Vine and Dine

A BYOBer's guide to pairing wine with food at selected Valley restaurants

It's Friday night and you decide to enjoy a glass of wine and a memorable meal at one of the Valley's restaurants where you can bring your own bottle. If you've been following these pages, it's easy to know where to go with your brown bag. Try Coup Des Tartes in Phoenix, Gregory's Grill on the edge of Scottsdale or Main Street Bistro out in Chandler. The bigger question is what wine should you bring? Without seeing the menus, matching a nice wine with an unknown entree can be daunting. What you need is a menu preview with a wine expert for some vintage suggestions.

Meet Michael Fine of Sportsman's Wines, Spirits and (Other) Flavours. Fine knows wine. When he was only 14 years old, he decided his life would be involved with fermented grapes. At an age when most kids are still deciding what sort of skateboard they want, Fine began taking home-study courses in wine. (That his father was president of Paul Masson Winery during the Orson Welles "We shall sell no wine before its time" era may have influenced his vocational decision.) Since then, Fine has worked in just about every aspect of the wine business from scrubbing wooden barrels to working as a wholesaler, supplier and, for the last 10 years, as a retailer. For this BYOB guide, Fine agreed to suggest some pairings for the menus from the restaurants mentioned above.

Coup Des Tartes "Everyone in the store here loves this restaurant," says Fine. "This is a wonderful menu with good solid food without a lot of doohickeys and doodads on it."

What about the pate, mozzarella or Brie appetizers? "I think a big, fat, rich style of Chardonnay, whatever's your favorite, would be a good choice. A couple that come to mind are Calera Chardonnay or Wattle Creek Chardonnay. [Wattle Creek, incidentally, is owned by Phoenix-based Christopher Williams. It's a terrific wine, but he doesn't have a lot of wine to sell.]

"Something that is basic and would go very well--a lot of people would turn their nose up at this--is Kendall Jackson Chardonnay Vintner's Reserve. It's inexpensive, has a lot of fresh fruit in it and it's something you can find anywhere.

"These are definitely French-style salads. I like German Rieslings with this style food. Again, sweeter still than a Chardonnay. Lettuce and dressings lend themselves to a sweeter-style wine because there is so much acidity in the dressing. A rich sweet wine actually cleans all that acidity from the palate. One that people will be able to find is Carl Graff Peisporter-Goldtropfchen."

Moving down the menu, Fine studied the entrees. "These sandwiches have a lot of flavor, and I'd love to drink a beer with them. Maybe a Pete's Wicked Ale or a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. They would be great matches with this. A lighter-style red wine would go well. Perhaps a Beaujolais-Villages or a lighter Pinot Noir. For the fish entrees, I'm going to say a Sauvignon Blanc. It'll go well with the salmon or halibut. A good one would be Cloudy Bay from New Zealand. For the heavier foods like pork tenderloin or steak, I'd go with a heavy Cabernet from the Hess Collection or a Chateauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhone region. With lamb, I'd go with a California Merlot."

Gregory's Grill "He has a diverse selection of appetizers," says Fine. "For the grilled shrimp, I'll go with a Chardonnay. Now with the beef carpaccio, I'd do a rose, a really good French rose from Provence or Loire Valley. These are sweet salads [honey-ginger vinaigrette dressing and grilled pears], so stick with a Chardonnay. You don't want to combine sweet food with a sweet wine except at dessert where you can get away with a heavier sweetness.

"For the pan-roasted salmon or tandoori mixed grill, I think a Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps a lighter Pinot Noir. The Alaskan halibut might go with a Chardonnay, but really a Sauvignon Blanc would be better. I would take Murphy Goode or Robert Pepi labels."

Main Street Bistro "I haven't been here yet, but I like the menu," Fine says with enthusiasm. "I'm thinking beer for the falafel croquettes or hummus appetizers. Here you want very crisp, leaner beer like Moretti, an Italian Pilsner. A GewYrztraminer would go well with the tabbouleh or Mediterranean salads. It has a spiciness of its own that would complement the spicy flavors.

"Most of the vegetarian entrees like the veggie stir fry or stuffed grape leaves lend themselves well to a Pinot Gris, a Pinot Grigio or a Pinot Blanc [which is like a Chardonnay but without the fullness of the fruit] like Cooper Mountain from Oregon.

"For the chicken or shrimp dishes, I'm suggesting some Mediterranean wines for Mediterranean-style food: Sangiovese, Cote du Rhone or possibly a Syrah."

Fine also has a few guidelines on the etiquette of bringing a bottle of wine into a restaurant. "Hand it to the waiter," Fine says. "Most of these restaurants charge a small corkage fee and for that they should provide service, that is, opening the wine, pouring it, keeping it chilled. They should also provide glassware. Now, it would be inappropriate for you to go in with an open bottle of wine."

Having said that, Fine adds that it's a privilege to be able to take your own wine to a restaurant, and normally your server would be getting tipped on the cost of the bottle. "Your server needs to be compensated for providing that service."

Fine cautions that there are as many opinions about how to pair wine as there are people, and there are many more matches that would be just as satisfying. But you've got to start somewhere, so for your next dinner out, you might start with Fine's picks.

Coup Des Tartes, 4626 North 16th Street, Phoenix 212-1082

Gregory's Grill, Papago Plaza, 7049 East McDowell, Scottsdale 946-8700

Main Street Bistro, 820 West Warner, Chandler 814-7656

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