All About Burger Pairings

It’s time to hit the grill! In the spirit of upcoming Labor Day cookouts, we’re taking a deep dive into burgers and what wines to pair with them, breaking things down by component to see what works with your favorite toppings.  

This post contains some wines sent as samples. No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.

Burgers are quite probably Greg's favorite food, so we enjoy them around here pretty often. Over time, I've found that they can work pretty solidly well with lots of different wines, but if you want to take those pairings up a notch, it’s time to take a look at your toppings. Some condiments and toppings we often have on burgers can be pretty tricky when it comes to pairing with wines. We’re going to break things down by topping to see what works with each one. 

Generally speaking, I think you can get away with a lot in terms of style and weight. Most of us probably immediately think of red wines when it comes to beef (or lamb) burger pairings, but in Pairing Burgers & Wine: Research with Devison Vintners and Canvasback Winery post, we saw that even rosés can make for a delicious accompaniment to a burger. Reds of all styles from juicy and chuggable to big and smoky can work here, depending on what toppings you choose to add. 

One structural element that I do think makes a difference is tannin. I personally find that wines with aggressive, burly tannins can pose a challenge for many burgers and can overpower them. Tannins create an astringent, grippy sensation on your palate. However, tannins and meat love each other, and when you sip a tannic wine alongside something meaty, the meat proteins have a way of calming down those bad boys. They smooth out and become silky in your mouth.  

Even though burgers are obviously meaty, I find that foods made from ground meat (burgers, but also meatballs and meatloaf) don’t tame tannins quite the same way as a steak or a braised meat dish can. No fear if you want a big red with your burger though, there are plenty of options that work, just don’t go for the most structured bottles. Opt for options with smooth, ripe tannins. Zinfandel, Merlot, Argentinian Malbec, and a lot of Cab Francs are all great general go-to’s, and we'll see a few others along the way.

This Ridge Vineyards Geyserville Alexander Valley 2008 we enjoyed at the Culinary Cabin made for one of the most epic burger pairings ever! It's a Zin dominant blend. For more on Ridge, check out this post.

Catena Malbec Mendoza 2017 with an A+ Burger with bacon and avocado (you can read more about Catena in this post).
Dracaena Wines Cabernet Franc Paso Robles 2017 (sample) with a True Burger. You can read more about this wine here.
Roots Run Deep Winery 'Educated Guess' Merlot Napa Valley 2014 with messy cheddar and grilled onion on an English muffin.
Bodega Tapiz Alta Collection Malbec Uco Valley 2017 (sample) on a similar burger, but on a sourdough bun.

Ok, now let’s take a look at those toppings. 

Ketchup and BBQ Sauce

The biggest determining factor IMHO for the type of wine that will pair well with a burger is the type of sauce or condiment you put on top. Ketchup and BBQ sauce are the trickiest to pair. Why? Because of the amount of sugar in the sauce. That sweetness will take the wind out of the fruit in the wine and can make the wine taste sour. A little bit doesn’t always make a big difference, particularly if it’s mixed with other condiments, but if you love to douse your burgers with lots of ketchup it’s best to pick a very fruit-forward wine. This goes double for BBQ sauce, which is even sweeter.

A fruity Zinfandel is a great choice in this case, as is a ripe Shiraz/Syrah. Both of these also work when you have lightly spicy sauces in the mix.

This Charles Woodson Intercept Paso Robles 2017  is a blend of Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, and Syrah. It was big and bold with smooth tannins and lots of ripe fruit that made it work really well with these HUGE BBQ burgers with onions rings from A+ Burger here in Oakland. 

Kunde Family Estate Syrah Sonoma Valley 2016 and a burger. Photo credit Nicole Ruiz Hudson.

I have to admit that this Kunde Family Estate Syrah Sonoma Valley 2016  had a much fruitier/bigger/oakier profile than is typically my style, but it worked well with a burger with lots of ketchup.


I love cheese, and very happily, in my experience, the choice of cheese doesn’t tend to throw the wine pairing as much I might’ve thought. It also works out well that a lot of the cheeses we commonly put on burgers like cheddar and blue cheese pair easily with a lot of red wines we tend to commonly reach for with burgers like Cab, Syrah, and Zin. These strongly flavored cheeses work quite well with these bolder reds. Often, even if the cheese and the red wine aren’t a direct match one on one, there’s enough other stuff going on in the burger that helps everything work together nicely.

The  Raft Wines Weed Farm Syrah Dry Creek Valley 2018 (sample) is a juicier style of Syrah, but still has a smoky note that works perfectly with the char on a burger, as well as the bite of sharp cheddar cheese. A blurry picture, but a great pairing.

 Forlorn Hope Ost-Intrigen Ricci Vineyard St. Laurent 2016 paired with this super cheesy Juicy Lucy was another of my favorite burger pairings ever. You can read more about the wine and get the recipe here


Bring it on! In my experience, bacon only does good things when it comes to pairing burgers and wines, whether red or even rosé. Wines with a bit of a smoky note make particularly good pairings. Rhône/GSM blends (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) or these grapes on their own as well, tend to do really well for this very reason. Petite Sirah is another grape that tends to love the smoky notes.

This Clos de Trias Ventoux 2012 with a Bacon-Cheddar Teriyaki Burger was a magical pairing. Another fave.

The Benovia Grenache Sonoma Mountain 2017 made for another excellent combo with a bacon cheeseburger at the Culinary Cabin.

LOVED this Mountain Tides California Petite Sirah 2019 (sample) with a bacon burger on a ciabatta roll. Mountain Tides specializes in Petite Sirah, and they make it in a style that's a step lighter than most, and all have readily approachable tannins that won't overwhelm a burger. This one is particularly chuggable and an excellent value.

The Omen Red Blend Sierra Foothills 2017 suggests pairing the wine with a bacon cheeseburger right on the back of the bottle. Who am I to argue?! This blend does include lots of burger-friendly red grapes.


Mushrooms work well with most red wines, and putting them on a burger tends to make the whole thing more wine-friendly. If you like earthier wines, bringing mushrooms into the mix will make for a happier burger pairing since the flavors mirror each other deliciously.

I once did a side-by-side tasting of several wines plus a beer with a mushroom burger (one of these days I’ll share it here) and the winners in the match-up were a Bordeaux and a dry Lambrusco. Each worked for different reasons, but they both had a lot of earthy notes in the mix. 

Lini 910 'In Corneggio' Lambrusco Scuro Emilia NV


We live in California so it’s inevitable that avocado and guac find themselves on our burgers often. In general, since avocados bring more creamy texture rather than intense flavor, they don't throw off the flavors of most wines, and you can see lots of examples of pairing that worked throughout this post. However, there is a touch of green to their flavor that I find works particularly well with the pyrazines in Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. 

I sometimes like to take my burgers in a Tex-Mex direction and add roasted red peppers and onions along with avo or guac, and these two choices work even better in this combo.

 Banshee Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles 2019 is a ripe and toasty Cab, but with smooth tannins that went down easy and didn't overpower the burger. It worked well with this cheeseburger with onion, peppers, and avocado cream.

Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions add a bit of sweetness, but not as much as ketchup or BBQ sauce. There’s also a savory quality alongside the sweet factor, so they end up being fairly wine-friendly when on a burger. As long as there’s some fruit to the wine, you should be good to go, so a lot of the go-to’s already discussed work well here as well. 

Caramelized onions and gorgonzola made for a happy match with Merlots from Duckhorn in #MerlotMe Again: High-Low Duckhorn Burger Night.

This burger has caramelized onion, bacon jam, cheese, and avocado and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Hook Vineyard Grenache Santa Lucia Highlands 2015 worked with it all. 


A slice or two of tomato doesn’t throw things too much, but if you’re creating a burger with an Italian feel topped with LOTS of tomatoes or savory tomato sauce – which I do from time to time – then you might want to give them some consideration. Tomatoes have a lot of acidity, and if you pair them with a wine that doesn’t have the acidity to match, the wine can wind up tasting deflated or flabby. Most Italian reds have lots of acidity, so I say stick with the theme. A fuller style of Barbera or a fruitier Chianti can be tasty matches here. 

The Temperature Outside

I don’t know about you, but if I’m at a cookout on a hot, sunny day, a big red just does NOT appeal to me. Light to Medium bodied reds are perfect here – a Beaujolais Cru or Loire Valley Cab Franc are good all-purpose choices. This is also a perfect case for a chillable red. Many are quite fruity, making them good options to go with a classic backyard burger with ketchup or BBQ sauce. Lambrusco fits the bill beautifully as well and has the added bonus of bringing refreshing bubbles into the mix.

Another option is to grab lighter styles of you're other favorite grapes. This is also a great time for a beer, of course.

Not a great picture, I'll admit, and a very simple burger, however, Ultraviolet Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley is one of my favorite weeknight Cabs in general and is excellent with a burger. It also works in just about any kind of weather because it's medium-bodied – way less heavy than your average Cab. It won't leave you knocked out, even on a warm day.

Other Types of Burgers

While we love meaty burgers around here, other types of burgers often make it into the rotation. If you prefer a meatless burger along the lines of a quinoa, black bean, or imitation meat burger I’d say most of the guidelines above still hold, so go ahead and pair based on the toppings as described above.

The Awesome Burger is much like the Impossible Burger or the Beyond Burger and it paired nicely with Louis M. Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon,  just like a regular meat burger would.

In the case of turkey burgers or chicken burgers, I generally prefer to choose a wine with a little less body and intensity than with a meat burger, so factor in that as well as the topping. There are also lots of cases where a rosé or white wine would make a great choice with these as well.

I also often like seafood options like shrimp burgers. In this case, a white or rosé is in order. If you’re still in the mood for a red, look for one with fairly light tannins. 

Although a shrimp burger is considerably lighter than a meat burger, there's still a lot of flavor and texture going on in this case with the creamy coleslaw and the wheaty bun. A richer white like Edna Valley Vineyard Chardonnay Central Coast works well here. 

Another less than ideal shot, but this Wapisa Sauvignon Blanc Rio Negro 2019 (sample) paired well with another shrimp burger topped with guac and goat cheese. It liked the green notes of the first and the tangy flavors of the latter.

Now, someone please hand me a burger!

For more on burger pairings, check out these posts and recipes:

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!