To BYO or not to BYO, that is the question…..

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

EpsilonI’m all for enterprising new wine ventures but since when did BYO become serious? The Bring Your Own Wine Club launched a couple of months ago, you may have heard about it they got a slot on the BBC news. The concept is simple, the founders have;

partnered with many of London’s best restaurants — all of whom otherwise prohibit BYO or normally charge a hefty corkage fee — to offer wine lovers the privilege of bringing their own special bottles to accompany their meals for no or reasonable corkage fees.” (

Hmmmm, another elitist wine related company, just what we need.

For me BYO exists to fill a need that’s the exact opposite of what the BYO Wine Club has established. It means you can treat yourself to a good bottle of wine, some good food and get out of doing the dishes, wouldn’t you say? In fact I think Britain could do with a few more BYO restaurants for exactly that reason, not so some Champagne Charlie has the chance to try an overpriced bottle of Bordeaux Daddy bought en primeur… Oh and did I mention the £99 annual membership fee? What’s that you say Mr.BYOwineclub? You’d like me to pay you to have the privilege of opening my own wine in a restaurant that isn’t even yours? Really??

Non, I don’t think so.

Out and about in London the other night made me think of this odd new BYO wine club and how off the mark I think they’ve got things. I went to The Pavement in Clapham Common. No Michelin stars, nothing fancy, just a regular urban BYO restaurant perfect for Girls About Town. It was a hugely refreshing evening for a couple of reasons. 1. There was no need to ponder longingly over what wine would suit everyone’s palate, meal and budget and 2. It was the perfect opportunity for me to review some wines I’d been sent in the manner in which most winemakers expect their wines to be served; with friends, with food and with a disregard of the sip, gargle and spit assessment technique we’re taught at wine school.

I’d been sent three wines from Ca’di Rajo, an Italian winery based in North East Italy. I’d been talking to them for a while having spied the technically advanced packaging on their sparkling Prosecco; Epsilon. It’s about as technologically advanced as a wine can get and draws from several emerging wine trends:

  1. It’s a Prosecco – which you know is big right now
  2. It’s low’ish alcohol, 9.5% abv – surveys suggest that 59% of regular wine drinkers would now consider drinking lower alcohol wine
  3. It has QR code technology on the label (QR = Quick Response)
  4. The QR code actually is the label!

We were all hugely intrigued by the wine, not only in anticipation of having some bubbles, but also because none of us had QR technology on our phones….. which means that had I not done my research we would’ve been none the wiser as to what wine it actually was! Technology aside the deliciously monochrome label was as smart as the frizzante prosecco in the bottle which was laden with flavours; aniseed, licorice, pear drops and blossom on the nose. Peachy, fruity, slightly soapy on the palate, with a surprisingly rich off dry finish. A lovely aperitif.

ninaWe opened the bottle of Ca’di Rajo Nina 2009 with our main courses. A white wine produced wholly from the Incrocio Manzoni grape (don’t worry I hadn’t heard of it either) a cross breed of Riesling Renano and White Pinot. It went well with the melange of courses we had; steak, risotto, chicken, all thanks I think, to the weight given to the wine from 9 months aging on the lies.

By the time I pulled out the bottle of Ca’di Rajo Chardonnay 2009 it was pretty warm so we asked for the bottle of SA chenin blanc that one of the other G.A.T’s had had the foresight to put in the restaurant’s fridge…. But the story, I’m afraid, ends abruptly there. I can’t tell you what the wine was like, or exactly what the wine was called. I don’t think a QR code could have helped us much in this case either as after some tooing and froeing and routing around out the back our chilled bottle of chenin blanc was rather bemusingly discovered empty over on another table!

Now then Mr.Byowineclub, how would you have got out of that one?!

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2 Responses to “To BYO or not to BYO, that is the question…..”

  1. What really surprised me was that most decent restaurants, certainly many of the ‘top ones’ alluded to in the press release are quite happy to accommodate BYO, you just need to ask nicely. Where the problem starts to occur is if too many people start to do it. Especially at the top end of fine dining the margins can get quite small on the actual food, taking into account the man hours required in the kitchen, spiralling costs on desirable things like beef and vegetables (I’ve often been gobsmacked at our veg bills..) and in cases like these the extra revenue from the wine side of the bill keeps the whole place afloat.
    It’s not really a situation that I approve of, but that’s kind of how it’s worked out. If you then look at the number of London based places that are struggling to even break even despite being busy 5/6 nights of a week it becomes quite painful.
    Still for byo almost anywhere, just phone up in advance be prepared to pay somewhere akin to the price for the very lowest bottle of wine, or if that’s not on the cards just make sure you have a couple of glasses of something for an aperatif, make sure you offer the sommelier/manager a small glass of whatever you have if its nice and I can guarantee you’ll have no problems repeating the reservation…

  2. Miss Bouquet says:

    Excellent advice, thanks Donald, it’s great to get the view from someone involved in the on-trade.

    So readers, forget membership deals… BYO doesn’t have to cost you anymore than a phone call! (and a small charge for corkage)