They have long been known as a place with extraordinary dining fare and craft cocktails, as well as a destination for fun tasting events. As most small businesses can attest, Covid presented Brimmer and Heeltap with impediments that required quick transcendence, in order to keep the party going. One such pivot was the creation of a monthly wine and cheese club, and subsequently, a bottle shop known as Half Seas Wine. Turophiles and oenohiles around the city gladly signed up for a monthly pick-up of some of the most delectable cheeses (procured by me!) and palatally titillating wines around. Having received ringing positive commentary about the club, I decided to take home a package of my own to see how my selection of cheeses and their wines do together. While one has the option to get three cheeses and three wines or six cheeses and six wines, I decided to go for the larger package. More is, after all, more.
The cheese line-up for May went as follows:
Petit Pomerol is a raw cow’s milk, unpressed, natural-rinded truckle from the Massif Central in France. The cows gleefully graze on grass sprouting from volcanic soils, which imparts a distinct minerality into the cheese. Due to a refrain from pressing the curds, this fromage maintains a higher level of moisture than one would find in a pressed drum, and it creates a supple texture, a buttery note followed by a hint of grass, and a waft of sweet cream. Due to its lack of bitterness and the full fat profile, this one should go swimmingly with a big, bold, tannic beast of a red or a nice, steely white that will cut through the fat and refresh the palate.
Bonneville is a local (Ferndale, WA) pasteurized cow’s milk caciotta-style that has been macerated in Cote Bonneville Syrah. It has a gentle booziness, a dense texture, and an utter snackability. Delicate shavings of this cheese coupled with dark fruits, like red cherries, plums, and even dates are fantastic. I recommend enjoying it with Syrah to enhance the flavors of the wine on the rind. This batch is atypically smokey, but it still works.
Patacabra is a unique, pasteurized goat’s milk cheese from Aragon, Spain. Practically unheard of with this genre of cheese, the curds are gently washed, which creates a sturdier, open paste, a sweeter taste, and it balances out the gentle funk from the brine baths the rind has received. Patacabra comes from around the Ebro river, essentially between Rioja and Catalonia, so my wine recommendation would be of a style from its home—tempranillo-based, well-oaked reds, Cava, or a sexy, red-fruited, licoricey, grenache-based red or rosé.
Brebirousse D’Argental is a pasteurized ewe’s milk bloomy-rind from the Rhone region in France. The orange rind is purely aesthetic, as it is washed in annatto, which is a natural dye that comes from the seed of the achiote plant (found in lower Central and South America). This softy boasts notes of cream, earth, wool, and a slight tang in the finish. Our sweet, rich, lil’ looker would do well with a crisp white or a full red that is not too tannic, as the bitterness in tannins can conflict with the penicillium in the rind.
Tomme de la Chataigneraie is a natural-rinded, pasteurized goat’s milk fromage from around the Auvergne region in France. The cows dine in chestnut groves, and the cheese itself is aged on chestnut planks, which translates to a rich nuttiness, a subtle yogurty flavor, and a vegetal rind that wows everyone who tries it. This is a cheese that, besides a little goaty tang, is difficult to discern its milk-type. Even avid goat cheese avoiders can get on board with this one. A viscous viognier or something with medium phenolics are likely be best for this cheese.
Mimolette is a pasteurized cow’s milk, firm, moreish fromage from Normandy whose origins lie in The Netherlands. This stunner is nutty, salty, and praline-esque. A versatile fromage with a good chew, this cheese can go with lots of things. Besides fruit, nuts, caramel, honey, cured meats, and jams, Mimolette couples well with white wine with a little residual sugar. The sweet/salty combo is divine.
The wines this month are a nod to spring:
Albariño from Rias Baixas (2019/13% ABV): A pale, briskly acidic, easy drinker. This wine boasts notes of lemon pith and mineral. It has an autolytic tone, which helps to balance out the wine and delivers a slickness to the roof of the mouth—lees contact makes what would be a very thin wine, a little fuller. I found that it couples best with Pomerol, Patacabra, and especially the Mimolette, which is texturally complementary and with the wine tastes of lemon lifesavers and salty praline. The Albariño refreshes the palate, poising you for the next mouthful.
AIX en Provence Rosé (2020/13% ABV): A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Carignan, this wine is a palid (mostly direct pressed), bone dry rosé with juicy, mouthwatering acid levels and aromas of grapefruit, pink flowers, and strawberries. Yum. The fromage that goes well with this ambrosia are Mimolette, Bonneville (the result is a mouthful of rose petals; smokiness and floral flavors are an agreeable combination), and Pomerol, which creates the most interesting, metallic, almost electrical mouthfeel in the back palate. Flavors of pomegranate and salt come to the forefront.
Rio Madre Rioja Rosé (2020/14.5% ABV): This high octane, sanguine wine is made from 100% Graciano, which is a grape that tends to be a blending component for red Rioja; it is revered for its aromatics. Besides the chemesthesis from the alcohol, one gleans aromas of red flowers, strawberries, and raspberries in this dry, flirtatious wine. This rosé proves to be rather bitter with some of the cheeses (I surmise it is due to the high level of alcohol), but it sure marries well with Mimolette and Patacabra. The Patacabra proves to be a balanced pairing partner. While you get nice salt, a little doughiness, and a breath of goatiness from the cheese, you also get splashed by a wave of fresh strawberries and potpourri from the wine. There is a lot going on with this oral marriage.
Spring Run Rosé (2020/13% ABV): A Washingtonian collaboration between Januik and Novelty Hill wineries. This GSM blend (Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre—a classic Southern Rhone blend) is the epitome of a spring wine. It teases out aromas of concentrated fruits, such as strawberry jam, crushed red cherries, warm, sun-baked boysenberries, honeysuckle, and jasmine flowers. Even though the label indicates a mere 13% alcohol, I think it is closer to 14% (winemakers are allowed 1.5% variability in alcohol levels). Spring Run Rosé conflicts with most of the cheeses, unfortunately, but the Pomerol and Patacabra prove to be exceptional. It is another instance in which the couplings are even-steven, so one notes the best qualities from both entities coming to the forefront.
Le Piane Maggiorina Vino Rosso (2019/13% ABV): Piedmont, Piedmont, Piedmont…I love you! This Italian red wine is a blend of Nebbiolo, Croatina, Vespolina, plus a field blend of nine other varieties. It offers puffy, powdery tannins, good acidity, and rich, dark, tart fruits like cranberries and young cherries. It goes well with Bonneville, Pomerol, Patacabra, and especially the Mimolette, which escorts a spectrum of aromatics and flavors, and with them, marvelous texture. This is the most complex pairing of the tasting.
Gaia Wines Monograph (2019/ 13% ABV): An Agiorgitiko from the Peloponnese—where a majority of Greek wine is created, especially reds. This one is medium everything: medium tannin, medium acid, medium bodied. It shows aromas of fruit punch and earth. It is most interesting with Patacabra where the wine emphasizes the qualities in the cheese, namely its inherent biscuity tone. This kind of coupling works when the host is attempting to highlight the qualities in the cheese, and the wine serves merely as a buttress. Sometimes fromage ought to be the main attraction, and this pairing is one such instance.
Whoever said wine and cheese go perfectly together was making a gross over-generalization. Some pairings can indeed be pleasing, but often, couplings trend towards merely okay to altogether disagreeable. When dealing with two entities that have high levels of volatile compounds, a harmonious oral mishmash can get tricky. There are many factors to consider. One must account for the short, medium, and long-chained fatty acids in cheese versus acid levels in wine, tannic astringency coupled with bitterness or ammonia in a rind, textural peculiarities, the element of alcohol/chemesthesis, etc., etc. With the well thought out variety of wine procured through Brimmer and Heeltap (and Half Seas Wine), and the concerted effort I make to include cheeses that are approachable for the peculiar palates of the masses, I knew going into this tasting that there would be some wines that did not like certain cheeses (can’t win ‘em all!) and that there would also be some stand-out matches. Such is how it goes with fermented foodstuffs. We can assume all we want, but we must try it to know for certain how and if a pairing works. And that is that.