Wine Time

Odd Pair: Burgers and Burgundy

Burgers and Burgundy. The alliteration and rhyme are hard to resist, aren't they? Bacon cheeseburgers and Burgundy, to be more precise, was the pairing that I chose last night to celebrate my birthday, which seems to happen every year. Usually I treat myself to a porterhouse steak, cooked Florentine style, on my birthday. But this year, with a baby on its way and newly implemented austerity measures, bacon cheeseburgers with all my favorite toppings seemed more appropriate.

And the Burgundy, you ask?



2001 Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes Premier Cru by one of my favorite Burgundy producers, Leroy. The wine was given to me earlier this year (when cooler temperatures make it possible to ship wine to Texas) by a friend at Christie's auction house. I had done her favor in researching an auction lot of Tuscan wine and she had reciprocated by sending me this bottle (an orphan from an estate sale, no doubt). A bottle of this caliber commands prices far beyond the reach of our household budget (I imagine $300+).

In the Côte de Nuits (the upper section of Burgundy's Côte-d'Or, where Pinot Noir trumps Chardonnay), the village of Chambolle-Musigny is widely known for the remarkable floral character of its wines (as opposed to, say, Gevrey-Chambertin, where the wines are distinguished by their powerful tannic character and austerity). Some would even go as far as to say that the wines of Chambolle-Musigny are the "prettiest" of the Côte de Nuits.

The highly parcelized growing sites of Burgundy (red and white) are classified into Grands Crus (literally, "great growths," the top tier), Premier Crus ("first growths," the second in the hierarchy), and Village (last but not least and often superb despite the more humble designation). Les Charmes is a Premier Cru in the appellation.

True to its nature, the wine was stunningly gorgeous on the nose, with notes of spring flowers and fruit. Bright and seductive, fresh and delicately confident of its beauty. The "nose" of the wine is what turns me on more than any other element. And in Chambolle-Musigny, the olfactory is as distinct as it is superb.

In the mouth, the wine was more meaty, with the floral notes giving way to earthiness (one of the signatures of the biodynamic grower Leroy) and red fruit. I loved its chewy mouthfeel (I believe that it is unfiltered) and its happy acidity revealed that the wine could have been aged for many, many more years.

The marriage of red Burgundy and bacon cheeseburgers broke every rule of the wine pairing canon -- technically and sociologically. With a nuanced wine like this, convention calls for a pairing with simple, pure flavors that won't overwhelm the wine. And, of course, societal convention calls for it to be married with a dish of equal station. Burgundy is sacred, cheeseburgers are profane.

But the application of this wine was brilliant here: its nervy acidity and elegant fruit sang against the rock 'n' roll of the burger and, surprisingly, the intensity of the toppings didn't attenuate the wine's flavors whatsoever. In fact, its umami (savory) flavors worked with the dish the same way the dish's elements worked together: Savory and sweet, earth and fruit, fat and acidity, the unlikely combinations that make great wine (and cheeseburgers) taste so friggin' delicious.

I can already hear my friends asking me: Jeremy, you? An Italian wine devotee, drinking French on your birthday? To them, I answer, Nebbiolo -- the great red grape of Piedmont, Italy -- is my master, but Burgundy is my mistress.

And to those who lament: You paired a bottle of this caliber with hamburgers? Topped with spicy jalapeños and mustard, sweet ketchup and briny pickles? Shouldn't you have paired this wine with bœuf bourguignon?

I reply: What the hell, yo? It was my birthday!

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine and modern civilization for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen