Odd Pair: Top 5 Wines to Take to Burger Guys

A few weeks ago, in the first part of this series, we quoted one of the top chefs in the U.S. today, Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin in New York, on the virtues of the fast food burger in our country.

"There is something about these ingredients," wrote Eric in Gourmet, "that creates a harmonious combination, and the textures also work very nicely together."

To borrow from Eric's mother-tongue French, fast food burgers in our country often attain a je ne sais quoi, something that even he can't quite put his finger on but he can wrap his hands and his mouth around with pure sensorial joy.

There is perhaps no other temple to the fast food burger where this ideal is embodied with more gusto and panache than The Burger Guys on Westheimer. The joint's motto alone -- anything can be a burger -- opens a Pandora's box of aromas and flavors... and seemingly endless possibilities for wine pairing.

I ate there for the first time a few weeks ago and was thrilled to discover that the Burger Guys allow corkage at no charge.

And while the prices remain ridiculously reasonable, the Burger Guys do not seem to cut corners when it comes to the materia prima. (My blogging colleagues Katharine Shilcutt and Mai Pham have written about the ingredients sourced by the Burger Guys here and here.) The quality of the meat alone -- the prized Akaushi -- bespeaks the passion of these hash-slinging chefs.

Although I might avoid the Houston Burger, with its heat-seeking jalapeño missiles, when it comes to fine wine pairing, the match game at the Burger Guys is all about what you like to pair with high-quality beef.

"Napa Valley Cab" will always be a go-to for the dick-waggers out there. But with the Burger Guys's unrivaled spirit of liberality in their fare, there are so many other possibilities.

My number-one wine here is old-school Nebbiolo like Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo (for less than $25 at Spec's). The bright acidity and gentle but present tannin are ideal in the way they balance the sweet and sour of the classic burger toppings but still stand up to the fattiness of the beef and cheese.

Rhône Valley Syrah, with its groovy spice, is a close number two. Think Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage La Petite Ruche (you'll find it in Houston for less than $25).

And if I want to turn up the heat with my toppings, I'll reach for a chilled bottle of Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare, rosé made from mostly Grenache, with just enough tannin to hold its own with the burger (also available in Houston for around $15).

If I wanted to go white, I might pick up a bottle of López de Heridia Rioja Blanco Viña Gravonia from Spain (under $30 in Houston). The intense nutty flavors of this oxidative wine would be perfect with Hatch burger, where the muted fruit in the wine would draw out the sweetness of the chile.

And for a special occasion, one of my guiltiest pleasures, grower Champagne and raw beef: A cheeseburger cooked blood rare with Gaston Chiquet Champagne (around $50 in Houston and an incredible value).

What's your favorite wine to take to the Burger Guys?

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