A great grilled hamburger just begs for a sassy wine, a back-talking red with tangy fruit and snappy spice.
With an eye to the holiday, The Press Democrat organized its annual “Hamburger Reds” tasting to give you a lineup of feisty wines $20 and under to pair with your burger.
The top winner? Four-star-rated Frei Brothers, 2011 Reserve Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel at $20. The Gallo brand made the flavors come alive in a 7-ounce, juicy bacon cheeseburger from Santa Rosa's SuperBurger, a well-loved favorite hamburger spot. The zin was the perfect match because it had refreshing acidity, bright fruit and plenty of backbone.
The favorite wines rose to the top because they were rich and fruity or smoky enough to stand up to a hamburger's protein and fatty juices.
Other top-ranking wines include: Second-place winner Layer Cake, 2008Primitivo, Puglia, Italy at $17 (4 stars); and third-place winner Sebastiani, 2010 Sonoma Coast Zinfandel (4 stars) at $17.
A quick note about the star ratings. The scores reflect each wine on its own merit; how it fared with the hamburger isn't reflected in the score.
The flight included 10 wines, and the range was broad, from red blends to grenache to zinfandel.
Scott Johnsen, the viticulturist of Healdsburg's Frei Brothers, said it's the acid in the wine that makes it sassy.
“I think 2011 was a cooler year and so you have more red raspberry fruit peeking back at you,” he said.
Johnsen wasn't surprised that his jammy zin was a great match with the savory hamburger.
“We try to get ripe, jammy fruit characteristics,” Johnsen said. “We aim for jammy raspberry, jammy strawberry and jammy blackberry. ... We go for ripe jamminess, but we don't go over the top with alcohol and sugar.”
To achieve jamminess without a soaring alcohol level requires keeping the sun in check.
“A lot of it is exposure, having the right connection to the land,” he said. “The more exposure during the year gives you more mature wines at an earlier date.”