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May 14, 2013
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Wine With…Cheeseburgers with Classic Sauce

With summer in the air, our epicurean thoughts inevitably turn to hamburgers, which inspires us every couple of years to write a column about one version or another of America’s favorite summer meal. Choosing a wine to go with burgers is never a mysterious process: Red wine, the fuller the better, is the obvious, most savory and delectable choice. When hamburgers are the focus of a meal, the wines are usually easygoing and modestly priced. (Even when only a couple of people are at the table, there seems to be an unwritten general rule that if the meal itself is reasonably priced, the wine should be likewise inexpensive.) This time around, however, we found ourselves questioning the automatic impulse to open a bottle of $12 Cab to pour with the burgers. With good quality ground meat, real cheese and killer sauce, why not give the all-American hamburger the respect it deserves and select the same kind of wine we might drink with a steak or other costly cut of beef?

Cheeseburgers with Classic Sauce

We used free-range, grass fed beef for our burgers, and high quality cheddar cheese, but we opted for the kind of generic hamburger buns whose soft texture is perfect for soaking up and melding together
cooked beef juices and sauce. To maximize the subtleties and complexity of the class-act wines we were sampling, we kept the garnishes simple, forgoing raw onion and pickle. Ours were simple cheeseburgers adorned with only a thin slice of tomato and a leaf or two of fresh lettuce. What set these apart from generic burgers and lifted them into a realm close to the sublime was the sauce. Like all traditional hamburger sauces, ours is based on mayo, ketchup and mustard, but since we were aiming for a more multi-dimensional taste experience to match the wines’ composite attributes we added a hint of garlic, a splash of Worcestershire, and dash of cayenne. Here’s the recipe:

1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 small clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

With a fork, whisk all ingredients together. May be made several hours ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve.

* * *

Of the thirteen full-bodied reds we tried, our favorites fell into two camps. Some were ripe and juicy, echoing the qualities we prize in grilled burgers. Others had an earthy edge, providing a bit of a contrast. The only wines that did not work were those that tasted overtly sweet and lacked noticeable tannins. These seemed sappy, and felt almost gummy on the palate. Our advice, then, is to make sure that whatever sort of red wine you choose to enjoy with your burgers is firmly structured and above all balanced.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Chappellet, Napa Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

$49

A delicious Cabernet, with dark but juicy fruit flavors and a succulently expressive bouquet, this wine complemented the burgers’ own luscious character.

Clarksburg Wine Company, Clarksburg (California) “Remenance” 2010

$32

A Bordeaux blend, with Cabernet Franc playing the star (and Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in supporting roles), this wine tastes of warm California sunshine. Clarksburg is best known for its Chenin Blancs, but this fleshy red is every bit as good.

Fairview, Paarl (South Africa) Shiraz “Eenzaamheid” 2010(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$36

An earthy, almost meaty red, with savory secondary flavors and nary a hint of sweetness, this is an example of a wine that worked by providing a contrast with (but did not compete with) the burgers.

Freemark Abbey, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2010

$34

A full-flavored Merlot, with extremely impressive complexity that had us returning for sip after sip, this wine had just enough body to complement the charred taste of our grilled burgers. It was delectable both on its own and as a good partner.

Rosemount Estate, McLaren Vale (Australia) GSM 2010 (Imported by TWE Imports)

$25

A Rhône-style blend with an Aussie accent, this is a fruit-forward wine that augments its primary flavors with savory secondary ones that echo black pepper, thyme, and other dried spices. It helped give the burgers added depth.