Why You Should Be Drinking Red Wine With Burgers, According To An Expert

If you have been led to believe that opening a bottle of wine should be reserved for special occasions and fancy meals, it's time to set the record straight — wine is something to be enjoyed any day of the week, with all kinds of meals. For wine expert Cody Freed — bar manager of the Infinite Monkey Theorem in Denver, Colorado – there's one approachable pairing in particular that is not to be missed: burgers and red wine.

"With most traditional beef patty burgers, you can't go wrong with red," Freed told Food Republic. "Out of our collection, I would recommend our Project Glimmer Malbec or our Cabernet Sauvignon."

There is a reason Cabernet Sauvignon is so popular and falls among Freed's top picks for sipping between bites of burger: its robust taste is highly versatile and well equipped to match boldly flavored foods. Burgers have a deeply meaty, rich flavor profile, so you'll want to choose a full-bodied red wine that won't seem bland by comparison. As a bonus, Cabernet Sauvignon is also one of the best red wines to chill, so it's ideal for a summertime barbecue. 

According to Freed, Malbec is another excellent choice. The tasting notes of dark fruit and cocoa come with a hint of acidity that balances out the high-fat content in the burger — while a mild taste of tobacco brings out the smokiness of the grilled meat.

Tips for pairing wine and burgers

"When it comes to pairing wine with burgers, it honestly depends on what type of burger you are making," noted Cody Freed. As you learn how to pair wine with burgers, be sure to consider both the patty and the toppings. For a burger with rich ingredients like bacon or blue cheese, Freed suggested pairing it with "a red that can round out those bold flavors. Something like a full-bodied Malbec." The jammy notes of the Malbec amplify the complex characteristics that come from aging blue cheese, and its subtle smoky taste of roasted coffee beans goes well with the bacon. 

If beef patties and bacon aren't your thing, there are also endless options for wines that pair nicely with burgers made from other kinds of meat or plant-based alternatives. For those who love a turkey burger, you're going to want to enjoy it with a sturdy rosé. Turkey meat is lighter in flavor than beef, so it should be accompanied by less aggressively flavored wines that won't overpower it or clash with the toppings. 

Rosés with notes of citrus or stone fruits are particularly well suited. For a vegan alternative, try black bean patties with Lambrusco. This sparkling red Italian wine can stand up to the hearty taste of legumes, without overshadowing the more delicate flavors of the vegetables, and adds a sense of lift that balances its earthy qualities. 

The role of tannins when pairing wine and burgers

The perfection of pairing red wine comes down to the presence of compounds known as tannins, which are found in abundance in certain red wines, including Cabernet Sauvignon – Malbec may have fewer than a sturdy Cabernet Sauvignon, but it will have enough to stand up to the earthy notes of beef. Tannins are responsible for the sensation of dryness that often comes with a sip of wine, but they also provide the beverage with a sense of structure and a hint of acidity. These compounds react when they come into contact with proteins like those in beef. When pairing burgers with tannic wines, the meat mellows out the dry quality in the drink while the wine cuts through some of the heaviness of the protein. 

Lambrusco is a rare bubbly option in the world of red wine and is also characterized by a fairly high concentration of tannins. There are about 10 different varieties of this wine, but there is one in particular that is ideal for burgers: Lambrusco Salamino. The tannins from the salami-shaped grapes (for which it is named) are expertly balanced by an intense sweetness that can balance both meat and vegetables. 

Rosé tends to be lower in tannins than red wine, which makes it the better option for burgers made with light meats, like turkey and chicken. Since poultry can become dry when cooked, a fruity, juicy rosé is the ideal source of refreshment.