Wine with burgers: Styles to consider
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Syrah / Shiraz
- Grenache / Garnacha
- 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 into an artform.
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, don’t waste the experience with bad 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, then think about wines from cooler vineyard sites that may have higher-than-normal acidity, as advised by expert Patrico Tapia in this article on matching wine with steak.
Wine and food matching specialist Fiona Beckett named hamburgers with cru classé Bordeaux as one of her ‘secret pleasures’ for a Decanter article back in 2007.
And why not uncork a top bottle?
‘I’m definitely a fan of brilliant wine and a burger,’ said Jane Anson, Decanter’s chief Bordeaux critic.
A great burger with ‘perfectly-salted thin chips and a couple of glasses of Côte Rôtie or St-Julien is pretty much perfect’, she said.
Beatrice Bessi, now head sommelier at Chiltern Firehouse also put in a vote for Syrah when she spoke to Decanter in 2019 during her time 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, while 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
As for any dish, a lighter meat in your burger means a move towards slightly lighter styles of wines, 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/sour nature of the fruit and easygoing tannin just shone with fish.’
Pairing wine with veggie burgers
Natalie Earl, Decanter’s awards competition manager 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 styles of Pinot Noir, 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
There are many more combinations of burger and wine styles than we can cover in this article, of course, and experimenting is part of the fun when it comes to food and wine matching.
If you’re trying out your own matches, think about how certain flavours either complement or contrast each other, as Karen MacNeil talks about in the 10 rules of food and wine pairing.
This article was first published in August 2019 and has been edited in July 2021 with new expert reviews added.