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BYO What?

When it comes to ethnic cuisine, wine pairings can be tricky. Let the experts tell you which bottles to bring on your next BYOB adventure.
Friday Feb 05, 2010.     By Erica Walkup
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

<A HREF=/bars/bin-36.html>Bin 36</a> wines
photo: Brian Hall (Bin 36)

There are many reasons to love BYOBs. They're usually pretty cheap, the atmosphere is typically unpretentious, and bringing your own wine means not having to worry about mispronouncing Viognier when you order. But just because you can't say it (it's vee-yohn-yay, for future reference), it doesn't mean you can't know that it tastes great with tamales. We've consulted with a few wine experts to find out what wines work best with popular BYOB cuisines from Indian to Japanese. So next time you head out for some pizza or pad thai, give your fallback bottle of Chardonnay the night off and bring one of these recommended varieties instead.

Indian

While tea may be more popular than alcohol in India, many wines and beers naturally lend themselves to traditional Indian dishes. Brian Duncan, wine director at Bin 36, says the best wine "hands down" for curry is Gewurztraminer, a fruity white wine that's similar to Riesling. Jean Iversen, author of the guidebook BYOB Chicago, agrees that Rieslings and wines with lower alcohol content work well to balance spicy dishes, noting that "you wouldn't put out fire with alcohol."

Bring these beverages to: Hema's Kitchen, Indian Grill

Italian

Iversen's research turned up a growing number of Italian and pizza places that allow diners to bring their own booze. As Italy is a major wine-producing country, the best rule of thumb is to pick wines from the same region of Italy as the food you're eating. Or as Alpana Singh, director of wine and spirits for Lettuce Entertain You and host of "Check, Please!" says, "What grows together, goes together." For pizza and pasta with tomato sauce, she recommends a robust, fruity wine with high acidity like Chianti or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. For white sauces, stick with crisp, lemony wines like Vermentino, Falanghina and Trebbiano.

Try these combos at: Antica Pizzeria, Lucia's Ristorante

Japanese

Although rosé gets a bad rap thanks in part to that fact that it's often consumed from a box, Bin 36's Duncan says sparkling rosés or rosé cavas are sushi's best friends. Champagne and sparkling wines in general "celebrate the subtlety in the shellfish," and the bubbles help keep the palate fresh after you cover everything with wasabi and soy sauce. Other varieties that go well with sushi include German Reislings, Chenin Blanc and Vouvray. Not to leave the red wines out, Duncan recommends pairing Zinfandel with unagi (eel) rolls.

Pick your favorite for: Coast Sushi Bar, Shiso

Mexican

When picking wine to drink with any type of cuisine, it's important to consider the most common, dominant flavors. For Mexican food, that's often cilantro. Duncan recommends highly acidic wines like Sauvignon Blanc to balance this leafy, aromatic herb. Higher acids and citrus flavors such as those found in Pinot Gris also go well with ceviches. As is true for other, often-spicy ethnic cuisines, fruity wines work well to cut through the heat. And if you have a hankering for mole, Duncan says to opt for an Australian Shiraz or California Zinfandel to bring out the chocolate notes.

Taste these flavors at: Mixteco Grill, Chilam Balam Cocina Mexicana

BYOB Chicago by Jean Iversen

Thai

Here's where you can bust out that Chardonnay. Just make sure it's an oaky variety to accentuate the nuts found in pad thai and dishes with peanut sauce. Again, in order to balance out the chile and other spicy flavors, Duncan says you can't go wrong with a fruity Riesling or Chenin Blanc.

Try it for yourself at: Spoon Thai, Sticky Rice

Where to get the wine: Although it may be easier to stop at the liquor store next to the restaurant, Iversen encourages BYOBers to go to a specialty wine shop and spend a little more on a good bottle. With restaurants selling wine at a 300-percent markup, even a $15 bottle will save you $30 compared to what you'd pay at a non-BYOB. Chicago has close to 100 fine wine stores, many of which will even deliver to the restaurant.

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