Since the beginning of 2016, I’ve been writing restaurant reviews for BYO restaurants (meaning they don’t have liquor licenses) in the Philadelphia area. The only wines I recommend are those that can be found in Pennsylvania, one of three states that control the sale of wines and spirits in state-run stores. That is why you’ll see a code for each wine. It helps you to navigate the bureaucracy.
The wines below were recommendations for food at restaurants that didn’t get particularly good reviews. So, I won’t mention the restaurants. But the wines are fine. Drink up!
Wines for Indian cuisine
Many people (including restaurant critics) think beer is the obvious beverage with Indian cooking. That’s fine, but limiting. Sparkling wine with spicy food, however, is perfect. The bracing acidity and bubbles help to refresh a palate that can be overcome with heavy seasoning and rich sauces. And the lower alcohol in sparkling wines are less likely to fan the flames of chile fire.
But don’t waste your money on expensive bubbly. Instead, try the Spanish sparkling wine called Cava. Cavas are typically priced under $20 and often under $15, which makes them great bargains. Perhaps the best example (in Pennsylvania, at least) is Jaume Serra Cristalino Serra Brut (Code: 6501, on sale for $9.99). I’ve impressed more than a few friends with this tasty sparkler, which has just the right balance of fruit and freshness.
Albet i Noya Brut Reserva NV (Code: 22840, $19.99) is a more refined (some would say austere) Cava with notable minerality. For heartier dishes like that meat curries, consider Vallformosa Origen Rose Brut Non Vintage (Code: 43631; $21.99), which is riper and richer than the other two Cavas.
Wines for African cuisine
The South African wine industry was hidebound until the end of apartheid in 1990. But it has certainly made up for lost time. Among the white varietals, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc (once known as Steen), lead the way. one of the best examples of Sauvignon Blanc is Buitenverwachting Beyond 2014 (Code: 72720, $13.99), which shows New World fruit and old world acidity. Others to look for include: Warwick Professor Black Stellenbosch 2015 (Code: 47223, $16.99); and Neil Ellis Groenekloof 2015 (Code: 49825,$16.99)
Wildekrans Walker Bay 2015 (Code: 49507, $12, imported by the Boutique Wine Collection located only a few blocks from the restaurant, is a good example of South African Chenin Blanc. A touch sweeter with than Sauvignon Blanc it is still quite crisp and delicious. Also try AA Badenhorst Secateurs Swartland 2013 (Code: 37426,$15.99) and Man Family Wines Coastal 2013 (again, look for the 2014) (Code: 37600, $9.99)
Pinotage, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, was long considered the flagship South African red, despite derision from some critics. But quality has improved so that this medium bodied wine can stand on its own instead of being hidden in a blend. Man Family Wines Paarl 2013 (Code: 47204 $9.99) is a value priced example.
Syrah, here called Shiraz, does even better in South Africa’s Mediterranean climate. For example, Graham Beck Western Cape Game Reserve 2013 (Code: 72729, $15.99) is rich and well structured. Rhone-style blends with Shiraz also shine, like Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap 2014 (Code: 9403, $10.99), which adds Mourvedre and Viognier.