Wine and burgers: two of my favorite things. Luckily, the two of them enhance one another. In this post, we’ll look at some of the most popular styles of hamburgers from around the US and choose some wines to sip while enjoying them.
I won’t presume to offer an official definition of the “classic” hamburger, but I imagine that most of us would agree that it features a simple patty with onions, tomato, lettuce, dill pickles, ketchup, and mustard. Many would also include a slice of American cheese and mayo, but they may be optional. For me, a dish this iconic should be consumed with a classic standard wine like Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Few grapes are as popular as Cabernet, with its full body, bright acidity, and firm tannins that cut the richness and fat in the burger. While Napa Cabernets can command some of the highest prices in the world, not all of them need to be especially expensive. If you keep your eyes open for deals, you should be able to find an example to fit almost any budget. Imagine the perfectly American experience of kicking back beside your grill with a fresh burger and glass of Cab – it doesn’t get much better than that.
Black Bean Burger
I’m including my vegetarian burger second on the list because I don’t consider it a token meat-free choice. When done well, a good veggie burger can stand up to any beefy rival. I really like black beans as a base for my veggie burgers, which I dry in the oven for a while to concentrate their flavor before mixing them with sauteed aromatics and spices. I’ll sometimes go for a middle eastern taste profile, with spices like cumin and turmeric. Then I add thick greek yogurt, some fresh parsley, and a wider variety of pickles than I would ordinarily use, like pickled onions, beets, and hot peppers. What you get is a burger that’s quite different from the classic beef burger, but full of flavor and a rich, satisfying texture. Pair this burger with a red blend from Spain’s Valencia region made from grapes like Marselan, Syrah, Grenache Tintorera. These wines contain many of the exotic spice notes found in the burger mix, including cumin and black pepper. Valencia is warm and sunny, resulting in wines with a full body, relatively low acidity, and smooth, fruity character – even when they’re fermented to dryness.
My ideal steakhouse burger is made with caramelized onions, bacon, blue cheese, and barbecue sauce. Often, the patties might also contain higher-than-typical grades of beef, like angus or even wagyu. The sweetness of the barbecue sauce and caramelized onions call for a wine with plenty of depth and fruitiness like a Zinfandel from California. Many of the great Zinfandels are grown further inland than you might expect in the sun-drenched and downright hot areas of Amador and San Joaquin Counties, where the grapes develop high sugar levels that translate to wines with high alcohol and body. Vines were first planted in those counties during the gold rush to supply the hordes of miners with alcohol. What lucky miners – getting to drink wines with this level of depth and intensity! Powerful flavors of black pepper, strawberry, dried black cherry, and plum jam will make your burger even more decadent than it was to begin with.
Top this burger with avocado, jalapeños marinated in lime juice, tomato, onion, and seared chorizo. It’ll be spicy and bold with plenty of added zing from the hot peppers and lime. This is the first burger that I’ll recommend with a white wine. The hot and tangy elements in the burger require a wine with plenty of acidity and a little sugar. Try a Riesling from either Germany or Alsace in France. It will refresh your palate with every sip.
Nothing beats a burger for breakfast or brunch. I like mine with an over-easy fried egg, bacon, havarti cheese, and a side of hashbrowns. In the brunch tradition, try this burger with a sparkling wine like Prosecco from northeastern Italy. Prosecco is made from a grape called “Glera” and usually features clean, fresh flavors of apple, pear, and lemon, with only the faintest touch of sweetness. It’ll be a beautifully delicate counterpoint to your burger and a great start to your weekend.