernet from among the shelf of reds, or a hefty, oak-kissed white Burgundy from the line-up of whites, and you can pretty much order with impunity: Whatever you attempt to pair with those wines will, in general, tend to work.
No so in the summertime. Because now, as our local bounty is really starting to hit its peak, and as most of us tend to eat lighter and more varied at dinner, you have to pay a bit more attention to what you bring to your favorite BYOB.
Personally, I’m a big believer in good, dry rosé this time of year. From lighter meats to heartier fish and nearly the entire gamut of pastas, rosé has the ability to frame whatever it’s paired with beautifully and stay just far enough in the background to allow the food to really shine.
There’s also an entire category of lightly aromatic whites that is custom-made for the warmer weather. From gently floral and often peach-driven Albariño, especially from Spain’s Rías Baixas region in the northwest of the country, to the denser, often smokier Viogniers from France and even California, these are wines that do well with everything from sauce with fruit in them to gently smoked dishes. Riesling also works brilliantly, especially alongside the kind of spicier foods that do so well in making you sweat and, as a result, cool you off on a hot day. Austrian Riesling tends to find its footing on the dry side of the spectrum, whereas German Riesling is generally sweeter. Look for the word “Kabinett” on the label for a wine that’s sweet like ripe fruit but not sugary, and “Spätlese” for one that’s slightly more so. With a dish like lamb vindaloo, it’s a no-brainer.
The world of lighter reds is also well worth exploring at BYOBs this summer. Zweigelt from Austria tastes like cherries rolled in peppercorns in the best possible way–perfect for dry-rubbed ribs. And Beaujolais-Villages, with its typically bright fruit and ability to taste even better when slightly chilled, is perfect. Pinot Noir also works, especially alongside proteins that have been charred on the grill.
But heartier reds also have a place–if you’re going to a BYOB with great BBQ, a bold, dense California Zinfandel is a great go-to. And the spicy reds of France’s Rhône Valley, as well as the often chocolate-y ones from Spain’s Toro region, are stellar with classic American summertime foods.
The key is to bring at least two bottles on your summertime BYOB outings–a red and either a white or a rosé. And try to find the menu online beforehand so you can further tailor your selections.
Finally, however–and this is the most important piece of advice I can offer here–don’t worry about selecting the perfect bottles. Because as long as you drink something you like, everything else is secondary. But the right wines can certainly help you hedge your bets. Of course, you really can’t go wrong with beer, either. But that’s another column for another time.
BYOB’S WITH WINE-FRIENDLY SUMMERTIME MENUS