Full bodied red with Mediterranean food... help me impress my BYOB date
Date at a BYOB Lebanese restaurant in Chicago, and I offered to bring the wine; I know a tiny bit about wine, but a very tiny bit--and I kind of want to impress this guy. :)
We are both vegetarian, and both generally prefer full-bodied reds; speaking now just for myself, I like Spanish and South American, on the spicy and earthy side. I'm also a California girl and love Cab, Zin and Syrah--but, for the last two, not as much on the softer, fruitier varieties.
Suggestions? I'd like to spend less than $20, have access to a decent wine store or two...
Are you going to Maza by chance ?
If you really want to impress your date, do yourself a big favor and bring a red AND a white to this meal....
As for the easy choice... the safest white for the cuisine is riesling. Very nice with lebanese, turkish, egyptian, moroccan... just a wide range of middle eastern foods... Will match any and all spices you're likely to encounter, great with grilled foods, nice with variety of apps like ezme.... You can pick up a real nice german riesling at Sams or Binnys in the teens... ask for a kabinett.
As for reds... zinfandel is probably your most flexible option here. Has an interesting spectrum of intrinsic flavor notes that match middle-eastern cuisines the best, IMO...
Personally I think it's a mistake to rely on a singular red wine for a multi-course middle eastern meal. You have all those lovely spices and trying to match them all to a ponderous red isn't the way to go. Why the red may be nice for the kebabs, you need something else to branch out for the many other dishes you're likely to have and that's why I'd recommend riesling as your second vino. I recall a huge moroccan spread we BYOB'd to awhile back. The couple at the next table had this trophy Silver Oak Cab which didn't do any justice to the variety on their table.
My first though was Bandol, and I'm a fan of La Bastide Blanche, which you should find at Sam's. Their "basic" bandol should be close to your price range. When you get to their special cuvee wines (Fontaineu, Estagnol, La Tourtine), then the price isn't what you want (but the wines are great).
It is a little hard for me to seperate out what *I* would do given all of your parameters and what I think might go over best.
I think your safest option is to get Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel. It should be findable just under $20 and it rocks. Rich, purple fruits, jammy, pepper-y, it basically defines CA Zin and it is an awesome value.
Now, if you wanted to stray just slightly out of your comfort range and try to impress this guy with a less well known type of wine, I would aim for a Nero d'Avola from Sicily. Morgante and Firriato both make good examples under $20 with the Firriato being a bit lighter, but also more elegant and complex. Technically, I also think this would pair a bit better with the food, but again, I recognize this is more of a risk as it is something you've not tried before (that I know of) and it is *slightly* less full-bodied than the wines you mention (though still keeping in the same theme of dark, rich, spicy, earthy)
Abbycooks, I hope this helps, I'm vegan so am glad to recommend vegan wines that are my faves. It sounds like you know a lot more about wine than you give yourself credit for. You could try Chateau Musar. They are a Lebanese vineyard and have incredible reds. I pay about 40 dollars (twice what you said you want to pay) but the wine is well worth it. I am sure you have had this but I suggest Frey vineyards (organic, vegan friendly), their pinot noir runs about 15 dollars. Another fave of mine is Our Daily Red from the West Coast, this one I pay around 8 dollars for. Finally, all the Yellow Tail red wines are vegan friendly and are a good buy but if you are out to make an impression, I would recommend Chateau Musar. Best wishes for your date.