My inaugural wine and burger pairing took place in Brea this weekend with a couple of friends, two flasks and a plastic pitcher full of wine. I could not think of a more appropriate “burger joint” to kick off wine and burger tastings than Brea’s Best—where two Greek brothers own the establishment and have been producing fantastic hamburgers as well as other fine meals for quite some time. One of the brothers (Tom) is also an avid wine enthusiast. It has been a favorite restaurant of mine for twelve years. Brea's Best

My hypothesis was that American wines would drink best with American food. I was going to limit the tasting to strictly California however one Italian wine (a Barolo) found itself on the tasting menu. The wines were picked randomly since this tasting would govern our choices for the next time. The wines poured were: Reversanti (2005) Barolo, Peju Province Merlot (2004) and finally Thompkin 3rd Degree (2006).

Aromas and Flavors

1.) The Barolo from Reversanti (14% alcohol) smelled of anise and cherry—coating the palate fully, big yet smooth. Knowing that this wine pairs well with big meals I thought it had as good as any chance to be the favorite with a hamburger.

2.) The Peju Merlot (14.5% alcohol) from Napa was herbaceous with a tiny bit of vanilla on the nose and medium bodied on the tongue. I selected this wine because I was afraid of overpowering the hamburger with a tight Cabernet—I decided to take a slimmer approach and see if this wine could complement the hamburger.

3.) The Thompkin 3rd Degree (15.8%) from Santa Barbara had the brightest fruit flavor. The full-bodied Cote du Rhone via Santa Barbra was a blend of Syrah, Mourvedre and Grenache that seemed to be the strongest of the three choices and could have the advantage when it came to taming the char of the patty.

When the burgers arrived we immediately grabbed our three plastic cups and began pouring the contents of our mobile containers. Since this was a new procedure we fumbled around a bit with procedure and lack of resources: Would we share cups? Should we eat inside?

We ate outside–far from the restaurant (since that is not an option) and we did share cups. We made various observations about the tasting and how each wine interacted with the burgers. The first and most obvious note was that the Peju Merlot was flattened by the burger—all the interesting flavors that were present on its own were absent with each bite of a burger.

Thompkin Cellars 3rd degree shined through the drippings from the patty and the char—as expected, vying for the desired perfect pair of the evening. Its ability to cut through the flavors and still retain all of them was astonishing.

The Barolo was enjoyable from start to finish—it only seemed to gather strength with the meal, enhancing the char. Both were better together and that is what I was looking for. I would not think to have a Barolo with a hamburger but in this case the flavors paired synergistically making it my favorite of the three wines poured.

The next pairing will be better executed—as we have a point of reference—we will be more confident when pouring. We remedied our cup situation by immediately going to Cost Plus to purchase some wine glasses (without stems). We have also deduced that California wine may not have the advantage when it comes to pairing with hamburgers. The Barolo by a nose.