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Aspen Recap 2: Burger Bonanza Wines

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The 2009 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen wrapped up this past Sunday, but I figured I'd blog about one or two highlights from it anyway. One of them, not to blow my own horn, was the slightly crazy blind-burger-pairing-old-world-vs.-new-world-wine-smackdown that I ran as one of my seminars on Friday. 

What I did was pick three pairs of wines, one from Europe and one from the U.S. in each case, and pair them with a series of mini-burgers prepared by Ryan Hardy, the immensely talented young chef at Montagna at the Little Nell. The audience—more than 120 people; the room was jammed—tasted each pair of wines with the appropriate burger, then voted on which wine worked best. It was a hoot, unsurprisingly, helped along substantially by the insanely good burgers.

The winners? With a crabcake slider served with a tarragon aioli, the fave wine was from Italy: the 2007 Nino Negri Ca'Brione ($35), a lightly honeyed, spicy, richly citrusy blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Incrocia Manzoni (a hybrid of Pinot Blanc and Riesling), and, even weirder, a small proportion of Nebbiolo fermented without its skins so the juice remains white. White Nebbiolo, you bet. Regardless, it was a lovely wine, and if you happen to be serving crabcakes with a tarragon aioli, go for it.

With chef Hardy's spicy lamb burgers (made with the homemade lamb-fennel-red pepper sausage he created for Montagna), the triumphant wine was a nifty southern-Rhône-inspired red from Napa Valley's Elyse Winery, the 2005 C'est Si Bon ($28). I tasted this wine for the first time about a year ago and was impressed with the way it balanced its luscious cherry-raspberry fruit and silky texture against a fairly firm, albeit ripe, core of tannins. 

Finally, the burger that broke the tie was Hardy's version of the classic In-N-Out Burger Double-Double (double meat, double cheese, of course). The top wine here was the 2007 Trinchero Napa Valley Central Park West Cabernet Sauvignon ($35ish), which hasn't even been released yet. It's part of a new line of primarily single-vinyard wines Trinchero is doing, made by new winemaker Mario Monticelli (formerly Philippe Melka's assistant at a number of high-end & high-profile Napa projects). Lush blackberry and cassis fruit with spicy oak notes, powerful but supple tannins, and impressive density of flavor; good stuff, and a steal for the price, too.

So the result? American wines: better with burgers. All this rigorous scientific research is good for the soul, you know. 

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Join celebrity chefs, renowned winemakers and epicurean insiders at the culinary world’s most spectacular weekend, the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen, June 20-22.