Serious Eats: Drinks

Best Wines for Grilling: Burgers

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Summer time means grilling time, and there's a wine that goes well with just about anything you can put on a grill. Our first challenge: the burger. A grilled burger gains some extra flavor from the char and smoke of the grill. Add to that the multitude of topping options (cheese? onions? mushrooms? tomatoes?) and you've got a whole lotta flavor going on. But fear not, there are plenty of wines that can stand up to the behemoth you are going to create.

Pairing Pointers

When selecting a wine to serve with grilled hamburgers, consider the wine's body and fruit. What does that mean, you ask? We're not getting saucy. Body describes the heft of the wine and how it feels in your mouth—it's like comparing skim milk to heavy cream...clearly the cream has more body. Since your grilled burger is likely to be a big, bold beast, you want a wine with some body. As for fruit, consider the condiments: Are you topping your burgers with ketchup? Caramelized onions? Many condiments have a hint of sweetness to them, which will be balanced by a wine with pronounced fruitiness.

Red Wines To Try

Spanish Garnacha
Grenache from Spain brings out the spice and beefy earthiness of your burger. Look for a medium to full bodied version with ripe cassis flavors and sweet spices like the 2008 Vina Paquita Garnacha. (Around $10, find this wine) (We also got lots of other Grenache recommendations here and here.)

Côtes du Rhône
This French wine is usually some combination of grenache, syrah, mourvèdre, and other assorted friends, and often offers a great value. Depending on the grapes, Côtes du Rhône can be full of dark fresh blackberry notes and bit of smoky earth—perfect for complementing your charred burger. I like the 2008 Kermit Lynch "Cypress" Côtes du Rhône. ($10-$18, find this wine)

Zinfandel
A burger classic, zinfandel is big and juicy and begging for some grilled meat. An approachable "old vines" style with full and ripe blackberry fruit like the 2009 Sobon Estate "Old Vines" Zinfandel will treat you well without beating up your tongue. ($10-$16, find this wine)

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White Wines To Try

California Chardonnay
A rich Cali chard is just the white to stand up to a grilled burger. Skip a super buttery wine in favor of one with partial malolactic fermentation, like the 2009 Melville "Verna's Vineyard" Santa Barbara Chardonnay. Partial malolactic means that only some of the tart malic acid was converted to milky lactic acid, so the wine retains fresh acidity to balance any buttery flavors and cut through the fatty burger. ($15-$23, find this wine)

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Full of ripe tropical fruit and herbaceous flavors, these wines will be big enough to handle the beef while keeping you cool, like a big glass full of limeade. Try the 2010 Tablelands Martinborough for a refreshing and flavorful option. ($10-$13, find this wine)

What's your favorite wine to drink with a grilled burger?

About the Author: Sarah Chappell is a winemonger and writer living in Brooklyn. She holds the Advanced Certificate with Distinction from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust and has contributed to Foodista, Palate Press and WineChap.

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