Grab a Burger with Wine

I know National Burger Day has passed but summer has just begun.  People will be firing up the grill to throw on America's favorite bite all season long.  Everyone has a favorite beverage, and wine has continued to trend towards casual and I know it has all the attributes to pair alongside delicious meat on a roll. 

Tannins in red wine (you can feel them as they grip at your gums while you drink) come from the grape skins, as does the rich red color, and meshes with any type of burger.  They can cut into the fattiness of an 80/20 meat or soften the chew through a leaner blend.  The complexity of fruit and secondary flavors (toast, cinnamon, pepper, tobacco, etc.) will enhance the meat and other favorite add-ons like ketchup, fried egg, bacon, cheese, aioli and mushrooms just to name a few.  I can still picture Miles from Sideways chowing down on a burger and onion rings with his 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc.  You don't have to go out a buy a $2000 bottle to put in your plastic cup, but I've got some great wines for you to try with your favorite burgers:

  • 2010 d'Arenberg 'The Stump Jump' Shiraz ($10).  Peppery, fruity and mixed with cocoa- I couldn't ask for more out of a wine under $10.  The body will stand up to your grill and you might as well buy a case.
  • 2009 Maipe Malbec Reserve ($14).  I would love this varietal choice to go with most burgers and even a pulled pork sandwich.  The fruit, chocolate and espresso matches with grilling and BBQ.  Pick a rich cheddar and add some spicy peppers to go with this value choice.
  • 2008 La Maialina Chianti Classico ($16).  A Chianti with a burger?  An old world classic makes an amazing pairing.  Sangiovese grape is known for it's tannins and cherry flavor and La Maialina "The Little Pig" comes through with so much more.  Plus it's a bargain at the price.
  • 2009 Ridge Ponzo Vineyard Zinfandel ($27).  This grape always brings smoke and fruit which is perfect for a grilled meal.  Spice, licorice and pepper is the way to go along with a full body.
  • 2010 Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Franc ($27).  One of the varietals that Miles went with on his burger hunt (the other in the Cheval Blanc was Merlot) is a noble choice for the grill- tight tannins and dark fruit.

Now there are many other choices out there but that should get you started.  If you are on the hunt for a burger and want to relax while a chef makes it for you, try one of these favorite Chicago spots:

  • Burger Point (1900 S. State).  All natural meat from Rain Crow Ranch makes this a healthy and tasty spot.  The #1 is outstanding with pepperjack, bacon, roasted chiles and cage-free fried egg on pretzel.
  • Custom House (500 S. Dearborn). Burger with a top hat, getting all sophisticated- but outrageously delicious!  Short rib, sirloin & ground pork make up the blend and it's served on soft brioche with aged cheddar, onions, lettuce and tomato.
  • Kuma's Corner (2900 W. Belmont).  I love the variety- it could take all year to challenge the menu.  21 different burgers and all of them on pretzel.  I tried the YOB with smoked gouda, bacon, roasted red peppers and garlic mayo.  Yum.
  • Top Notch Beef Burgers (2116 W. 95th).  A family owned gem way on the southside which has been serving it up for decades.  Just like a 50's joint with cute service, onion rings and awesome milk shakes.
  • Portillo's (30+ locations).  A now-national powerhouse that started in the Chicago burbs makes THE best fast food burger you'll find.  Get the double cheeseburger with thick pickles and flame broil.
  • DMK Burger Bar (2934 N. Sheffield).  Grass-fed beef natural beef and insane Bison and Lamb burger with 6 different fry versions (I went for bleu cheese & bacon), mac n cheese and house-made sodas.

Chicago has so many other burger spots but these are just a few to wet the appetite.  Happy hunting and enjoy some wine with dem burgers!

Merlot Kicked "Sideways" by Pop Culture

Yet once again American Pop Culture has deemed a fictional movie as expert opinion- the French grape varietal Merlot continues to lose popularity due to it's villianous depiction in the 2004 hit movie "Sideways".  Not only have sales dropped, but every sommelier and waiter ( has a great blog about it) from San Fran to NYC has had to put up with questions and remarks from that same movie.  Now the WCWG has to step in and shed some light on this subject.

As far as the grape varietals lauded (Pinot Noir) and trashed (Merlot and Cabernet Franc) in the movie, all are capable of not just creating great wines and memories, but have strengths and weaknesses.  Learning more and trying them is the key to enjoyment.  I loved Paul Giamatti's portrayal of Miles as much as anyone, but it was still just fiction.  Miles refused to drink Merlot during a funny famous rant and labeled Cab Franc as "insipid" (this is seldom remembered because it wasn't in rant form), but what most do not know is his favorite wine, a bottle of 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc, is made from both varietals.  Use your experts, not the movies. 

Another thing most do not realize about the movie is how the grapes themselves mirror the characters.  Pinot Noir is Miles.  Both are thin-skinned and if given proper care and nurturing can blossom into great products.  Merlot is Jack.  Both are silky and smooth but can be shallow and overmarketed.

The WCWG loves the movie.  The exploration of wine country, the male bonding, and all the laughs are well worth the purchase price.  Wine as a part of culture and beverage has been growing for years but movies such as this have only enhanced it.  Sideways made me want to run to the west coast and live among any of the wine country areas.  A Good Year and Under the Tuscan Sun made me want to fly to Europe and remain making wine and working the land.  Watching 007 James Bond in his tux and reciting his favorite champagne vintages makes any man want to be a spy.  Everyone is searching for the good life and wine can help bring some of it to you.