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This may come as a surprise but I am not totally crazy about In-n-Out. I recognize that In-n-Out is legendary, frequently extolled, openly, by Southern Californians everywhere for its consistent high quality, simplicity and value, so then… What’s the beef? Even with its secret menu, friendly staff clad in white and banana peppers conveniently bagged, In-n-Out is a hardly a first choice for me unlike the hoards of people whose synapses fire at the very thought of a Double Double. I would be content to never wait in the inexhaustible drive-thru ever again, yet… every once in a while I break down and give into the sure bet and I thought this might be a good time to document it.

Getting a ride back from work with my roommate last Friday, he asked me what my plans were for the evening and I told him that I had wanted to grab some In-n-Out. He turned his head slowly, surprised by my answer and asked if I was serious. I told him that I wanted to keep it simple and somewhere nearby. Shaking off the astonishment—he knew my stance on the iconic burger, acutely—we pulled up into the drive-thru, a sluggish experience (as consistent as the burgers). A young staffer greeted us, taking our order by electronics before we even reached the payment window. Our order was direct: A number one with grilled onions and two hamburgers animal style. About five and a half minutes after ordering, or, roughly the time to its takes to listen to “Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna oh!”, we had our food.

Once we made it home I searched through my wines for the appropriate accompaniment, locating a bottle from Malibu, particularly a 2008 Rosenthal Merlot from Malibu Newton Canyon (#165). I felt that the proximity to the cleaner beaches in LA and the Golden State burger would be fairytale.

I uncorked the Rosenthal, readying two glasses for the tasting and giving the Merlot the respect it deserved by letting it open up. Malibu Newton Canyon—a “local” viticultural area—became an AVA in 1996 because of Rosenthal’s efforts of braving it alone back in 1987, planting the only vineyard in LA a few miles from the ocean. The Merlot from Rosenthal had wonderful aromas of ripe plum and spice but the alcohol did burn my nose. On the palate the wine was hardly tannic but smooth, fruit forward and a touch sweet (not to say it was off-dry but it was rich in ripe fruit.)

It was kismet that the two got along smashingly, almost an ideal pairing. The burgers’ sweet thousand-island sauce merged favorably with the developed sugars in the dry red wine. The acidity in the Merlot matched the tomato. The tannins were not enraged on the finish (that burning/peppery swallow was avoided) and the heat that was detected on the nose dissipated on the palate, drowned out by the savory bites of burger.

I was thrilled with the pairing, happy that the flavors enhanced each other, and the graceful showing of a Merlot with which I had little experience. As for my In-n-Out trip, it was literally the same it has always been and that just might explain my indifference. It is very good, affordable and remarkably consistent but it never leaves me saying wow. There is a lot to be said for In-n- Out because if I need a pick-me-up or something I can count on, it will always be there, the long wait and all. But I write this blog because I am looking for something new and better, not always the tried and true, challenging myself to find innovative pairings that work.

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