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Burger and Wine Pairings Done Right

- Updated

Can a dainty glass of grape juice really edge out beer to sit beside a juicy burger? We think so. Allow us to ponder some burger and wine pairing logic.

Some would argue that these two culinary classics are not in the same class: street food vs. sophistication. If you believe that, you’re not paying attention to how versatile these two products 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, cheddar, mushrooms and swiss, and 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

burger-wine-pairing-1-winefolly

Perfect Burger

You know the one, it’s the burger with lettuce, tomato, and onion that doesn’t need cheese 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.

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.

A $36 burger? The 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 its 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


cheeseburger-wine-pairing-winefolly

Classic Cheeseburger

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 complement the cheddar cheese and ground beef combination. You could bump this pairing up a notch by adding a piece of roasted red pepper into your burger!


mushroom-burger-wine-pairing-winefolly

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.

bacon-burger-wine-pairing-winefolly

Barbecue Bacon Cheeseburger

For those thrill-seekers among us, 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.

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-burger-dallas by kevin marple
Neighborhood Services on Lovers Lane in Dallas seems to know what’s up. Photo by Kevin Marple.

Last Word: Are We Even 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 idea of meat on top and using the lettuce as a way to stop the bread from getting 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.)

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AboutMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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