Summer is finally here! Many of us will feel summer’s call to fire up the grill soon. And chances are pretty good that before long you’re going to feel a craving for America’s favorite warm weather indulgence…hamburgers!
You’ve probably heard that if you have wine with a burger, there’s no reason to crack open anything but some non-expensive red. As, of course, the all-American way is to have a beer with your burger. But let’s counter by arguing, and firmly arguing, that there’s no need to downgrade your wine selection just because you’re serving burgers.
Let’s initially stick with consideration of the traditional principal substance of a burger — ground beef. So if we are just considering beef and bun, we could compare our vino choices to what they would be for a traditional steak. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and even Chardonnay come to mind. But there aren’t too many people that stick with a plain burger, so let’s go a step further.
We all know that hamburgers come in many shapes and forms and this is precisely where you should consider pairing your wine with the fixins. As with other foods, how you complement your hamburger could be what you remember most about your tasty burger. And while Cabs and Merlots could still be options, there are many other avenues to explore.
Let’s start off with what is likely the most common burger topping or condiment of them all —ketchup. Tomatoes are naturally tannic, acidic, and in the form of ketchup we have added sweetness. Pairing a slightly acidic and/or slightly sweet wine with low tannins, while keeping in mind the backbone of the burger, the beef, could turn out to be a delectable venture. Sangiovese and Aussie-style bright Syrahs are solid choices in the red category. A white such as Albariño or even off-dry Rieslings or Gewürztraminers can be good calls. A semi-dry rosé would likely not disappoint.
Mustard is always popular as well and keep in mind that mustard comes in many differing forms- yellow, brown, spicy, deli-style…so consider this as well when you pick your wine. Chardonnay can be wonderful with mustard. And if you’re a barbeque sauce on your burger type, the tangy spice of the sauce could pair nicely with a Zinfandel or a fruity, full-bodied Syrah.
Another thought: how about a slightly chilled red wine? Some traditionalists out there may never consider such a thing, but some red varietals actually are surprisingly pleasant with a slight chill to them, which will bring out fruitiness in some reds. This is also a bonus for red-lovers as in hot weather it will be refreshing. Varietals to try include Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Malbec.
Of course, many don’t even consider a burger to be a burger without a slice of melted cheese on it. The addition of cheese may or may not have grandiose impacts on a burger’s ultimate showing, all depending on the choice of cheese. For example, a mild cheddar combined with other flavor elements may not really leave much of an impression more than adding some gooeyness to the meat. However, add something powerful like blue cheese and due consideration is definitely required. Consider that dry-style Rieslings are a nice match to blue cheese in the white category and red wine lovers may want to reach for a Cab or a Zin in this culinary situation.
The addition of sautéed mushrooms will add earthiness to your burger. One can find earthy characteristics in a multitude of red varietals, especially in Pinot Noirs. Adding onions? Whether you grill them first on their own will make a huge difference. Grilled onions will caramelize and will exhibit sweetness, while raw onion slices will increase acidity and add to the presence of spice.
Lettuce? It’s not even worth a mention on its own as lettuce’s most common taste is that of water and any wine will taste just fine next to water. Pickles? Actually, if you’re having wine with your burger pickles are one topping you may want to avoid altogether, or at least significantly limit. Too much pickle on your burger can rob your palate of the mélange of flavors it may experience otherwise, wine or no wine involved.
Of course, the most important thing is for you to enjoy whatever wine you personally prefer with your burger. However, we recommend that the next time you fire up the grill and toss on some burgers that you consider the whole sensory package of the hamburger experience before you pop open just any bottle of red wine you happen to have around.