I've been making it a habit to try restaurants that are either BYOB or allow you to bring your own wine. Which is what some friends and I did a few weeks ago to fete a friend's birthday.
The challenge is always what to bring, not knowing what will be ordered or even what the menu will be. My friend grabbed two bottles from his formidable cellar which together we thought would be good "all arounders" to match whatever our culinary hearts desired (of course, these were wines we'd be happy enough to drink alone without food should disappointing menu tempt us to liquid supper).
We brought a Cline Cashmere Meritage from Sonoma -- a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre -- and Witness Tree Chainsaw Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, Oregon. Both wines offered a host of matching possibilities -- from beef to rich seafood. And since it was one of those unfortunately still-cold nights for spring, we erred on reds for the heavier dishes that we thought we'd be led to to combat the chill.
There were five of us, and we made it easy on the waitress by focusing on two entrees: a braised pork in a sweet sauce and scallops sauteed with bacon. We chose the Witness Tree Pinot Noir over the Cline Meritage.
Oregon Pinots I've found to be earthier and more structured than some of the sometimes flimsy ones that come from California, and was a perfect match. And while the adage of "whites with fish, reds with beef" still typically holds, the bacon preparation of the scallops called for a red wine with a bright fruit and tannin to balance the smoky flavor from the bacon.
The Meritage would have matched, too -- especially for the pork entree -- but its blend of more forward, spicier Rhone and Bordeaux region grapes may have overpowered the sweetness of the scallops. (Meritage is a term used for California wines that do not have the requisite 75% of one particular grape to be termed that specific varietal and that mimic French regional styles.)
So as you explore BYOB opportunities, experiment with your own matches. These two wines were hard working and versatile to match most menus. And as I said, they are always just fine to drink on their own, too.
For more information:
On Meritage wines http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meritage