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The quintessential American July 4th experience is the equally American barbeque—in my estimation, the only “cuisine” that is truly American. Some friends – Karen and Don -- invited me to their home for dinner, which included hunky, delicious cheeseburgers to match a truly American holiday with an equally American (well, American-cum-German anyway) food.
This column tries to take the intimidation out of wine, to consider it as more European in an “everyday drinking” way, so a casual dinner of cheeseburgers is a near textbook way to consider wine pairings.
My gracious hosts offered three bottles, two of which the three of us finished, and one left for another time. None of the wines were American, but instead called to mind our Old World roots and our fellow New World neighbors.
I always enjoy drinking wine before the meal, on its own, acting as apertif. My visits to Europe suggest this is relative heresy, that wine’s role as supporting player to food is an unalterable constant like the earth being round and the “number” pi. But we’re celebrating America this weekend, so anything goes.
We kicked-off the evening by quaffing a 2009 Rioja Muga from Spain. Rioja is the Bordeaux of Spain, Spain’s best known region and mostly noted for its earthly, rugged reds so I was especially curious to try this one: not a red but an “el Rosado.” I look for an apertif wine that is crisp and clean, readying the palate for the meal to come. This one did spendidly, light but with a little more weight than a white wine, to prime us for the beef to come. I’m glad to see “pink” wines like this one that demonstrate that rose doesn’t have to mean white zinfandel. (In fact, there are regions in most of the Old World that specialize in making rose—learning for another column.)
With the burgers, topped with an illustrious Smoked Gouda, we enjoyed a 2008 Australian red from Barossa, calling itself a “Ball Buster” and bringing to mind the take-no-prisoner attitude of the Crocodile Dundee crowd (perhaps a vestige of a country that was originally a penal colony). It was mostly Shiraz—which Australia has made their best known varietal—with a blend of Cabernet and Merlot. The result was a Meritage-styled jammy red that lived up its name.
While my hosts may disagree (and wine, I truly believe to be a subjective passion anyway), I felt this wine plowed over the burger rather than complemented it. A medium rare steak would have been more complementary – this wine needed more fat than our perfectly seasoned, lean beef allowed to mellow Ball Buster’s rowdiness.
But hey, I would be lying to say I did not enjoy Ball Buster. But as a pairing with our gourmet burgers it reminded me of a badly matched couple, with one who talks too much while the other sits idly by and smiles alot as if saying, "I can't believe I'm with him/her either."
So pull out the grill, and try it for yourself. You’ll feel like you’re in the outback with its rich, wild dark fruit, untamed jammy sweetness, and hint of peppery zest.
And in doing so, while America celebrates our 234th birthday, we can tip our cowboy hats to Australia, who like us, is another New World wine compatriot.
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