In the past, we've suggested you to skip the "house wine" at your local bar. Apparently, we lied.
Beecher's Handmade Cheese
Beecher's Handmade Cheese is the latest edition to the restaurants lining Broadway between Union Square and the Flatiron Building. For cheese lovers, the first floor cheese shop and cafe is the ultimate. Handcrafted cheeses and other artisanal treats await. One refrigerator case is stocked with variations on the grilled cheese sandwich. Our mouths watered. Our stomachs growled. But we were there with friends to visit The Cellar, a vibrant wine bar decorated to feel like both a wine cellar and very comfortable lounge/study. It’s also a working cheese cellar where they age their cheese.
One of many cases containing a delicious assortment of cheese.

We arrived before our friends did and had the opportunity to scan the wine and dinner menus. We were psyched. The wine menu was interesting and varied. All from US producers, albeit mainly West Coast vineyards, which earns them extra marks in our book. We had coupons, part of a deal our friends found at Urbandaddy.com that would give us a “flight” of three signature mac & cheese dishes and up to four glasses of wine for $35. The mac & cheese we would be tasting would include ramekins stuffed with the following variations:
  • “world’s best” (the most traditional of the mac & cheese offerings)
  • balsamic mushroom, fennel
  • curried cauliflower, sweet onion
Clockwise from top: Balsamic Mushroom, World's Best, Curried Cauliflower
We were ready to dig in. Imagine our disappointment when we learned that our wine choices would only include the house white --a “pinot grigio”--and the house red--a “cabernet sauvignon”. We, the inveterate risk takers who love choosing randomly from wine menus. We, who turn our noses up at the nondescript house wines!

But Beecher’s actually gets it right. These house wines do not suffer for quality to offset the lower price. Their house Pinot Grigio is crisp with hints of lemon and mineral, and very light. Our dinner companions picked up a slight funkiness, which indeed, after an even bigger sniff, we picked up, too. However, because we planned to pair the wine with cheese, we thought the funk might augment the experience. When pairing food and wine, it’s always smart to match flavor profiles. Sweet to sweet and spicy to spicy. So funky to funky would presumably work well. And it did!

The Pinot Grigio paired with the World’s Best mac & cheese transformed into a balanced white, strong on minerality. The spice in the Curried Cauliflower, Sweet Onion mac & cheese really brought out the wine’s sweet citrus notes. The Balsamic Mushroom, Fennel mac & cheese overpowered this light wine, as is expected by the dish’s hearty flavors. In other words, the flavor of the wine was almost lost against the hearty dish. This experience reminds us how food pairings are supposed to work: against the three dishes, the wine transformed into something different and unique with each pairing.

That’s a simple Pinot Grigio for you, and most Pinot Girigio’s are simple. This one stood up well, and was not a disappointment. We were pleasantly surprised, and grateful for none of the oiliness like we would expect from a house Pinot Grigio. But it was the Cabernet Sauvignon that really surprised us. Fruity, with aromas of raspberry and leather and flavors of strawberry and pepper, this wine was considerably complex for what we were expecting. The color was bright red, indicating this was a young wine, too. It came off sweet against the World’s Best mac & cheese, spicy against the Curried Cauliflower, Sweet Onion, and was overpowered by the Balsamic Mushroom. This is by no means a typical house red wine. Where were the heavy tannins, the ethanol, and the oiliness we’ve come to expect in the “house wine from local bar” wine? Nate finished 3 glasses of the red after his Pinot Grigio, and our male dinner companion finished 4. This is a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, not as heavy or robust as most but just a rich. Reminiscent of a Beaujoulais.
 
The House Red - almost gone!
The best part? During happy hour (5-7pm) Beecher’s offers both wines for $5.00 a glass.

I’ve written twice that the Balsamic Mushroom mac & cheese overpowered the wine. That’s OK. By itself, this mac & cheese was decadent. Complex, delicate flavors. The World’s Best was probably the best of the three by itself (power of suggestion?) Probably because our palate is used to cheesy goodness in a standard mac & cheese. Probably because the quality cheese used in this dish is sufficient by itself to create the perfect plate.

After all that cheese . . . we ordered a cheese plate. Why not? We chose their “3 Cheese” plate, featuring their Flagship cheese, their 4-year aged Flagship, and Flagsheep, which is made from the milk of grass fed sheep. All of these were local to Washington state dairy industry. This was a well balanced cheese plate, as the Flagship cheese was sharp and nutty, the 4-year aged very smooth, and the Flagsheep very light and soft. All three went well with the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The evening’s fare was satisfying. Everyone left with goofy grins and lots of laughs. We will be returning to try more cheese, more wine, and their entree menu, which looked utterly scrumptious for a wine bar. The salmon with lemon risotto and blueberry sauce is calling to me.