Few other dishes are as versatile as the hamburger, an iconic American dish. It’s the pinnacle of accessibility: burgers, in different shapes and sizes, grace the menus of restaurants ranging from fast food joints to candlelit steakhouses. However, they are often consumed alongside a large helping of fries and a 32-ounce soda, so we thought we’d dive a little deeper into the sophisticated side of the hamburger, and we could find none better to help explore it than Master Sommelier Guy Stout.
One of only 170 Master Sommeliers in the world, Stout is also a Certified Wine Educator and a Certified Spirits Specialist. The vice president of the Society of Wine Educators is leading a class called Burgers & Bordeaux at Central Markets throughout Texas during Push Your Burger Boundaries, the upscale grocer’s annual burger festival. We took the chance to talk with him about exploring those burger boundaries, and why a Burgundy may be preferable to a Bud.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Guy. When it comes to hamburgers, we suppose that most people imagine sitting out by the grill on a hot summer day with a cold beer. Is there a perception that wine and burgers just don’t go together?
Well, in a way, yes. When you go overseas, it’s not uncommon to pair wine with hamburgers. In France you’ll often see people having a glass of wine with their burger. Even at a McDonalds!
I’m from here, though, and I know that a good burger is a thing to really relish. But I think it’s something that the American wine industry never really pursued. They handed the hamburger over to the beer people, to the soft drink people. But wine is wonderful with a burger. I’ve always enjoyed a nice bottle of Bordeaux or Chianti or a California Cab with a burger. It’s kind of catchy to say burgers and Bordeaux. It’s got a nice ring to it; it’s tongue-in-cheek, obviously, but I wanted to take one of the finest wine regions in the world and serve it up with the sliders. I want to demystify wine, especially Bordeaux. People think Bordeaux is only an expensive red wine, but there’s so much more to Bordeaux than that.
Why do you believe that, until recently, the American wine industry overlooked it?
Well, when you reach back in time, you see that wine historically played a limited part in American culture. Basically, after World War II, we brought back good old strapping soldiers from Italy, France and Germany who developed a taste for wine. And they came back and went, ‘Wow, that was pretty good stuff.’
That was kind of the start of it, but even then Americans mostly preferred sweeter wines. It wasn’t until the ’60s and ’70s when we started getting away from the super sweet wines. That’s when we really started opening up the American table. But by then the perception of what a hamburger was supposed to be had already developed.
So now people are discovering the versatility of the burger and how to match their wines with it?
Absolutely. You know, with burgers, you adjust it through the condiments, or you can adjust the texture of the beef; you can tweak it either way. It used to be the case that most people choose to tweak it with condiments like avocado, portabella or exotic cheeses. Even foie gras. A lot of people now, though, see the trend toward seasoning the meats with a little more attention.
Not to mention the ability to use different meats entirely.
Oh yeah. Personally, I love lamb burgers, and for that you’ve got some great Tempranillo Granache blends from Spain, but then you could also go with the Rhone Valley, where you’ve got those Châteauneufs—kind of a high-dollar wine for a burger, but I love it. A little Châteauneuf-du-Pape would be perfect. Really, it’s all about balance: acids and oils, full flavors and spices all tweak it.
So your classes are designed to help attendees discover the balance they prefer?
I’m trying to show people that they can enjoy really terrific wines with some foods that are not so complicated. You don’t have to have a gourmet meal every time you open a good bottle of wine. We’ll have a selection of burgers to put out there, a selection of wines from white and red to show them that you can have really nice wines and enjoy them with some of our simpler foods. It’s less complicated food. And then, if you prefer, burgers can be complicated, but the bottom line is there aren’t a whole lot of things that are more enjoyable than a good burger and a great glass of wine.