Beneluxx Review: Learning Cuvee

Old City’s Beneluxx is about education, not appetite

In Midtown Village, epicures sip peppery olive oils from diminutive martini glasses at Mercato. In Center City, students gather at DiBruno Bros. for tips on pairing cheese with beer, and in Chester County, Chaddsford Winery tasters discover the nuances of terroir. This mania for palate education has made the appearance of Beneluxx, where wine, cheese, beer and chocolate can be ordered by the taste, more or less inevitable.

[sidebar]Everything about Beneluxx is bookish, especially the 12-page menu, a dissertation-length document that outlines the sprawling selection in ecstatic detail. (The rhône from Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape is described as “thoroughly primal.”) Reading glasses as well as a notebook are necessary supplies for a visit. You’ll also need that glass washer, a fun novelty installed in the middle of each table, to freshen up your stemware between beverages. When wine comes at you in two-ounce pours, there’s a whole lot of rinsing to do.

With dozens of choices, this is kind of a Montessori method of education. The informed staff can certainly provide guidance, but Beneluxx is geared toward self-directed study. Unlike Tria, where the limited menu of wine, beer and cheese has been edited to highlight unusual treasures, Beneluxx offers what can become a stress-inducing smorgasbord of flavors, including many commonplace staples like Hoegaarden and Roquefort.

Aficionados must search for those less familiar gems, like the Grotten Brown Cave Aged Ale, a fruity, refreshing Belgian double, and the Roomano gouda, the umami-rich, caramel-hued, crystal-studded star of the cheese menu. (It’s tough for any cheese to shine when it’s served, as those here are, at refrigerator temperature.) The single-origin chocolate menu does feature interesting picks, like the 75 percent version crafted from Tanzanian cocoa beans. Again, presentation missteps — the thick, uniform disks don’t melt easily on the tongue — hinder enjoyment.

Beneluxx’s pricing structure does take some of the commitment phobia out of trying big-ticket wines you might otherwise avoid. Recently, $7.60 could buy a few sips of the ripe and balanced 2004 Antinori Tignanello Super Tuscan (retail: $218 per magnum). The mini-pour also encourages a budding wine enthusiast to compare different bottles of the same style. Two recent viogniers, a 2005 Tablas Creek and a 2005 Jean Luc Colombo Les Figuieres, showed the versatility of this underappreciated grape.

But tasting six or eight wines or beers in one sitting is an assault on the senses that can leave you unsatisfied, with only a hazy idea of which samples you liked best. The onslaught of too-brief tastes makes you yearn for one big glass or goblet to savor.

Beneluxx Tasting Room, 3 South 3rd Street, 267-318-7269,