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‘Tis the season. Well, not that season. But it’s barbecue season and everyone in my neighbourhood is firing up the grill. There’s nothing quite like the classic burger, grilled to perfection and bursting with beefy goodness and flavour. There are also some excellent plant-based burgers on the market right now, full of flavour and just longing to be paired with a glass of something good.

But which wines work well with burgers?

Burgers are chock-full of protein and usually have a high percentage of fat, which makes them both juicy and mouth-filling. The best burger wines have enough structure and tannin to handle the savoury beef, but are also loaded with lush, ripe fruit to balance all those other interesting layers of texture and flavour.

Part of the conundrum is what we put on the burger, be it cheese, bacon, mayo, ketchup, or mustard. All of these will have an impact on the wine pairing. So, with a group of fellow wine enthusiasts and foodies, we set out to taste what worked best.

The good news is that there are a lot of wine pairing options available, but generally speaking the bolder, fruitier reds were the wines of choice. We found that burger sauces and ketchup tended to strip away the fruit from lighter-styled wines, so these condiments are best suited to full bodied, riper wine styles. Raw onions and strong pickles also presented a bit of a challenge: steer clear if you’re pairing a burger with something special from your cellar.

You’ve probably got the drift by now: bolder reds work with burgers. California Zinfandel is one of the all-time classic burger wines. It comes in a wide variety of styles, but the ripe, juicy styles are best suited to burgers. The “Zin” we tasted from Lodi paired really well with the sweeter toppings of ketchup, relish, and caramelized onions.

If the burger is dressed a little more simply, I’d recommend a Rhône-style blend such as a Côtes-du-Rhône Villages. Typically a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, the three grape varieties add their own magic to the finished wine and make an excellent pairing with the addition of bacon to a burger. Malbec from Argentina or a ripe, full-bodied Shiraz from Barossa Valley also work particularly well.  The South Africans know a thing or two about barbecuing and Pinotage, which often boasts meaty aromas in addition to ripe, fruity notes of dark berries, is also a very good pairing.

We found the best matches for vegetarian burgers are slightly lighter-bodied wines, such as Spanish Garnacha or Beaujolais-Villages.

So, as you can see, there are many pairing options available to you. Happy grilling!