When it comes to sandwiches, summer means The Burger: simple, satisfying, and at times downright salacious.
You probably already realize that burgers are the perfect thing to cook for an impromptu Friday-night backyard fête, but it may surprise you that this comfort fare is also a versatile match for wine pairing.
We looked across the country and found five notable chefs with famously good burgers to dish tips, picks, and wine pairings for the grill.
If you’re lucky enough to live close to any of their restaurants, you may want to take the opportunity this summer to stop in for a burger and a glass of wine. Otherwise, get ready to cook and pour.
The chef: Greg Higgins, Higgins Restaurant and Bar, Portland, Oregon.
The burger: Cascade Natural Beef. “Daily,” says Higgins, “we trim the chuck down to 85:15 lean, hand-grind, and then salt and spice the meat. The spice blend is a traditional Alsatian charcuterie spice blend with the addition of some ground chipotle. We prefer the flavor of the chuck, and its interior marbling is consistent with the fat ratio that we like.”
The bun: “The buns are from Grand Central Bakery, chosen for their firm texture and good crust — substantial enough to balance the weight of the burger and flavorful enough to measure up to its beefiness. We toast the bun and give it a good smear of a classic olive-oil aïoli.”
The cheese: “Cheeses are up to the diner — typically a good aged white cheddar (Grafton or Beecher's) or Oregon Blue from Rogue Creamery. Condiments are house-made ketchup from my mom’s recipe and good mustards.”
The extras: “The burger is so hefty that we feel a salad and our pickles are the only necessary accompaniments — excepting, of course, a good pint or a glass of red. Typically there are always my family’s bread-and-butter pickles and two or three other pickle types — Damn Good Dills, asparagus, smoky dilly beans, etc. The salad and all the veggies are from our numerous Willamette Valley growers.”
The DIY tips: “Try grinding your own beef. Trim out all silver and sinew and extra fat, then add back as much fat as you like before you grind. Don’t grind too fine; 3/8 inch or even 1/2 inch allows the texture and flavor to show well. After grinding, season your meat with a mixture of kosher or sea salt and ground chipotle (1/4 ounce of salt/spice mixture per pound of meat), add a splash of cold water to the seasoned meat, and mix well. Form the patties and grill over a very hot charcoal fire to desired doneness.”
The wine: Evening Land Pinot Noir 2009 Amity-Eola Hills; Owen Roe “Ex Umbris” Syrah Blend 2009 Columbia Valley; Frog's Leap “Rutherford” Cabernet Blend 2005 Napa. “Wine-wise, these three climb the flavor ladder. The pinot has enough depth and extraction to hold its own; the syrah blend is thick, chunky, and smoky, echoing the char of the grill. The Rutherford is intense and elegant — a refined but powerful upscale pairing.”
The beer: “Hair of the Dog Blue Dot IPA, Upright Brewing #6 Dark Rye, or Bourgogne de Flandres. The brews are a range of weights and aromas to complement the dish. The aromatic IPA cuts through the richness of the burger with bright citrusy hoppy bitterness. The rye has a clean springiness on the palate and a pleasant rye zing and a dry finish that works in a similar manner. The Flandres ale has a rich winy funkiness from extended fermentation and finishes with a pronounced tang, which really plays off the beef’s grassiness.”
The chef: Rick Robinson, Gott’s Roadside, Napa, St. Helena, and San Francisco, California.
The burger: Fresh, wild-caught ahi tuna, seared and topped with house-made ginger-wasabi mayonnaise and Asian slaw made with Napa cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots. The sushi-grade ahi “burger” is dipped in soy sauce for between 90 seconds and 2 minutes before being seared on the grill.
The bun: The egg buns are baked fresh daily at Sciambra French Bakery in Napa, and served toasted with butter.
The back story: Owners Joel and Duncan Gott were brainstorming with chef Rick Robinson in 1999 for a bite that would be consistent with a burger stand but different. The trio was inspired to sell ahi as a burger — not a very common twist back in 1999. They tinkered around and came up with the ginger-wasabi mayo. Then, while working on a Chinese chicken salad, they developed a spicy vinaigrette that would work well with slaw, and the ahi burger was born.
“Fast-forward now almost 12 years later, and the number-one item mentioned is the ahi burger,” says Rick Robinson. “That sandwich helped people really understand that we are not just an ordinary burger stand.”
The buzz: Gott’s ahi burger was recently featured as one of Food & Wine magazine’s Top 25 Burgers in America and is the only non-beef burger on the list.
The scene: Happy diners from mid-morning to night. If you’re lucky, there might be an impromptu dance party.
The wine: “I love it with the 2010 Miner Family Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley; there is almost no wood on that wine, so it is fresh and crisp,” says owner Joel Gott, who is also a winemaker. “It’s also hard to pass up the 2010 Bieler Père et Fils Rosé.”
Chef Rick Robinson, meanwhile, favors a pinot grigio or a slightly off-dry riesling with the ahi burger. One to try from Gott’s list is the 2009 Bandit Pinot Grigio. Fans of sparkling wine will rejoice at the bubbles option: the 2006 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs.
The chef: April Bloomfield, The Breslin, New York.
The burger: Char-grilled lamb burger with feta and cumin mayo, set on a sourdough bun. “I already had a burger on the menu at The Spotted Pig that was made with beef, so I thought I’d change it and do lamb,” says Bloomfield. “I thought of some classic pairings with lamb, like feta and cumin, so I decided to make a burger with creamy cumin and feta. Red onion goes really well with lamb, too.”
The grill tips: “When grilling lamb, you want a nice, clean grill, and to season the patty beforehand. Don’t let the grill get too hot. You should let the wood burn down to glowing embers, because you don’t want it to flame too much. Cook the patty to medium or medium-rare if you want to keep your lamb patty moist.”
The wine: “Since it’s summer and it’s getting nice and toasty outside, I’m going to go with a few very easily loved wines, fit for summer drinking,” says Carla Rzeszewski, the wine director at the Breslin. “The first is a full-bodied beaujolais rosé, the second is a wonderful Austrian alternative to pinot noir, and the last is a wine that would take the gaminess of the burger head-on, with an earthen drive all its own.”
Here are Rzeszewski’s comments on these three wines:
Terres Dorées, “Rose d’folie,” Gamay Rosé, 2010, Beaujolais, France: “This rosé is packed with abundant ripe fruit, ranging from juicy watermelon to dark cherry, with more than enough body to handle the lamb. Sometimes on a hot day, a chilled rosé with the lamb burger might be a little more welcome than a dark, brooding red.”
Weingut Brundlmayer, “Ried Ladner,” St. Laurent, 2004, Burgenland, Austria: “St. Laurent is related to pinot noir, and the similarities to pinot are very clear. In Brundlmayer’s single-vineyard St. Laurent, the slight age (2004) shows us the same sweet meat and herbal notes often found in older Burgundies, at a fraction of the price. All the dark morello cherry, forest floor, and bright acidity would be an excellent, lighter bodied match for the lamb burger.”
Venus la Universal, “Dido,” Garnacha Blend, 2007, Montsant, Spain: “And here we have the fuller-bodied, midnight wine to pair with the char and game notes of the burger. This blend of garnacha, cabernet, and merlot can be daunting when first opened, but upon decanting and a little time, the wine loses its rough edges, and the charred earth and meat notes mellow into a wonderful smoky, rich dark fruit offering, wonderful for the grilled burger and cumin mayo.”
The chef: Josh Capon, Burger and Barrel, New York.
The burger: “The burger is a blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib,” says Capon. “It’s cooked on the griddle, topped with shaved summer black truffles, Camembert cheese, and roasted red onion.”
The bun: “The bun is toasted and slathered with a homemade black truffle aïoli. It’s rich and delicious!”
The truffle tip: “Make sure you put the shaved truffles on top of the burger, and then the Camembert cheese on top of the truffles, so it melts over them and ‘activates’ the truffle aromas,” says Capon. “Unlike white truffles, black ones need to be warmed up to bring out their flavor.”
The wine: “The black-truffle burger is both elegant and earthy at the same time,” says beverage director Natalie Tapken. “I like to pair a wine that is delicate and highly structured to match up to the burger. Thin-skin varietals with both earthiness and fruit in the glass are best, such as pinot noir or nebbiolo. My favorite by-the-glass option we offer at B&B is the Suhr Lutchel Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. The wine is quite aromatic and the ripe cherry and plum fruit in the wine complements the earthiness of the truffles perfectly, while the acidity balances out the creaminess of the Camembert cheese and the richness of the meat. As the bottle opens, the mushroom aromas in the glass come out just in time for your first bite of black truffle!”
The chef: Sunny Jin, JORY Restaurant, Newberg, Oregon.
The burger: Painted Hills Natural Beef from eastern Oregon. These cattle are raised with no growth hormones, steroids, or antibiotics. Additionally, no animal by-products are used in the cattle feed; the cows are fed a 100-percent vegetarian diet consisting mainly of barley, corn, and alfalfa hay.
The bun: Pastry chef Shelly du Plessis bakes fresh brioche buns daily, lightly toasted on the grill for the burger. “They truly are the perfect vessel to trap every last bit of juice and flavor,” says Jin.
The extras: “After much taste-testing, we went with Beecher’s Flagship Reserve, a clothbound cow’s milk cheese that is open-air aged,” explains Jin. “We also add pickled red onions for their slight crunch and acidity along with marinated and grilled Walla Walla onions that round the sweetness and add extra smoke to every bite. For a little spice, we garnish with arugula greens. Every burger is also sent out with harissa aïoli, just in case.”
The magic: “The pinot noir adds a subtle acidic note that is noticeably enhanced from the smoke of cherry wood that burns in our wood-fire grills,” explains Jin.
The wine: “I would match the 2009 Evening Land Vineyards ‘Seven Springs Vineyard’ Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir from our glass pour list,” says Jin. “The dark berry fruits match the beefy flavors and nutty tang of the Beecher’s Flagship Reserve Cheddar. Evening Land also features great acidity to cleanse the palate so each bite is as fresh as the first, and will calm the pickled red onions’ acid.”
“Another one of my favorite glass pours right now is the 2007 Efeste ‘Final, Final’ Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah Columbia Valley, named as it is the final blend they do each year. The stunning flavors of black plum, cherries, and savory spice marry with the opulent richness of the wood-grilled beef to create a harmonious match. A nice tannin bite helps reveal each nuance of the burger’s fantastic charred onion, beefy, robust flavor. Then the Beecher’s Flagship Reserve Cheddar quiets the tannin and leaves a mouthful of dark cherry behind.”
The thrill: “You know that sensation you get when you walk by someone’s house and you get a whiff of that smoky meat and you wish that could be yours? Be that guy! Start up the grill and invite your neighbors over and share in the glory of summer barbecue.”
Kerry Newberry is a wine and food writer based in Portland, Oregon. She believes a good glass of wine is a story of people, place, and time. Join her here as she seeks out the personalities, politics, and poetics that craft a wine from vine to table. Follow her online and on Twitter @KerryNewberry.
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