How many times have you been in a restaurant when someone closes a menu early and says to the universe, “I’m going with a big ol’ burger”?
Is that bold proclamation, that declaration of need, delivered with a sprinkle of apology because a burger with cheese and a big puffy bun is perhaps not the healthiest choice? Or is it delivered with bravado, announcing to the world that this diner deserves one of the most effortlessly satisfying food creations carnivores have ever come up with?
My guess is it’s a little bit of both. A good hamburger is an indulgence. It is also pretty much always a little decadent, rich and hearty, which makes it a natural match for red wine. Sure, some white wines could work, and lots of sparkling wines too. But come on, let’s drink some red wine with our red meat. OK, one sparkler.
Below are some classic wine styles (and bottle recommendations) that pair with burgers, plus a couple of not-so-classic picks that worked well for me recently with a variety of burger styles — from a simple Swiss cheeseburger with all-American condiments, to a black-truffle-mayo-and-fried-egg stunner, to a bison burger with cheddar, caramelized onions and wasabi mayo.
I would never suggest a ho-hum wine just because burgers are, at the end of the night, just hot sandwiches with toppings. But I’d rather spend less on wine for burgers than I would on wine for a more intricate plate of vittles. With that in mind, only one of these bottles rings up higher than $20.
Zinfandel is one of the all-time classic burger wines. Big, jammy, juicy and spicy, it’s almost as if it were invented for this most American of sandwiches. If you are going with a classic pairing, why not go with one of the grape’s most renowned producers, Ravenswood? The 2013 Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel ($18.50) sources fruit from Sonoma County, mostly from the zin haven of Dry Creek Valley. This wine has comforting raspberry, blackberry, vanilla and spice with a dash of elegance.
Can you imagine not seasoning a hamburger patty with a little bit of salt and black pepper? This is where the Rhone grape varieties come into play, especially the powerful and legendary syrah, which can range from floral to leathery, often with a bite of pepper. If you want lively red fruit, minerality, herbs, incense and pepper, you could try the deliciously layered 2013 Presqu’ile Syrah ($35) from California’s Santa Maria Valley.
Argentines wouldn’t dream of eating one of their famous steaks without a glass of malbec. Malbec is also a great burger wine, with its velvety plum, blackberry, chocolate and earth. The 2014 Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec ($13) from the Mendoza region of Argentina is pleasantly gamy and jammy, full of black cherry and tobacco.
As long as it is not a tannic powerhouse, a California cabernet sauvignon, best friend of the juicy steak, is probably going to be a good match for your burger too. Try the 2014 Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon ($17) from the North Coast. Black cherry, cloves, cocoa and enough acidity to keep everything lively.
A silky merlot is sort of the wine equivalent of a milkshake in this pairing scenario — if you consider that some people like the fizz of soda with a burger, and others opt for a mouth-coating shake. The 2014 Toad Hollow Vineyards Merlot ($16) from Sonoma County offers cranberry, blue fruits, a chocolate finish and a lush, ultra- softness.
A burger with bubbles might become your default pairing. Plus, you can enjoy a glass while waiting for the grill to heat. The Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Premium Lambrusco ($15) from Emilia-Romagna is the opposite- equivalent of a milkshake with a burger. This sparkler is pleasantly tart and tongue-cleansing, with cherry, citrus, anise and a frothiness that will cut through the richness of just about any burger.