If your main course gets smeared all over your face and stains your shirt, but it's so tasty that you don't even care, what sort of wine should you drink? That’s definitely a Memorial Day sort of question. It’s not a day for being tidy. The only reason the holiday is celebrated outside is because it’s close to the hose.
Hamburgers are the all-American choice on Memorial Day. Each year, as summer approaches, I set out to find some of the best wines to enjoy with a burger. The key word here is “enjoy.” If you can’t have fun trying different wines with a hamburger, then you’re taking yourself (and the wine) way too seriously.
I’m convinced that hamburger wines shouldn’t cost a lot, but who am I to suggest you can’t enjoy a 2000 Mouton-Rothschild while devouring a juicy beef patty?
The wine will be red—obviously. If you prefer washing down a burger with your favorite Chardonnay, I won’t argue with you. I’ll roll my eyes until I’m nauseated, but I won’t argue. No, you need a red that will enhance the grilled beef and chunky bun. The style of wine depends on how you stack your hamburger.
A Merlot or light-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon will do fine if the burger is dressed simply, but the more onions and mustard and pickles and tomatoes you layer on, the more you need a flexible red. I’ve found that full-flavored Beaujolais or New World Pinot Noir work well when the burger is topped with plenty of accoutrements like mayo and cheese.
For me, the best overall burger wines have enough structure and tannins to handle the savory beef but are loaded with lush, fresh fruit to balance all those other wonderful flavors. I reach for a medium-bodied California Zinfandel or Rhône-style blend, Malbec from Argentina or Spanish Garnacha.
This year I put a few wines to the test with a burger from Five Guys dressed with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, ketchup and mayonnaise. I didn’t taste the wines blind, just for the record. Two wines stood out as the best match.
A real bargain is the Borsao Garnacha Spain 2009 ($8), which is jammy yet refreshingly crisp with smoky black cherry and spice notes. (Garnacha, for Rhône wine lovers, is what the Spanish call Grenache.) Catena Malbec Mendoza 2008 ($22) offers more structure than the Borsao and has great texture and balance with boysenberry and toasty vanilla notes. Both wines are widely available and often discounted.
Also good with the burger was Cline Zinfandel California 2009 ($12) and Columbia Crest Merlot Washington Two Vines 2008 ($8). The Cline is juicy and ripe, with modest black cherry, caramel and spice flavors, and the Columbia Crest has soft yet zesty raspberry and spice notes. Both wines are the sort of easygoing reds you can pour generously at a large outdoor party.
Other wines worth considering include: Georges Duboeuf Fleurie Flower Label 2009 ($13), Planeta Sicilia La Segreta Red 2009 ($15), Saintsbury Pinot Noir Carneros Garnet 2009 ($20) and Perrin & Fils Côtes du Rhône-Villages 2009 ($15). (WineSpectator.com members can read full tasting notes and see scores.)
What wines do you enjoy with hamburgers or other Memorial Day-friendly food? Is there a wine region I’ve overlooked?
Tom Fuller — Napa CA, USA — May 25, 2011 11:39am ET
Dry Creek Vineyard — Healdsburg — May 25, 2011 11:49am ET
Keir Mccartney — League City,TX — May 25, 2011 12:04pm ET
Wilson Daniels Ltd — St. Helena, CA — May 25, 2011 12:08pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — May 25, 2011 12:32pm ET
Mark Lyon — Sonoma, CA; USA — May 25, 2011 1:08pm ET
Kris Wells — Kansas City — May 25, 2011 1:12pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — May 25, 2011 1:52pm ET
Morewine Bishar — Del Mar, California — May 25, 2011 2:35pm ET
Brian Loring — Lompoc, CA — May 25, 2011 2:46pm ET
John Jorgenson — Seattle, — May 25, 2011 2:52pm ET
Thomas J Martin — Kearny, NJ, USA — May 25, 2011 8:36pm ET
Craig Plainfield — portland oregon — May 25, 2011 9:49pm ET
Brian Peters — Broomfield, CO — May 25, 2011 10:55pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — May 26, 2011 10:12am ET
Steve Balmuth — San Clemente, CA, USA — May 26, 2011 10:25am ET
Gerry Ansel — Fullerton, Calif — May 26, 2011 11:21am ET
Christopher Ogorman — St. Helena, CA — May 26, 2011 1:41pm ET
Christopher Cribb — Kansas City, MIssouri - USA — May 26, 2011 1:57pm ET
Jonathan Lachs — Fair Play, CA — May 26, 2011 2:39pm ET
John Wilen — Texas — May 26, 2011 3:24pm ET
Patrick Benton — Thousand Oaks, CA — May 26, 2011 8:38pm ET
David Tam — los angeles, ca, u.s. — May 26, 2011 9:51pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — May 27, 2011 12:18am ET
David Tam — los angeles, ca, u.s. — May 27, 2011 12:20am ET
Daniel Sherer — Healdsburg, CA, USA — May 27, 2011 11:33am ET
Ivan Campos — Ottawa, Canada — May 27, 2011 2:23pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — May 27, 2011 4:23pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — May 27, 2011 6:46pm ET
Dwight Dively — Seattle, WA — June 1, 2011 8:01pm ET
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