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Jun 24, 2008
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Wine With Bison Burgers

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

For us, as we bet for many of you, Fourth of July feasting calls for all-American fare, whose centerpiece is, of course, burgers.  This year we're taking our patriotic inclinations a step further by celebrating the holiday with grilled bison burgers instead of beef.  The American Bison (the largest terrestrial mammal in North America and Europe) originally inhabited the Great Plains of the United States and Canada.  While they were almost wiped out by hunters in the 19th and early 20th centuries, bison have made a comeback.  In addition to their existence in the wild, many herds of bison today are raised on farms such as the Gunpowder Bison & Trading Company in Monkton, Maryland.  We recently became acquainted with Gunpowder's meats at the farmers' market in Baltimore. Not only do we appreciate the all-American aspect of bison burgers, but we also savor its nutritional value. (Lower in calories and cholesterol, bison has 2.42 grams of fat versus beef's 9.28 grams per 100 grams of cooked, lean meat).  And because it is lower in fat, the burgers shrink much less than beef patties do.  But to be honest, the thing we really like about bison is its extra-meaty flavor.  

Since we weren't sure what wines would harmonize best with the bison, we bought a batch of burgers and buns beforehand and opened a bunch of wines to pair with them.  One of our theories had been that because the meat has a considerably lower fat content than beef, delicate red wine might be a good match.  In fact, however, the comparatively assertive bison flavor more than compensated for the meat's leanness, so that the Pinot Noir and Côtes-du-Rhône we tried weren't quite as good as wines with somewhat more heft.  Tannins did not generally get in the way, nor was a touch of oak in the wine problematic.  What really separated the best wines for the burgers from the so-so examples was forceful flavor.  Wine with ripe, juicy fruitiness wrapped itself around the grilled bison burgers to set off fantastic fireworks of flavor on the palate.  Our conclusion is that for bison burgers, big, youthful yet supple red wines work best.



Approx. Price



Dead Letter Office, McLaren Vale/ Padthaway (Australia) Shiraz 2005

(Imported by Quintessential, LLC)




This succulent Down Under red fits the profile that worked so well with these pungent burgers. It's packed full of juicy, fruit-forward flavor, but isn't astringent or pasty, the tannins providing structure but never getting in the way of enjoyment.




Kunde Estate, Sonoma Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2005






Though marked by true Cabernet fruit flavors resembling black berries and dark currants, this wine feels seductively soft and supple on the palate.  That combination allowed it to complement the bison burgers well. 




Parducci, Mendocino (California) Petite Sirah 'True Grit' 2004





Unlike many Petites, the tannins in this wine do not prove distracting.  Instead, they stay in the background, allowing the wine's deep black and blueberry flavors to come to the fore. 




Rosenblum Cellars, Sonoma Valley (California) Zinfandel 'Reserve Monte Rosso Vineyard' 2006




A very classy Zin, this wine is marked by the grape's characteristically brambly flavors, but without excessive heat or alcoholic punch.  Its bright fruit-filled character proved a perfect match for the burgers.




Salentein, Mendoza - Valle de Uco (Argentina) Malbec 'Estate Bottled' 2005

(Imported by San Francisco Wine Exchange)






Argentinean Malbec sometimes offers a hint of licorice or anise to enhance its vibrant plum and dark berry fruit.  That sweet note helped this particular wine shine especially brightly with our burgers.