Sommeliers are in the business of thinking carefully about wine and its interaction with the cuisine of a restaurant. But off the floor, sommeliers eat the same food that everybody eats, which oftentimes means burgers. What happens when sommeliers take their professional skill set and apply it to the everyday food they love? They start thinking about the nuances, the accents, the perfect pairing, but also just the sheer enjoyability of having grilled meat with wine. Eater spoke with several New York City sommeliers to find out what they are drinking with their burger and where they are going for their burger fix. Here are their tips, along with a few good stories:
What is your spot for a burger in New York? I mean your real spot, the one you love, the one you wish you were at more often, the one you get happy thinking about.
Yannick Benjamin, University Club: One of my favorite places to go to whenever I am in the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx is The Bronx Burger House, which offers one of my favorite burgers in all of the boroughs. Besides having a delicious menu of burgers it is a cozy little place for local Bronx residents and I always feel good when I am there.
Jason Wagner, Fung Tu: My spot, like every good burger spot, is in my neighborhood. The Grange in Hamilton Heights has a super solid burger. It's where I go when I get the burger craving and don't want to take any chances on my burger getting screwed up.
Eric Hastings, Jean-Georges: J.G. Melon. It's right down the street and I'm always there before a football game. It's superstition.
What has been a great burger and wine pairing in your past?
David Chapel, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare: A burger at Balthazar with a magnum of 2007 Foillard "Côte du Py" Morgon. This was great.
Eduardo Porto Carreiro, Untitled at The Whitney: Northern Rhône Syrah with a hearty cheeseburger is a truly special experience. There's an old-school Cornas producer named Robert Michel that stopped making wine after the 2006 vintage who also made a little-known bottling of Saint-Joseph called "Le Bois des Blaches." I had a bottle of 2001 Robert Michel "Bois des Blaches" Saint-Joseph with an Umami Burger "Hatch Burger" back when Umami had first opened in Los Angeles, and it was a match made in heaven. Loads of mineral-laden black fruit, earth, and spice with a rich and savory and spicy cheeseburger.
Jessica Brown, The Breslin & The John Dory: A cheeseburger and fries with chilled Dolcetto. Really, totally chilled. It warms up a little as you drink it, but it also just feels so refreshing and juicy, and still with enough structure to cut through the fat. In general, I am a huge fan of chilled reds in the summer.
Michelle Biscieglia, Blue Hill: The burger at Minetta Tavern with a Hervé Souhaut St Joseph. The savory/spicy/juicy combos were magical.
Jason Wagner, Fung Tu: Matthew Rorick's Dexter Lake "Handlebars" Red Blend is a great burger wine. I've had it a ton of times with a burger and it's perfect.
Jenni Guizio, Felidia: The Gramercy Tavern burger with a bottle of Domaine JL Chave St. Joseph. That combination is close to perfect.
George Hock, Barchetta: The Minetta burger with the addition of bone marrow piled on. Pibarnon Bandol Rouge. Done deal.
What accompaniment to a burger makes it taste better with wine?
I'm convinced that french fries make wine taste better.Eduardo Porto Carreiro, Untitled at The Whitney: There's nothing like a great basket of thick-cut french fries to make any beverage taste better – as long as they are well seasoned. I'm convinced that french fries make wine taste better. That said, pickles are something I steer clear of – pickles can often ruin an awesome bottle of wine.
Michelle Biscieglia, Blue Hill: Grilled onions. I like to keep it less spicy and turn up the smoke. It brings out an amazing savory side to red wine.
Jenni Guizio, Felidia: Mushrooms! Particularly roasted mushrooms that are a little crispy and nutty.
Yannick Benjamin, University Club: I find that the cheese used on a burger is a game changer, so I often like to have a cheese that has a good amount of acid to pair up with the wine.
Jessica Brown, The Breslin & The John Dory: Grilled burgers have an extra element of char and smoke flavor from being cooked over the open flame, which I think can be great when pairing with wine.
Eric Hastings, Jean-Georges: Gotta have tomato on the burger if there is wine. Bacon doesn't hurt either. Be careful with the cheese, though! Blue cheese doesn't work well with wine.
Which wine would you like to try with a burger?
Jenni Guizio, Felidia: Somehow I don't think I've ever had Barolo with a burger. I can imagine that’s something I should do.
Jason Wagner, Fung Tu: Clos du Marquis, any vintage. I love Saint Julien and that's probably my favorite wine from there.
Michelle Biscieglia, Blue Hill: An orange wine. I'd love to see how the white wine tannins play with smokiness and fat.
What is your most memorable high-low pairing of a fancy wine with a burger?
There was this late night at Le Cirque back in 1999, where the cooks had made some simple but delicious burgers Michelle Biscieglia, Blue Hill: I brought home half a bottle that was leftover from a collector dinner: it was a Rousseau Chambertin 1976. This was in the summer when we always have burgers in the freezer at home. I sat in the lounge chair in my backyard and experienced pure gluttony.
Eduardo Porto Carreiro, Untitled at The Whitney: I once had the opportunity to suitcase over a bottle of Jacques Selosse Champagne from France. My wife and I picked up some burgers from the neighborhood greasy spoon, ordered up a movie on Netflix, and cracked that bottle of insanely good Champagne. Everyone has always said that Selosse pairs with anything – it was so true on that night. The wine was ridiculously delicious and the burger definitely benefited from its high-profile companion; an unforgettable pairing.
Eric Hastings, Jean-Georges: On Easter Sunday we took along a bottle of Cheval Blanc 1982, expecting to have lamb. The lamb was sold out, and all that was left was the burger option or Bangers and Mash. That Cheval was outstanding with burgers!
Jason Wagner, Fung Tu: A Clape Cornas 2007, a burger, and fries dipped in ketchup and olive tapenade. To say that it was an emotional experience is an understatement.
Randall Restiano, Eli’s Table: Cerbaiona Brunello di Montalcino 1999 at a family barbecue two summers ago.
Yannick Benjamin, University Club: There was this late night at Le Cirque back in 1999, where the cooks had made some simple but delicious burgers for the staff. The sommelier had a bottle of JL Chave Hermitage 1990 that had been returned because a customer had said it was corked. Well, as the old saying goes, "one man's loss is another man's gain": that was probably the most delicious corked wine that I have ever had, because it was not corked. That whole night was just another one of those real "restaurant life" moments in my restaurant career.
Jessica Brown, The Breslin & The John Dory: The night after our wedding my husband and I were so exhausted and hungry from all the weekend festivities that we drove to get Five Guys and brought burgers and fries back to our hotel. We ate in bed and drank Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 1982. It is one of the few birth year wines (mine) that I have had the pleasure of trying. So good.
Have you ever done anything quasi-illegal or broke rules to have a beverage with a burger? Like you snuck wine into a place, or you snuck a burger into a meal, etc. Fess up!
Jenni Guizio, Felidia: Not yet, but you've inspired me to do so.
Jeff Taylor, Betony: A few years ago when I was working at EMP I was "gifted" about half of a bottle of 1985 DRC La Tâche after a collector dinner. Leaving the restaurant late – and starving – I had a craving for a Corner Bistro burger. I arrived at Corner Bistro around 2am and ordered a burger, a beer, and a rocks glass of water. I quickly downed the water and slyly refilled the rocks glass with my 1985 La Tâche. To this day, this remains one of my favorite food and wine pairing memories: there was something so wrong about it, but yet so right. I think Aubert de Villaine would approve.
George Hock, Barchetta: The story involves a bottle of Brunello and a White Castle on one particular late night. I’ll leave it at that.
Eric Hastings, Jean-Georges: I'm a law abiding citizen, Levi.
Next read: The 21 Essential Burgers of America