Hamburgers are the headlining feature in American comfort food and wine has been collecting fans for thousands of years all over the globe – but can the two really stand side by side on a menu? Can a dainty glass of grape juice really edge out beer to sit beside a juicy burger? We think so. Some would argue that these two culinary classics are simply not in the same class: street food vs. sophistication. But if you believe that, you’re really not paying attention to how versatile these two products really are, so consider this:
- a.) Wine is just spoiled grape juice.
- b.) You can spend $36 for a burger (21 Club in New York) and it doesn’t even include cheese!
So, we thought it appropriate to put our wine pairing skills in action and come up with some great wine recommendations for 4 classic burgers recipes: plain, with cheddar, with mushrooms and swiss, and with barbecue bacon cheese.
The only problem is you’re going to be hungry and thirsty after reading this (at least we warned you).
Awesome Burger and Wine Pairings
You know the one, it’s the burger with lettuce tomato and onion that doesn’t need cheese in order to be a masterpiece in each and every bite. Subtle perfection is the name of the game and this classic burger recipe is the ultimate test of quality burger-manship.
- Lambrusco Amabile “Amabile” is a slightly sweet version of Lambrusco
- Spanish Garnacha (AKA Grenache) Found in the Northern wine regions of Spain
- Cannonau di Sardegna (AKA Grenache) A smoky style and a great wine find of Sardinia
- Ruby Port on the Rocks One of our favorite Port cocktails of all time
- Simple Sangria It’s better when you make your own Sangria.
Why it works: Traditionally, this burger calls for Coke or a Root Beer so, choosing wines with an element of bitter-sweet pays homage to the classic brown soda pairing. Interestingly enough, the wines listed above (as prepared) all have substantially less sugar than a can of coke.
21 Club Burger
I love this burger with an elegant, silky medium bodied Red Châteauneuf-du-Pape preferably with a bit of age. Medium bodied is important because it will enhance the meat flavor but not overpower it’s subtleties. I would look for one with medium, medium minus, integrated silky, sweet tannins even better if it has a hint of glycerol that would meld magically with the fat. A lot of CDPs have flavors of red cherries, raspberries, strawberries and I like a wine with a red fruit element for the tart and tang of the melted cheddar and also because I feel ripe blue fruit can sometimes compete with fatty meat flavors. And finally while some Rhône wines can finish with a bit of showy spicy, I would look for a CDP that has a nice earth and spice balance that rounds out the experience of the smoky char and subtle pepper of the meat and the airy, buttery sweetness of the brioche. Rosalina Pong, Sommelier at 21 Club
A perfect burger (like the one described above) with the addition of a slice of cheddar cheese which adds tang and creaminess to the overall profile.
- Crianza or Reserva Rioja
- Chianti Classico or Montalcino Rosso
- Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
- Coonawarra Cabernet
- South African Cabernet
Why it works: Cheeseburgers are often classically paired with sweetened ice tea and the reason iced tea works so well is that its tannin acts as a palate cleanser, cleaning up after the stickiness of cheese. The wines above also feature higher tannin. Additionally, they have more savory flavors (tomato, roasted pepper, black currant, dried leather) which will better compliment the cheddar cheese and ground beef combination. You could actually bump this pairing up a notch by adding a piece of roasted red pepper into your burger!
Mushroom Swiss Burger
This savory style burger delivers rich umami flavors of grilled mushrooms (usually sprinkled salt and pepper) and a slice of melted buttery, nutty swiss cheese.
- Cool-climate Merlot including New York, New Zealand, Canada, and Switzerland
- Right Bank Bordeaux These are the Merlot-dominant blends of Bordeaux… amazeballs.
- Langhe Nebbiolo or Roero The Italian red that’s light in color but massive in taste.
- Washington Merlot Loads of red fruit and ample acidity.
Barbecue Bacon Cheeseburger
For those of us thrill seekers, this burger is the equivalent to wingsuiting because of the intensity of flavor blasted into each bite (you can also die from overdoing it… but a lot slower). This would be the holy hand grenade of burgers.
- Lodi Zinfandel Smoky smoky Lodi is super underrated.
- Aussie Shiraz / Paso Robles Syrah Paso Robles and South Australia produce the boldest Syrah in the world.
- French Syrah An herbaceous, light style of Syrah from the Northern Rhône.
- Petite Sirah (AKA Durif) is an American favorite.
- Mourvèdre (AKA Monastrell) Deep, rich, peppery and somewhat meaty red wines from Spain and Southern France.
- Aglianico Aglianico is all about smoky, leathery, Italian wines…
When BBQ, Syrah
If BBQ, then grill. If grill, then smoky, earthy red that matches up well with the flavors in a BBQ/Bacon Cheeseburger. If smoky, earthy red that matches up well with the flavors in a BBQ/Bacon Cheeseburger, then Northern Rhone Syrah. If Northern Rhone Syrah, then Nirvana. It’s science…
The Northern Rhone Valley in France is Syrah’s birthplace. The expressions here are a lot more transparent than Syrah you may have had from other parts of the world: Cali, Australia, etc. What you find underneath generous dark fruit are spicy/savory notes, Provençal herbs, smoked meat (Hello, bacon). Yeah, those flavors are in wine. Love them. Brian McLintic, Viticole Wine Club
Neighborhood Services on Lovers Lane in Dallas seems to know what’s up. Photo by Kevin Marple.
Are We Doing This Right?
In researching this article I became obsessed with the proper way to build a burger. I always thought the rule was “lettuce on bottom and meat on top.” It made sense, you are essentially championing the meat on the top and using the lettuce as a way to stop the meat and tomatoes from making the bottom bread soggy. Nobody likes soggy bottoms. Of course, when you look online for the answer, there are a bunch of pictures putting meat at the bottom of the stack.
What do you think? Meat on bottom, lettuce on top, or vice versa? Do we have any burger experts out there? Inquiring minds want to know! (Tell us in the comments section below.