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FT33's Jeff Gregory Talks Pairing Wines and Burgers

FT33 may not serve burgers, but somm Jeff Gregory knows his stuff.
FT33 may not serve burgers, but somm Jeff Gregory knows his stuff.
Photo credit: Stephen Masker/EDFW

Burgers and beer may go together like peanut butter and jelly, but sometimes the need arises to class things up a little bit. When Bud or even local craft beer simply won't do, what wines pair well with a juicy burger? FT33 general manager/sommelier Jeff Gregory shares some insight on what wines make ideal burger pairings, and why.

First, ask yourself:
How is the burger going to be dressed? Is it a straight-up, normal cheeseburger or is it going to be a "gourmet" burger with maybe blue cheese or Brie or something else like that?

On basic burger pairings:
With pretty much any burger, you're talking beef so you're going to be in the red wine realm. The biggest thing I would say that you're looking at to pair the burger is you've got some good fat content, so you're going to want some tannins in your wine. Depending on your condiments, there's some potential to have some higher acidity items like tomatoes, pickles, mustard -- those items are going to push you to want a little more acidity in your wine. You'll see people doing burgers and Bordeaux a lot -- I think mainly just because they rhyme. But for me at least, Italian reds are a go-to. Maybe sometimes a juicy California red. If I had my first choice, the first thing that comes to mind to do with a standard burger would be a Super Tuscan. A lot of Super Tuscans involve a combo of Sangiovese, which is the basic Chianti varietal, and blend that with some Bordeaux varietals. Now, some go all the way in either direction — there are Super Tuscans that are all Bordeaux, like Cab-Merlot blends, and there are Super Tuscan blends that are mostly Sangiovese, but if you can find one that's kind of in the middle you get like good concentrated dark ripe cherry. You'll also get some good concentration of fruit and full body that will really stand up to beef. A good burger should have a pretty high fat content if the person grinding the meat is doing it right, so the same wines that would go well with a rib-eye, those same wines are going to be suitable with a burger.

On cheffy burgers:
If someone's doing a funkier cheese like blue or Gruyere, like a funky pungent cheese, that pushes you to look for a wine with greater concentration of flavor. Blue cheese needs a pretty stout red. That's when I might go for something like heavier Spanish wines, or a California petite Syrah. Robert Foley Petite Syrah would be a good example. Or something like a Priorat, like a good rustic, concentrated Spanish red. The Priorat is Grenache-based and it comes from an area that produces really concentrated wines just based on the soil and altitude. If you're doing blue cheese you need a wine with significant punch.

On champagne:
Champagne is super versatile. Because of the effervescence it has a very strong palate cleansing capacity, it does a good job of dealing with fat and flavors on the palate just partly due to the acid but also the texture of the wine, it almost kind of scrubs the palate. So you can definitely do a Champagne but I'd say you'll want to go for a Champagne with a little more robust flavor, a little more fully developed. Many Champagnes are very bright and crisp and clean and almost kind of light; you want to go for a champagne with a little bit more weight, maybe one that has seen some oak before the secondary fermentation. Bollinger Special Cuvee would be the first thing that comes to mind — that's their non-vintage brut. Some of it sees oak before it becomes champagne so you get a more robust flavor that can stand up to the mouthful of flavor you're going to get from a burger.