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Building a Better Burger for Labor Day Reds

What's in your glass and on your bun this weekend?
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Aug 28, 2013 10:50am ET

I don't eat a lot of hamburgers. I did back in the day, but time, family history and my waistline have conspired against it. So I avoid fast-food hamburgers and hold out for the good stuff.

One of the best burgers I've had in a long time was at Hitching Post II outside Santa Barbara. Featured in the movie Sideways, it's a favorite of winemakers in the area, and a few weeks ago fiendish carnivore Brian Loring brought a crowd that included winemaker and grower Pete Cargasacchi to the Post and I tagged along. Pinot specialist Loring is a regular at the steak house, largely because the only vegetable he eats is lettuce, which he describes as "a blue cheese dressing delivery vehicle." He may be veggie-phobic, but Loring knows a good burger.

I grill a lot but I'm mortified to admit that hamburgers have never been my forte. I make a good one, but seldom a great one. And lordy, how I've tried, but with Labor Day weekend just days away I'm dedicated to changing that. 

While I figure out exactly how I'm going to pull that off (any secrets to share?), I've reviewed my tasting notes for wines that would be ideal with hamburgers this weekend. Whether you like a simple burger or one slathered and stacked high, there's a style of wine for you. Since Labor Day is usually a gathering, I've targeted nine wines that sell for less than $25. You'll find bottles from around the world and all have good distribution around the country.

A to Z Wineworks Pinot Noir Oregon 2011 (90 points, $18) A sleek wine with delicate layers of cherry and cocoa flavors.

d'Arenberg The Stump Jump Red McLaren Vale 2011 (89, $13) A Rhône blend from the Aussies that has juicy plum, spice and mineral flavors.

Dry Creek Zinfandel Sonoma County Heritage 2010 (90, $19) Zesty and spicy, with sage and cherry notes.

Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean-Ernest Descombes 2011 (91, $20) Like berries freshly picked on a summer day, as colleague Alison Napjus so aptly described it.

M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2011 (88, $14) One of my go-to value reds. 

Marqués de Cáceres Rioja Crianza 2009 (89, $15) A good quaff, with sleek cherry and toasty herb notes.

Meiomi Pinot Noir Monterey-Santa Barbara-Sonoma Counties 2011 (92, $22) Yes, an excellent California Pinot for less than $25.          

Ravenswood Zinfandel California Vintners Blend Old Vine 2011 (87, $9) Juicy, jammy and easy-drinking.

Seghesio Zinfandel Sonoma County 2011 (92, $24) Load your burger up for this big and zesty red.

Mark Lyon
Sonoma, California —  August 28, 2013 12:50pm ET
Paul Newman used to serve 1961 Chateau Lafite with his famous burger recipe. He would mix ground chuck with, salt, pepper, bread crumbs, garlic, Dijon mustard and organo.

Also, toasting Kaiser Buns (preferably whole grain). The rest of the condiments are up to you.
Alan Gavalya
Hampton VA USA —  August 28, 2013 3:58pm ET
For the best burger...
Grind your own beef.
Season to 0.8% salt by weight and refrigerate for an hour.
Put 180g - 200g of formed beef plus 5g of a neutral oil in Ziplock bags.
Cook Sous Vide to an internal temperature of 131 F.
Freeze burger for 30 seconds in liquid Nitrogen.
Fry burgers in 425 F oil for 30 seconds.
Toasted bun and condiments of choice only make it better.
Linda Foxworth
Reno, Nevada —  August 28, 2013 6:36pm ET
I got my secret burger recipe from a food magazine years ago; Worchester sauce, dry mustard, garlic, and cumin along with melted cheddar, red onion and fresh avocado,that's some big flavor, but may be a little harder to pair.

I just finished your guide to Napa and Sonoma which was very informative and will prove very helpful this week-end when we go! Thanks!
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  August 28, 2013 7:35pm ET
Greats comments everyone. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA, US —  August 28, 2013 8:11pm ET
Tim! Fun night :)

Great choices listed above. Of course, you saw one of our favorite things with burgers is bubbles!!
Thomas Herer
Milwaukee, WI —  August 29, 2013 1:36pm ET
Mark, could that possibly be Newman's...meatloaf recipe? :)
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  August 29, 2013 1:43pm ET
Thanks Linda, glad you enjoyed the guide. And Brian, thanks for sharing.
Thomas Herer
Milwaukee, WI —  September 3, 2013 9:03am ET
Mark, could that possibly be Newman's...meatloaf recipe? :)
John Eberline
Essex, VA —  September 3, 2013 12:54pm ET

Seriously folks...leave the flavoring additives behind and buy better beef (or grind your own), then season with only salt and pepper. Cook it over wood or charcoal only and serve on a good quality bun with whatever condiments turn you on!
Troy Peterson
Burbank, CA —  September 4, 2013 1:28pm ET
So the holiday has already passed by, but with 100+ degree heat here in So Cal for the foreseeable future we are still very much in BBQ mode. Tim, I suck at doing burgers as well, but soon I'm going to try again with a "cowboy burger", premade by a local butcher and incorporating cheddar and bacon into the patty.

A grilled brioche bun is critical, as I've learned from the craft burger movement here in Los Angeles. Hard to find but well worth the effort.

Now, as to the reds. Man, GO BIG! Your recommendations come off a bit soft to me (mainly Pinot/Zin). Whenever I go to a craft burger joint (Umami, The Counter, Hook) I bring along seriously tannic but fruity Cabs (like Lewis) and Syrahs (a la Denner). They are the perfect foil for the juicy, fatty burgers, fries, onion rings, whatever. The more fat-laden elements the more these big reds sing. I want to use that wine like a knife, slicing through the fat and preparing my palate for another bite.

Man, I'm making myself hungry. I don't know if I can wait for the weekend...
Gilles Longval
Ottawa, Canada —  December 29, 2013 6:19pm ET
Top 5 Muga Reserva Especial 2009
Pahlmeyer Napa 2005
Penfolds RWT 2003, Australia
San Roman 2003, Spain
Château de Beaucastel, France 1995


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