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In anticipation of Fridays’ flask tastings I have been extra dutiful in studying wine pairings to determine what might best complement a hamburger. When marrying this dish (or any) to wine, a number of factors must be considered: the meal’s preparation, complementing or contrasting flavors, acidity, and thinking about terroir. Carefully considering these criteria might best lead to the perfect pairing.

No burger is created twice (my apologies to McDonald’s)—though the meal can be simple there is a lot of variation between establishments. A hamburger might feature lettuce, tomato and onion to start but of those ingredients, the lettuce or tomato may not be the same. Some restaurants may favor a red onion, or an heirloom tomato while others prefer white sautéed onions and romaine lettuce. Then there is the patty, which can be grilled, griddled, charbroiled or can include ingredients like peppers or cheese into the formation of the patty. A deluge of options can change the complexity of the hamburger.

To broaden the scope, a person choosing a wine may select a route that can complement or contrast the flavors of the meal, depending on their goal. Complimenting the charbroiled meat I might want to serve a full bodied red because the backbone of the wine will be able to stand up to the bitterness from the char. Specifically, I might want to pair a Russian River Pinot Noir with a fatty burger—dripping in oil from the grind and the preparation—because the acid of the wine can cut through the fat, taming it. If I wanted to contrast the meatiness I would pair the wine with a complete opposite in order to highlight/bring out flavors that may not have been easily detected. Both are acceptable paths and can provide a different perspective on pairing.

Acid can be found in sautéed spinach and a glass of wine—the trick to matching these flavors is making sure that the acids found in my favorite vegetable are in proportion to my glass. If one of the components is too acidic the balance is lost and one of the items will suffer. Matching the acids is of paramount importance—nothing should be steamrolled—instead the acids should be utilized to bring out more in each meal. When it comes to the burger, a ripe slice of tomato might make me adjust my pairing like serving an Italian varietal to match the acid and bring out the savory grind of the meat.

Hamburgers strike me as uniquely American fare, a favorite of mine—comforting and diverse (as noted before). The final edge in selecting a wine that suits a hamburger might be the terroir (or the climate, soil and other elements unique to an origin comprised within a bottle). Wine has been tailored to meat for centuries but certain dishes are representations of their environment. So it is no surprise that it would be difficult for a Canadian Ice Wine (even if they posses great acidity) to pair with a hamburger since it does not share the same locale and was not created to suit hamburgers.  Instead, I will begin my experimentations with California wines; specifically Zinfandel and Merlot to see what can be gained by pouring American born wines.

Terroir is not strictly applied to wine—the influences of a particular locale can find themselves on the menus of many restaurants like sourcing all the meat a chophouse uses from Japan (or an individual Wagyu producer) or Niman Ranch in California where unique philosophies help raise the cattle. Differences in diet—kind of like the soil conditions in wine—between grass and grain fed cows can also have an impact on flavor.

Now these pairings may appear goofy but I am aiming to be practical—haute cuisine is special to me so I do not eat four course meals in excess nor do I find myself eating lavishly at home. I prefer simplicity and it will be interesting to note if this is reflected in the pairing. Hamburgers away.

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