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Burgers and wine: Calm hectic holidays with simple indulgences

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Typically, meals during the holidays feature the grandiose: A perfectly golden bird; a sumptuous roast, or hors d’oeuvres for a party. These are all meant to create quite the visual presentation. Although the traditional meals and festive foods certainly have their place in epicurean pageantry, there are some comfort meals that are terrific with great value wines. One doesn’t always have to lean on the perfect beef tenderloin paired with an over-extracted, over-marketed Napa Cab.

That’s why Chicago Budget Wine Examiner recommends firing up the cast-iron skillet – or for the intrepid types, lighting coals on the grill, clad in weather-appropriate attire – and making a (or indulging in a restaurant’s) simple favorite: burgers.

With the hectic schedule that engulfs the holidays, things shouldn’t be complicated. When it’s not the day of one of those “fun” holiday block parties, don’t spend precious time trying to unveil a new, labor-intensive recipe. Just stick with a staple. Plus, there are many budget-priced wines that go with this reliable form of gastronomy, and they are more than insipid, alcoholic bulk juice.

“The big-time flavors of our Southwest Cheeseburger can improve when you enjoy it with Rosenblum Cellars Vintner’s Cuvee XXXIV Zinfandel,” says Howard Johnston, General Manager of The Glen Club in suburban Glenview. “The spice from our homemade salsa, pepper jack cheese, jalapenos and Southwest Sauce is first cooled by the creamy avocado, then enhanced by the gentle mocha and vanilla spices of the wine. The intense red fruit characteristics of this Zinfandel complement the savory flavors from the grilled Wagyu beef patty and crispy onion straws. We recommend the sweet potato fries as a side, making this a meal that elevates the pairing with this particular Zinfandel.”

Below are some of CBWE’s additional choices, in no particular order, but paired with different burger preparations:

Locomotora Carmenere: Hailing from Lontue Valley, Chile, this Carmenere has good body and structure. Plus it isn’t overly jammy, nor is it austere. Aromas of spice and black fruit, with rhubarb and black cherry on the palate. It would pivot nicely between a coarse-ground burger studded with onions and fancy toppings, and a more traditional cheddar burger. Average retail price: $13 per bottle.

Rock & Vine Malbec: There’s no arguing that – despite the exasperation from many wine directors – Malbec is a crowd-pleaser. But this is a juicy, quaffable Malbec from the high elevation of Lake County, California. “It’s not as tannic as many of the Argentine ones,” says Amy Lafontant of the Bottle Shop in north-suburban Wilmette. Make sure to have plenty of this on hand for damage control, i.e., in case someone at the Christmas Burger Party gets a little over-served, and leans on the money side of the cast iron skillet. Anyways, with this one, change things up a bit: Ask a local butcher for ground brisket. Season it well, maybe with a little Texas brisket rub, and top the burger with jalapeno-jack cheese. Average retail price: $14 per bottle.

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