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Grape Expectations

A Billy Joel-inspired guide to burgers and wine. Zeren Wilson explains

Written by . Published on February 7th 2012.


Grape Expectations

BURGERS and wine. The culinary equivalent of Billy Joel's downtown man cavorting with his uptown girl? Perhaps. Even as a ‘wine boy’ my first instinct when it comes to lubricating the cogs of a date with a decent burger is beer. Brooklyn Lager, Anchor Steam from team America (US beers just seem right), Cooper's from Australia, or pass me a Bitburger pilsner from Germany – wine is usually on the back burner.

"A ballsy wine with bags of luscious fruit, ripe and juicy, frivolous and up for a good time, without distracting from the main event of the burger, this is what I want if I'm to leave the beer in the fridge."

Why so? It's a bit like the ‘what would you drink with curry?’ question. So many conflicting elements in a dish involving a burger, all quite capable of knocking a wine for six: the sweetness and vinegar factor of ketchup, the gherkin lurking underneath the bun, oozing fatty juices melding with cheese, American yellow or otherwise – a wine needs to have weighty cahones to deal with all of these without breaking stride.

So a ballsy wine with bags of luscious fruit, ripe and juicy, frivolous and up for a good time, without distracting from the main event of the burger, this is what I want if I'm to leave the beer in the fridge.

Not all wines are created equal however. Delicately structured wines such as Pinot Noir from Burgundy, will struggle to cope with the assault of a burger, the wine appearing stripped of fruit, lean and mean, the effect of chomping into a gherkin or having a dollop of tomato sauce before you take a sip. Only the most exalted (and expensive) of Burgundies will stand a chance. Better to stick to warmer climes and vivacious grape varieties that have a ‘come and have a go if you think you're hard enough’ mentality. Enter the contenders: 

 

WHAT TO DRINK:

Ravenswood-Winery-Vintners-Blend-Zinfandel Zinfandel 2010, Vintners Blend - Ravenswood, Sonoma, California Waitrose and widely available.

‘No Wimpy Wines’ has been Joel Ravenswood's mantra for more than 30 years, and you kinda know what he means. Zinfandel can trace its ancestry back to the Italian Primitivo varietal, and before that an ancient grape from the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Sporting a flirtatious, summer berry laden frivolity, Zinfandel possesses a dark heart which manifests itself via natural enthusiastic sugar levels, and hence a high alcohol level often piping 15%. Glug it down, take a bite of that bun - Zinfandel ain't cowed by a burger.

ErrazurizCabernet Sauvignon 2010 - Errazuriz, Achonagua Valley, Chile
Waitrose and widely available.

Established by Don Maxiamo Errazuriz in 1870 (now there's a name to be proud of), Errazuriz have consistently proved themselves to be one of the best and most consistent of Chilean producers, across all price points. Californian winemaker Ed Flaherty joined in 1997 and fine tuned things in the vineyard, reducing yields, and these guys are a safe bet when spending under a tenner on a red. This Cabernet has plushness of fruit, a dark bramble core, and plenty of personality to shrug off any distracting burger condiments, including fiery mustard.

CatenamalbecMalbec 2009 - Nicolás Catena, Mendoza, Argentina
Waitrose and widely available.

Nicholás Catena is one of the daddies of the Argentinian winemaking scene. His forefather Nicola Catena sailed to Argentina from Italy in 1898, planting his first Malbec vineyard in 1902. Blessed with many high altitude vineyards, leading to a longer, cooler growing season, has meant that the family have been able to produce some of the best wines in the country for decades. One of the six varieties permitted to make red Bordeaux, now more often seen in Cahors, this has now become the signature grape of Argentina. Inky dark in colour, this Malbec has the big, ballsy structure we're looking for, lots of brooding dark fruit character, and enough grippy tannins to ensure this can stay the course.

Gimonnet Champagne Gimonnet 1er Cru Cuis NV 
www.armit.co.uk

Champagne is for life, not just for Christmas. It could be any Champagne. Any sparkling that takes your fancy in fact. Those perky bubbles will cleanse the palate of fatty juices between each bite, leading you to attack your burger with gusto once more. This is a fine small growers Champagne made by the mild mannered yet obsessive Didier Gimonnet. Boasting 100% Chardonnay, this has purity, minerality and finesse, one of the great Blanc de Blancs. Cheaper than most of the big daddy Grande Marques too.The ultimate uptown girl of Champagne dating the downtown burger. 



WHERE TO EAT:

Lucychip


Lucky Chip

We start with a trailer burger. This is probably the most interesting burger in London right now. Ben Denner does his thing from a metal tin in Netil Market, East London, close to London Fields and Broadway Market. He also pops up at various pub gigs around town. Obsessive attention to detail, a shifting selection of wackily named burgers (Charlie Sheen, Tom Selleck, Darryl Hannah), and properly aged meat which has the requisite beefy ‘funk’ that marks this one out from the pack. The El Chapo stands out, with smoked bacon, blue cheese, roasted jalapeños and garlic aïoli – wimpy wines need not apply.

Hawksmoor
Leading the charge for a proper burger for longer than most – when the best we had were tame, limp-wristed efforts from second rate restaurants and a Gourmet Burger Kitchen that had gone off the boil – the original Hawksmoor in Spitalfields was something of a revelation. Properly sloppy in all the right places and using aged beef, this placed a marker in the London burger landscape. The Covent Garden site introduced the brilliant Kimchi burger, mouth tinglingly spicy Korean fermented cabbage. Shrinking violet wines will be eaten and spat out with this one, so crack open that Malbec. 

  Goodman


Goodman

Oh Goodman. Just when we start getting spoilt for steak by the Hawksmoor boys, along comes Russian owned Goodman and gives us another venue of note. Famed for their Belted Galloway steaks, the burger at Goodman is taken very seriously. A proper whack of beefy flavour is here, dense and salty, with enough fat to dribble down your chin. The beef patty/bun ratio is more civilised here, and everything is beautifully in proportion, and not as messy as some. One of the best in London. The wine list is also a joy, filled with plenty of full on Californian reds, perfectly equipped to deal with a burger mission.

 

 

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