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Wine with burgers: Pairing advice

From delicious Syrah to fresher styles of Cabernet Franc or crunchy, earthy Pinot, there are plenty of options for your next burger night.

Wine with burgers: Styles to consider

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Syrah / Shiraz
  • Grenache / Garnacha
  • Sangiovese
  • Pinot Noir
  • Cabernet Franc 
  • Grüner Veltliner with chicken burgers
  • Rossese di Dolceacqua with tuna burgers
  • Orange wines or earthy Pinot Noir with veggie burgers

A brief burger history

An ancient recipe book named Apicius suggests that Romans were eating wine-infused meat patties centuries before Ronald McDonald and his associates, including Mayor McCheese, were discovered living in the fictional world of McDonaldland.

Other food historians believe ‘hamburgers’ evolved from the traditional Hamburg steak in Germany.

Whoever is right, burgers are now ubiquitous, and recent incarnations have turned the humble patty and bun combination into an art form.

The environmental and public health impacts of consuming too much meat are increasingly well understood. So, following the ‘less but better’ mantra, if you’re going to eat a burger, then make it a good one.

And if you’re going to have a great burger, it deserves a great wine.

Wines with classic beef burgers

For a classic ground beef burger, consider some of the go-to red meat wines, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. A juicy Grenache or classic ‘GSM’ blend could also be a great accompaniment to a night of comfort food, as recommended in our guide to choosing a barbecue wine.

If you’re a Malbec fan, consider wines from cooler vineyard sites that may have higher-than-normal acidity, as advised by expert Patricio Tapia in this article on matching wine with steak.

And why not uncork a top bottle?

‘I’m definitely a fan of a top-notch wine and a burger,’ said Clive Pursehouse, Decanter’s North American editor.

He said a medium-rare burger with ‘perfectly seasoned fries – you call them chips over there – and a couple of glasses of Washington State Syrah or Oregon Pinot Noir or in the summertime, Lambrusco, is pretty close to perfect’.

Beatrice Bessi, now head sommelier at Chiltern Firehouse, also voted for Syrah when she spoke to Decanter in 2019 in her position as assistant head sommelier at London’s 67 Pall Mall.

‘The structure, with the black fruit, dried herbs and smoky, gamey profile, will work perfectly,’ she said at the time.

‘When I pair food with wine, every single detail matters, [such as] the structure of the dish, the flavour profile, the acidity, whether there are any spices.’

‘For a burger, I would consider red as an option because the tannic structure can balance the structure of the grilled beef.’

Alongside Syrah, she added, ‘A nice glass of Sangiovese from Tuscany, like a Chianti Classico or a Brunello di Montalcino, would always work, where the acidity and tannins are able to match the burger, and the roasted herbs are enhancing the flavours of the meat.’

Another option would be to prioritise the acidity and fruit. ‘I’ve always loved Cabernet Franc with burgers,’ said Decanter expert Michaela Morris. ‘Not too heavy, bright crunchy fruit and even better with a chill, it is a refreshing summertime match.’

While Loire Valley Cabernet Franc would be a classic choice, she also suggested looking at Ontario in her native Canada.

What about the cheese, we hear you ask?

A creamier, fattier cheese will likely emphasise the need for juicy fruit and good acidity. In contrast, a tangier, harder cheese melted into your patty might be able to handle a slightly bolder wine, such as a Cabernet-based Bordeaux blend.

See our cheese and wine matching guide, but be warned that some things may not translate. Sauternes is often a dream with blue cheeses like Stilton or Roquefort, but its sweetness may not be so fun in this situation.

Wine with chicken burgers or fish burgers

For any dish, lighter meat in your burger means a move towards slightly lighter styles of wine, but with enough acidity and structure to stand up to the array of ingredients.

Matthieu Longuère MS, of Le Cordon Bleu London, previously recommended Austrian Grüner Veltliner for chicken dishes that involve garlic, herb and lemon flavours; and this could be adapted to a burger scenario.

In a similar vein, light, zippy reds can work with some fish burgers.

‘I tend to eat tuna burgers much more often, and one of the best pairings I’ve had with this was a Rossese di Dolceacqua [from Liguria in Italy],’ said Michaela Morris.

‘The salty and sour nature of the fruit and easygoing tannin just shone with fish.’

Pairing wine with veggie burgers

Natalie EarlDecanter’s regional editor for France, suggested delving into the world of orange wine.

‘It is often really textural with a grippy mouthfeel and a savoury edge with dried herbs like sage and thyme, plus dried orange and orange peel notes. I think orange wine pairs really well because veggie burgers are often herby and slightly spicy,’ she said.

She also suggested more earthy Pinot Noir styles, such as village-level Burgundy, rather than riper Pinot styles.

‘I think the more savoury, delicate characters would go better with a veggie burger. Something from the Côte de Beaune, like Monthélie or Maranges, would bring a peppery redcurrant vibe to the dish.’

Experimenting is part of the fun

Of course, there are many more combinations of burger and wine styles than we can cover in this article, and experimenting is part of the fun when it comes to food and wine matching.

If you’re trying out your own matches, consider how certain flavours complement or contrast each other, as Karen MacNeil explains in the 10 rules of food and wine pairing.

Search our expert wine reviews to find your perfect match

Wine with burgers: Recent reviews by Decanter experts

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