Canadians’ love affair with the barbecue is so deep that many of us will don huge, over-sized parkas, stand outside in the blistering cold of January, risk frost-bitten noses, and patiently wait for the perfect level of doneness of whatever we’ve thrown on the grill, as the icy wind constantly threatens to extinguish our precious flame. All this just for a taste of summer – the charred smoky flavours of grilled meat. But, thankfully those frigid days are behind us, for another year anyway, and barbequeing is so much easier in the warmer months. In fact, summertime screams BBQ!
Many people may associate beer with the barbecue, but statistics show that Canadians may, in fact, be reaching for a glass of wine instead. Sales of wine in Canada have increased in the last decade, while sales of beer, still our ‘national’ beverage, have declined.
So, what wine should you serve with a beautifully barbecued beef burger? Well, the wine should be full and flavourful, and have the structure to stand up to the beef’s boldness. Ripe fruit flavours, spice, and a hint of smokiness from judicious ageing in oak, will complement the flavours in the charred meat. The wine should also have sufficient acidity to match the usually more acidic toppings we like to heap on our burgers, such as mustard, ketchup, and relish. I prefer red wine with my burgers. There are many red grape varieties that fit the bill, but three of my favourites to pair with bbq’d burgers are:
Since the Argentine’s are probably more in love with grilled meats than even Canadians, it’s not surprising that their favourite grape, Malbec, is a great match. Most of the Malbecs we see in the LCBO are, in fact, from Argentina (and 90% of those are from Mendoza), but if you look you may be able to find a few from the French region of Cahors. You may even find the odd bottle from Chile, California, and Canada, but these are much more rare. Velvety, approachable, and full of fruit flavours, Malbec is very versatile with a number of grilled meats and most bottles are very reasonably priced. Read “The Argentine Malbec Experience” for more information on Argentina’s flagship grape, or read “French Malbec” to learn more about Malbec from it’s original homeland.
Wines made from Shiraz/Syrah often have an inherent smoky, meaty character, which along with spice and black pepper notes, can be a perfect match for grilled burgers. Many regions around the world grow great Shiraz/Syrah. Great examples from Australia, California, Okanagan Valley, and of course, the northern Rhone (look for the appellations of Cote Rotie, Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, Cornas) can easily be found. In the Southern Rhone, Syrah is generally blended with other grapes, mainly Grenache. There are also a few good examples in Ontario and BC. In Australia, the wines will be labelled as Shiraz, and these wines, coming from a warmer climate, are big and oozing with ripe fruit flavours, spice and chocolate. In the cooler Rhone Valley in France, the grape is called Syrah, and will show a more floral, smoky, herbal quality. Other places, such as California, the Okanagan Valley (BC), and numerous other regions may use either name to label their wines.
DNA fingerprinting at University of California at Davis has proven it’s the same as Italy’s Primitivo, but it is in California where Zinfandel really shines. When say Zinfandel, I am speaking of quality red wines, not the mass-produced, bland, slightly sweet pink version. Red Zinfandel is relatively low in tannins and high in fruit flavours, ranging from red berries to black currants, plums, prunes, and raisins. Spice and floral notes are also very common. Zinfandel pairs wonderfully with Burgers, especially Chili Burgers! Zinfandel in California has become so popular that it has created a resurgence of the variety in Italy. Many Italian versions are even labelling their wines with the grape name Primativo to make it easier for consumers to recognize. I’ve even seen a few Italian bottles labelled as Zinfandel.
There are many other wines you may enjoy with your bbq’d burgers – leave me a comment and let me know your favourites.