Ray Isle determines, once and for all, whether U.S. or European wines are the better match.


It's easy enough, as a wine writer, to weigh in on what goes best with what—Chablis with oysters, Chianti with pizza, or Maiskii Chernyi with Beshbarmak, the national dish of Kazakhstan (boiled horsemeat over noodles, and, honestly, you'd be more likely to get served vodka; but whatever).

Once in a while, though, you get to go at this question scientifically, which is what I did at the 2015 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. At my seminar there, 120 or so attendees tasted six different wines with three different kinds of burgers to determine, once and for all, whether U.S. or European wines are the better match.

Burger #1 was a chicken burger with Green Hill cheese and caramelized onions and apples. I poured the 2013 Robert Weil Riesling Tradition ($20) from the Rheingau and the 2013 The Forager Pinot Noir ($27)  from the Sonoma Coast. The audience voted for the German wine (the light sweetness of the Riesling complemented the onions and apples beautifully; the light-bodied Pinot was good with the chicken burger, too, but not quite as good.) Europe up by 1.

Burger #2 was a lamb burger with a spicy harissa slaw. For this one, the wines were the 2012 Bruno Giacosa Barbera d'Alba ($25) and the 2012 Cameron Hughes Lot 487 ($13), a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Petite Sirah from Lodi in California. The question here was basically "what goes better with spicy food—rich fruity wines, or bright high-acid wines." The Zinfandel blend took it. Score: USA, 1; Europe 1.

Burger #3, the tie-breaker, was (as it had to be) a classic cheeseburger. The competing wines were the 2012 Alakai Grenache from Joel Gott Wines ($17) and the 2013 Apollo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($20) from Ausonia. Both are superb; the Gott more fruity and supple, the Montepulciano more spicy and rustic. And both were great with the burger. However, since Joel Gott was sitting next to me onstage and is a charming (and very persuasive) guy, the audience voted overwhelmingly for his wine. Final score: USA, 2; Europe 1.

So there it is: inarguable, statistical proof—er, sort of—that U.S. wines go better with burgers than European ones. Done. Finito. All clear. No need to worry about this crucial debate ever again.

At least until I try doing the same seminar at next year's F&W Classic in Aspen, that is.