An unlikely pairing: Burgers and wine
September 3rd, 2011
07:00 AM ET
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Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.

All National Cheeseburger Day coverage

There’s a useful wine-pairing bit of advice which runs, “It’s not the meat, it’s the sauce.” What that means is when you’ve got a chunk of protein in front of you –unless you prefer your meat à la Cro-Magnon, i.e. rare and dripping with blood - you’re most likely pairing wine to the sauce or condiments on it as much as the meat itself.

In other words, smother a chicken with mushroom-cream sauce, and you’ve got a whole different wine situation than if you take the bird, dip it in sriracha, and roast it on a bed of limes (Admittedly, I’ve never done that and it would probably taste god-awful, but you get the idea).

Same goes for burgers. And since it's Labor Day weekend, certainly someone out there is grilling up a burger or two, right?

Basic Ol’ Hamburger (ketchup, mustard, lettuce, onion, pickle)
Tanginess from the mustard, a little sweetness from the ketchup, a little sourness from the pickle, a whole lot of nothing from the lettuce. Plus meat. Star of picnics around the nation. I’d go with a not-too-tannic red. The plush, berry-rich 2008 Columbia Crest H3 Merlot ($12) would do the trick.

Bacon Cheeseburger
When I think of Heaven, I think of St. Peter at the pearly gates saying hello, and then some guy with wings next to him handing me a really good bacon cheeseburger (I’m taking a different bus to the afterlife than the vegetarians of the world). What I’d drink with that, wine-wise, would be something with some pretty substantial tannins, which will help cut through all that bacon-cheese-beef fat. Côtes du Rhône from France: not a bad choice at all. Go for the 2007 E. Guigal Côtes du Rhône Rouge ($13).

Avocado, Jalapeño, Pepper Jack Burger with Salsa
Spicy. The thing to know about spicy when it comes to wine is that tannic wines accentuate heat. Alcohol doesn’t help either. Barring a cold beer, I’d actually go with a juicy Pinot Noir with this burger, say from California’s Central Coast. The 2009 Redtree Pinot Noir ($10) is surprisingly good despite the modest price.

Barbecue Sauce Burger
Sweet, sticky, smoky barbecue sauce needs a red built like Santa Claus - massive, but in an embracing way, not in a 'now-Hulk-smash!' kind of way. That, to me, is Zinfandel: big dark fruit, soft tannins, a kind of voluminous feel to it. The 2009 Gnarly Head Old Vine Zinfandel ($12) has robust blackberry flavors and a dark, spicy finish.

Dry Turkey Burger with Nothing on It
Somewhere out there someone is trying to stay healthy by eating one of these. Madness knows no bounds. Drink water with it, then watch Papillon, the great Steve McQueen movie about being in prison on Devil’s Island in French Guiana - because that is what you are doing to your soul, my friend.

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All National Cheeseburger Day coverage

© 2011 American Express Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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Filed under: Bite • Burgers • Content Partner • Food and Wine • Sandwiches • Sip • Wine


soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Wastrel

    There is nothing about bread in this article. The typical hamburger bun, as shown in the picture, is made of the very worst quality of white bread. Mostly, it ruins the burger and causes indigestion later. You are much better off skipping it and eating the rest - and suddenly, wine seems more appropriate, because now you have a ground meat patty (or mushroom or ostrich, whatever) with a salad of sorts.

    September 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • -betsy

      You are correct about the bun. Yet (hopefully) those who spring for wine will choose a better bun (and different lettuce). Must say, fire the food stylist. Though this picture may represent what comes on many plates, it is a terrible picture.

      September 3, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
      • PC @ Wastrel & -betsy

        Buns and lettuce–seriously? The title says Burgers and Wine.. or in your case Buns and Whine. Why don't you crawl underneath the Bun and see if it's toasted,then you can bitch about that. Lettuce is always flaccid,like your girlfriends tongue.

        September 3, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
      • -betsy

        to:PC@Wastrel & betsy:
        A dish served is the sum of its parts. In recommending a wine (in this instance) with a burger, one encompasses all the components of the "burger". I like to think that the F&W subscribers eat differently than those who just open a box.
        Your post is tending on the mean. I am sorry that you are unhappy.

        September 4, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  2. jimmybob

    Ok, but would have to disagree with some matchings. I think a Cotes du Rhone is not burger wine. Tannins are not robust enough, I consider that to light bodied and fruity. That's a nice chilled summer wine at best. A good Cab. Sav. usually does the job for most burgers, and I'll do a Merlot to match any spice. Zinfindel as its Italian equal, Primitivo. One from Salento does just fine. An a Rioja does just wonderful for typical American burgers. I drink only wine, so and love Burgers so I do appreciate the article. Also I am an American living in Europe, and am appreciating awesome wines at great prices..certainly California and Oregon has come of age, but a bit over-rated compared to some European vinters.

    September 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  3. zaglossus

    Wine with a burger – that's almost un-American.

    September 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Yeah, we should go with beer and bilge burgers.
      Lard, meat and potato, the American staple, right?
      Sorry, but our palates are maturing. :)

      September 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  4. Jeff

    This was a good article until it mentioned Papillon. Worst movie I have ever seen. I kept wanting Steve McQueen to jump from the island and kill himself to end the movie!

    September 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  5. AK Girl

    I think your article was informative and humorous, there at the end. Thanks for the ideas! I previously wouldn't have considered drinking wine with burgers! Happy Labor Day Weekend from Alaska!

    September 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Wzrd1

      Done it many times in the past. Hell, I was sure that I'm the one who thunk it up. ;)

      September 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  6. POD

    The best wine with a burger......a cold beer

    September 3, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Clint

      You got it, Cheers.

      September 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  7. TXRedEye

    Just give me a medium well rattlesnake burger and a top shelf bottle of 2 week aged Ripple Red-=-Happy campfire camper.

    September 3, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  8. -betsy

    Ah, Mr. Isle, you are too funny! As a writer for F&W, you should address the fact that many of your readers are grilling "burgers" NOT made from beef.
    A "poultry" burger (chicken, turkey, etc) made with fresh sage from our gardens can be superb, especially if one grinds one's own meat. Dark meat is more flavourful, and stands up to the grill. Drink a crispy dry white, or even a Beaujolais. The new crop is only two months away, in time for plenty of grilling.
    Portobellos seem to be America's go-to veg for grilling. Meaty enough, they hold their own against reds.
    You've not addressed burgers made with pork, or (as hunting season approaches) with venison. They too deserve their day in the sun.
    And fish? What about fish?
    And pork?
    Please reconsider. The F&W readership would like more than just one approach.
    Have a good holiday weekend, -betsy

    September 3, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • Wzrd1

      My long standing joke is that I eat in 27 languages and cuss in 7. Both are quite true. ;)
      That said, lamb makes an excellent burger, mutton a lousy burger if it's unmarinated or if no acid is add to cut the muttony taste from it.
      Ostrich burgers are great too.
      And the humble veggie burger is excellent.
      In short, I heat pretty much anything and everything, except okra. Can't stand THAT one...

      September 3, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
      • -betsy

        Ooh, okra burger, now THIS is a challenge! After living in Houston for almost 10 years, one appreciates 'Lousianna" cooking.
        Can't be far off from zucchini....

        September 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
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